You have struggled hard to live the life you always wanted to have – and then you start to brag about your clothes, your car or your house? That’s not quite how a gentleman would do it. As Cary Grant once said, “beware of snobbery: it is the unwelcome recognition of one’s own past failings.” In this article, you’ll learn all about the snob, who he is and why it’s better not to be one.
So What Is A Snob & Snobbism
What, after all, is snobbism or snobbery? Anyone trying to understand the concept of the snob, or of snobbery, will have a hard time. The Free Dictionary, for instance, states that snob is:
1. One who despises ignores, or is patronizing to those he or she considers inferior.
2. One who is convinced of his or her superiority in matters of taste or intellect.
The Oxford Dictionary says that the snob is “a person with an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth who seeks to associate with social superiors and looks down on those regarded as socially inferior.”
There is also, of course, the reverse snob – “a person overly proud of being one of or sympathetic to the ordinary people, and who denigrates or shuns those of superior ability, education, social standing,” according to Dictionary.com. It is akin to the inverted snob, defined by Oxford as the person that “seems to despise anything associated with wealth or social status, while at the same time elevating those things associated with lack of wealth and social position.” Some say that the snob is a kind of fashion victim, a person that bows to every fad.
One of the etymologies of snob suggests that the expression originated in Britain before 1838. When a student enrolled in Oxford, for instance, the college official would ask if he came from a noble family; if he didn’t, the clerk would write “s.nob” by his name, indicating, in Latin, that he was sine nobilitate, that is, “not noble.” As credible as this version sounds, there is sadly no actual evidence for it. Furthermore, the word appeared first in 1781 as a synonym of cobbler, evolving in 1831 as a Cambridge students’ slang for “lower-class person”; in 1843 it finally meant a “ lower-class person who vulgarly apes his social superiors.” Finally, the original meaning lost its colors and, in 1911, was being used to indicate anyone who despised others considered inferior in rank, achievements or taste.
Famous authors dwelled on the subject, the most famous perhaps being William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) and his The Book of Snobs – By One of Themselves. This witty collection of sketches of London characters has, in a way, helped to define the middle-class individual that considers himself superior to the hoi polloi. However, it is not an exclusive sign of the lower- or middle-class inclination, as the traditional Boston Toast (written by Dr. Bossidy) indicates:
And THIS IS good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.
In the intriguing Canadian Book of Snobs, the author, Victoria Branden, tries to pinpoint the snob in history, “like those little dogs hunting truffles in Hampshire (any reference to truffles is good Gourmetsnob stuff).” And in his Dictionnaire du Snobisme, Philippe Jullian (1919-1977) informs that the word snob was in Delvau’s Dictionnaire de la langue verte (1866), meaning a “silly person that admires vulgar things.”
A Briton, John Ian Robert Russell (1917-2002), the 13th Duke of Bedford, wrote The Duke of Bedford’s Book of Snobs, published in 1965. He was born in one of UK’s most aristocratic families (“my family thought themselves slightly grander than God”). However, that did not stop him from being one of the “pioneers of the stately-home industry in opening a funfair and zoo park at Woburn,” according to his obituary in The Independent in 2002.
His mansion, Woburn Abbey, at Bedfordshire, had been unoccupied for 13 years since his grandfather’s death, and the duties ascended to £4.5 million. So the Duke decided to open it to the public for six months a year: in 1955, it attracted over 180,000 visitors, helping him keep it. In 1971, co-authored by George Mikes (who also helped him write The Book of Snobs), he published How to Run a Stately Home!
He was indicated to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1985, a fact that explains many of his book’s interesting comments on the snob. He says, for instance, that a head waiter told him that he could identify a snob pretender by his shoes. “People who are only trying to show off and impress you, wear fabulous clothes but are not prepared to spend a lot on their shoes. A real gentleman always wears first-class shoes.”
He observed the weaknesses of his peers and criticized them with acid irony: “The father of the present Duke of Norfolk always wore appalling clothes…” Also, “clothes should be obviously good, but they must not scream: ‘Look at me, how elegant I am!’ The wearer’s personality should always be stronger than his clothes.”
The essayist, writer and editor Joseph Epstein (1937) introduced different etymologies in his book Snobbery, The American Version. First, he suggests that the word snob may have had a Scandinavian origin, meaning “a dolt, idiot, with the notion of impostor or charlatan, a boaster.”
This is an interesting concept, one that deserves some attention here. I have a friend who represented a top-level luxury brand in Brazil, and we were talking about fake products, made to look like the real and expensive ones. He said, “If you use a fake product, you don’t deserve to have the real one.”
Pierre Daninos and his book, snobissimo
You might have noticed, the title of this article is in parts a translation of the title of a book, snobissimo ou le désir de paraître, published in 1964 by Pierre Daninos, a French writer, and humorist. (He was also the author of two excellent books on the English gentleman, Les Carnets du Major W. Marmaduke Thompson, and Le Secret du Major Thompson.) You might have noticed: the title snobissimo has a lowercase initial, a la e.e.cummings – ironically that’s Mr. Daninos snobbish touch!
Daninos says that the cover of his book is “an example of snobbism, or better, of the evolution of snobbism”:
Some rare cars, such as the Hispano Suiza K6, were finished with a yellow straw trellise over the black paint on the metal of the sides and doors, called cannage in French.
He meant to say that even in the stratified world of very wealthy people, with money enough to buy and maintain a car such as this, you could still go one step up and snob down on the other poor Hispano Suiza owners by showing up with your own car with sides and doors revested by cannage.
The British, Inventors of Snobbism?
The British are, I suppose, the inventors of snobbery. An excellent example is a charity party attended by the future King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales. He met his tailor, Poole of Savile Row, at the door; he had already been inside. The prince asked Poole about the party. “Wonderful, Your Highness, but there is some mixture,” referring to the combination of aristocrats and commoners attending the event. And the prince retorted, “But my dear Poole, did you expect a party exclusively with tailors?”
You can find another example of British snobbery in the movie Mr. Bean, where the incorrigible character flies to America with a First Class ticket and flashes it to the poor devils trying to accommodate themselves on their Coach Class seats.
The snob is a fake…
And that’s the main reason you should not be a snob.
Gentleman’s Gazette has always stressed the importance of quality in all aspects of life, whether it is your products, your food or your conversations and the people who surround you. Authentic products, with real quality, will last longer and be much more pleasant than their counterfeit, fake copies. (And I haven’t touched on the question of legal problems: you may be arrested for owning counterfeit products!) The snob, on the other hand, couldn’t care less and thrives on things that give him the appearance of quality, no matter what it is comprised of. All he/she wants is to impress his/her friends at the club with the latest Louis Vuitton attaché case or a beautiful Hermès Birkin bag.
The snob is an impostor, as in the definition given by Epstein. He quotes Virginia Woolf, who considered herself a snob and said that “the essence of snobbery is that you wish to impress other people.” Snobbery is not elegance, as Yves St. Laurent once quipped. You may wear a $10,000 suit made with Zegna’s Trophy Wool, but if you brag about it, you are a snob, not an elegant gentleman.
Have you ever wondered why Wimbledon is so strict about the court dressing code? As you may know, players cannot use any color other than white – off-white and cream won’t do – and any hint of color, as a trim around collar or skirt hem, must not exceed one centimeter.
The reason is very gentleman-like, as the organizers stated recently: “To us, the all-white rule isn’t about fashion, it’s about letting the players and the tennis stand out… Everyone who steps on a Wimbledon court, from a reigning champion through to qualifier does so wearing white. That’s a great leveler. If a player wants to get noticed, they must do so through their play. That’s a tradition we’re proud of.”
In Wimbledon, you will only impress others through your play, not by wearing fashionable shirts of fancy brands. Amusing: the land that created the concept of snobs has banned snobbery in their most emblematic sports arena.
… and a loner
Joking aside, just like the main characters in Downton Abbey realized after the Britons returned home from World War I. One day they had servants, the other they were alone. Today, everybody lives in the same world, a world on the verge of dramatic climatic and energetic changes, where being a snob is absolutely out, politically incorrect and as Morley Safer once stated: “Arrogance and snobbism live in adjoining rooms and use a common currency.”
I quote what Marcelino de Carvalho, a Brazilian social columnist, journalist, arbiter of mores and elegance, used to say to his young readers, “Do not be a snob… have your personality. Make the others accept you as you are. Just be natural. Dare to be yourself.”