Above the Law

Yes: It is an acronym coined by the family of David Foster Wallace, who introduced the term to the literary world in his essay “Authority and American Usage” in Consider the Lobster 66-127 (2006). The word stands for either “Sprachgefühl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance” or “Syntax Nudniks of Our Time.” As for Sprachgefühl (now an English word), learning its meaning will enhance your feeling for the language.

Snoots are simply people who are punctilious about words, grammar, punctuation, pronunciation, and allied linguistic skills. The term is less off-putting than such pejorative terms as grammar nazi, word nerd, syntax snob, or language police. Wallace called those terms “outright dysphemisms” and defined a snoot as “somebody who knows what dysphemism means and doesn’t mind letting you know it.” See Wallace, “Tense Present,” Harper’s, Apr. 2001, at 39.

Wallace’s sense is related to a sense recorded by Merriam-Webster: “a snooty person; snob.” How long it will take lexicographers to record the Wallace sense is open to speculation. With over half a million Google hits for “Wallace snoot,” and given Wallace’s literary influence, it probably won’t be long. For now, the word can be regarded as a neologism.

For further discussion, see Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing (2013) and Garner’s Modern American Usage 756 (3d ed. 2009).

Bryan A. Garner, President of LawProse Inc., is the most prolific CLE presenter in the U.S., having trained more than 150,000 lawyers and judges. His book — most prominently Black’s Law Dictionary and Garner’s Modern American Usage — have been cited as authority by every state and federal appellate court, including the highest. For more about him, go to www.lawprose.org. To follow him on Twitter: @bryanagarner.

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