Monday, November 26, 2007

Classic Derivations

To the Editor

rigin of the word "Snob".

I think that Snob is not an archaism, and that it cannot be found in any book printed fifty years ago. I am aware that in the north of England shoe-makers are still sometimes called Snobs; but the word is not in Brockett's Glossary of North Country Words, which is against its being a genuine bit of northern dialect.

I fancy that Snobs and Nobs, as used in vulgar parlance are of classic derivation; and, most probably, originated at one of the Universities, where they still flourish. If a Nob be one who is nobilis, a Snob must be one who is s[ine] nob[iliate]. Not that I mean to say that the s is literally a contraction of sine; but that, as in the word slang, the s, which is there prefixed to language, at once destroys the better word, and degrades its meaning; and as, in Italian, an s prefixed to a primitive word has a privative effect--e.g. calzare, "to put on shoes and stockings"; scalzare, "to put them off"; fornito, "furnished;" sfornito, "unfurnished," &c.; as also the dis, in Latin (from which, possibly, the aforesaid s is derived), has the like reversing power, as shown in continue and discontinue--so nob, which is an abbreviation of nobilis at once receives the most ignoble signification on having an s put before it.

The word scamp, meaning literally a fugitive from the field, one qui ex campo exit, affords another example of the power of the initial s to reverse the signification of a word.

All this, Mr. Editor, is only conjecture, in reply to "Alpha's" query (No. 12, p.185); but perhaps you will receive it, if no better etymology of the word be offered.

A. G.
Ecclesfield, Jan. 21. 1850.

-from Notes and Queries Vol. 1 (16) Feb. 16, 1850 p. 250.

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