Caricature of American lawyer and socialite Ward McAllister (1855–1908) pointing Uncle Sam to "an English Snob of the 19th Century" and saying how he must imitate him or "you will nevah be a gentleman". Uncle Sam is shown laughing heartily.

Snob is a pejorative term for a person who feels superior due to their social class, education level, or social status in general;[1] is sometimes used especially when they pretend to belong to these classes. The word snobbery came into use for the first time in England during the 1820s.


Snobs can through time be found ingratiating themselves with a range of prominent groups — soldiers (Sparta, 400 BCE), bishops (Rome, 1500), poets (Weimar, 1815) — for the primary interests of snobs is a distinction, and as its definition changes, so, naturally and immediately, will the objects of the snob's admiration.[1]

Snobbery existed also in medieval feudal aristocratic Europe when the clothing, manners, language, and tastes of every class were strictly codified by customs or law. Geoffrey Chaucer, a poet moving in the court circles, noted the provincial French spoken by the Prioress among the Canterbury pilgrims:

And French she spoke full fair and fetisly
After the school of Stratford atte Bowe,
For French of Paris was to her unknowe.

William Rothwell notes "the simplistic contrast between the 'pure' French of Paris and her 'defective' French of Stratford atte Bowe that would invite disparagement".[2]

Snobbery surfaced more strongly as the structure of the society changed, and the bourgeoisie had the possibility to imitate aristocracy.[3] Snobbery appears when elements of culture are perceived as belonging to an aristocracy or elite, and some people (the snobs) feel that the mere adoption of the fashion and tastes of the elite or aristocracy is sufficient to include someone in the elites, upper classes or aristocracy.[4]

Snob victim

The term "snob" is often misused when describing a "gold-tap owner",[1] i.e. a person who insists on displaying (sometimes non-existent) wealth through conspicuous consumption of luxury goods such as clothes, jewelry, cars etc. Displaying awards or talents in a rude manner, boasting, is a form of snobbery. A popular example of a "snob victim" is the television character Hyacinth Bucket of the BBC comedy series Keeping Up Appearances.


William Hazlitt observed, in a culture where deference to class was accepted as a positive and unifying principle,[5] "Fashion is gentility running away from vulgarity, and afraid of being overtaken by it," adding subversively, "It is a sign the two things are not very far apart."[6] The English novelist Bulwer-Lytton remarked in passing, "Ideas travel upwards, manners downwards."[7] It was not the deeply ingrained and fundamentally accepted idea of "one's betters" that has marked snobbery in traditional European and American culture, but "aping one's betters".

Snobbery is a defensive expression of social insecurity, flourishing most where an establishment has become less than secure in the exercise of its traditional prerogatives, and thus it was more an organizing principle for Thackeray's glimpses of British society in the threatening atmosphere of the 1840s than it was of Hazlitt, writing in the comparative social stability of the 1820s.[8]


Ghil'ad Zuckermann proposes the term snobbative to refer to a pretentious, highfalutin phrase used by a person in order to sound snobbish. The term derives from snob + -ative, modelled upon comparatives and superlatives. Thus, in its narrow sense, a snobbative is a pompous (phonetic) variant of a word. Consider the following hypercorrect pronunciations in Israeli Hebrew:[9]: 184 

  1. khupím is a snobbative of khofím (חופים‎), which means "beaches";
  2. tsorfát is a snobbative of tsarfát (צרפת‎), which refers to "France";
  3. amán is a snobbative of omán (אמן‎), which means "artist".[9]: 184 

A non-hypercorrect example in Israeli Hebrew is filozófya, a snobbative of filosófya (פילוסופיה‎), which means "philosophy".[9]: 184  The snobbative filozófya (with z) was inspired by the pronunciation of the Israeli Hebrew word פילוסופיה‎ by German Jewish professors of philosophy, whose speech was characterized by intervocalic voicing of the s as in their German mother tongue.[9]: 190 

See also

Ad for the American film The Snob, 1921 film with Wanda Hawley and Walter Hiers, on inside front cover of the January 30, 1921 Film Daily.


  1. ^ a b c De Botton, A. (2004), Status Anxiety. London: Hamish Hamilton
  2. ^ Rothwell, "Stratford Atte Bowe re-visited" The Chaucer Review, 2001.
  3. ^ Gartman, David (2002). "Bourdieu's Theory of Cultural Change: Explication, Application, Critique". Sociological Theory. 20 (2): 255–277. ISSN 0735-2751.
  4. ^ Friedman, Sam; Reeves, Aaron (April 2020). "From Aristocratic to Ordinary: Shifting Modes of Elite Distinction". American Sociological Review. 85 (2): 323–350. doi:10.1177/0003122420912941. ISSN 0003-1224.
  5. ^ The social historian G.M. Trevelyan referred to the deferential principle in British society as "beneficent snobbery", according to Ray 1955:24.
  6. ^ Hazlitt, Conversations with Northcote, quoted in Gordon N. Ray, "Thackeray's 'Book of Snobs'", Nineteenth-Century Fiction 10.1 (June 1955:22-33) p. 25; Ray examines the context of snobbery in contemporaneous society.
  7. ^ Bulwer-Lytton, England and the English, noted in Ray 1955:24.
  8. ^ See: Ray 1955:25f.
  9. ^ a b c d Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003), Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew, Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 9781403917232 / ISBN 9781403938695