Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Snark Defined

Original article titled "A 'Snark' Hunt on Lexicon Valley" 

October 20, 2014 

By Ben Zimmer

The snark wars continued over the years, propelled in part by David Denby's 2009 book Snark: It's Mean, It's Personal, and It's Ruining Our Conversation. Snark was once again defended late last year by Gawker's Tom Scocca, who devoted 9,000 words to argue that the real enemy is not snark but smarm. As I note on the podcast, snark and smarm make an interesting pair on etymological grounds, since they were formed so similarly. Smarm starts off as a verb meaning "smear" or "make oily," which leads to the adjective smarmy meaning "excessively ingratiating." Then, by the process of back-formation, the -y was removed from smarmy to form smarm meaning "unctuous or ingratiating behavior."

Snark, snork, snort, snore... throw in sneer, snarl, snigger, snicker, snivel, and snooze, and you start to see a pattern of sn- words that have to do with unpleasant noises and behaviors, especially those produced nasally (i.e., through the snout). This leads into the realm of sound symbolism, wherein so-called "phonesthemes" like sn- seem to carry with them a kernel of meaning across a family of words. For another example, see my piece on skedaddle, a word that joined many others starting with the sk- sound (scoot, scamper, scurry, skitter, etc.) to suggest brisk movement.
Read the original here.

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