I have seen the word (or term) "snoot" defined as a person who is punctilious about words, grammar, punctuation, pronunciation, and allied linguistic skills. I'm told that snoot is less off-putting than such pejorative terms as grammar nazi, word nerd, syntax snob, or language police. David Foster 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.(PDF)

But is snoot a real word or a coined term, and if the latter, how was it coined?

  • etymonline.com/… – mplungjan Jan 15 '14 at 10:55
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    @mplungjan: etymonline.com has snoot meaning "the nose" but not in the sense asked about. – Hugo Jan 15 '14 at 11:30
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    I disagree - from snooty (adj.) "proud, arrogant," 1918, noted that year as college slang, from snoot it is a no-brainer to understand a snoot – mplungjan Jan 15 '14 at 11:51
  • @mplungjan since snooty comes from snoot in that sense, you are ultimately in agreement. – Jon Hanna Jan 15 '14 at 12:22
  • I do not agree with the "not in the sense asked about" – mplungjan Jan 15 '14 at 12:40

It's hilarious how many things Wallace gets wrong in that article, precisely because his "snooty" tone makes otherwise minor mistakes that one should probably forgive a target of schadenfreude: Live by the snoot, die by the snoot.

It generally means one who condescends, and comes from a Scots variant of snout meaning "nose", as in "looking down ones nose", via snooty. Wallace's use is certainly a valid use as a hyponym of the general meaning, but he is incorrect in defining it specifically only for that, or for suggesting it is a coinage of his mother's (unless she was around in the 19th Century).

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    I'd always assumed snooty people were called that because they went around with their noses in the air, and not because they looked down their noses. But your derivation makes sense, too, and it's not clear there's any way to determine which is the right one (if a "right one" exists). – Peter Shor Jan 15 '14 at 13:50
  • I've heard the word "snoot" used quite often to refer to the nose. (I guess I do live in a dialect area heavily influenced by the Scots Irish). One common use is to refer to someone getting a "snoot full" of something. Usually some kind of intoxicating beverage. It seems like a weird phrase, as drinking through your nose ought to be quite unpleasant, but I hear it a lot. By implication, a "snooty" person is someone who turns up their nose in an attempt to ignore others a lot. – T.E.D. Jan 15 '14 at 13:50
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    @PeterShor Could well be related to both, as indeed "noses in the air" and "looking down ones nose" are related, the former allowing one to do the latter. – Jon Hanna Jan 15 '14 at 13:51
  • @JonHanna - Exactly. I don't know the actual etymology of the terms, but that's how I've always rationalized them. – T.E.D. Jan 15 '14 at 13:53
  • @T.E.D. as someone who lived in a dialect so heavily influenced by the Scots Irish we don't even call them Scots Irish (as in, actually from northern Ireland where they're called Ulster Scots), I would agree; snoot for "nose" is definitely found, and seems to be slightly more likely to be heard from someone with a Protestant background than Catholic (the truth is that we're pretty much all a mix of Ulster Scots and pre-Plantation Irish, but we like to live with the pretence that we're two very separate peoples who have always hated each other). – Jon Hanna Jan 15 '14 at 13:55

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