The Etymology of Snobbery

Tell me, and be honest: do you ever wonder about the etymology of words? Do you ever grow curious about our day-to-day language? (‘How do you do, Mr. Stupples?’) Do you ever ask yourself whether the words you speak, whisper and – sometimes – shout originate from 2,000 year-old societies, or have today’s quick-witted teenagers just made them up instead? If language for you is simply a means of communication, as it probably is for most practical-minded people, you might want to stop reading right here. If you like words, though, and take pleasure from their nuances, read on about what I consider to be on the English language’s most interesting words: Snob.


Interestingly, this image demonstrates how the word also became commonplace across amongst the American population.

The word ‘snobbery’ came into use for the first time in England during the 1820s. It was sad to have derived from the habit of many Oxford and Cambridge colleagues of writing sine nobilate (without nobility) or ‘s.nob.’ next to the name of ordinary students on examination lists in order to distinguish them for their aristocratic peers.

In the word’s earliest days, a snob was taken to mean someone without high status, but it quickly assumed its modern and almost diametrically opposed meaning: someone offended by a lack of high status in others. It was also clear that those who used the word were doing so pejoratively, to describe a process of discrimination they found regrettable and worthy of mockery. In his Book of Snobs (1848), a pioneering essay on the subject, William Thackeray observed that snobs had, over the previous twenty-five years, ‘spread over England like the railroads. They are known and recognised throughout an Empire on which the sun never sets.’ But, in truth, what was new was not snobbery, but a spirit of equality beside which a traditional kind of discriminatory conduct no seemed increasingly unacceptable, to men like Thackeray at least.

De Botton, Alain. Status Anxiety. London: Penguin Books, 2004. 21-22. Print.


Blair, Manningham-Buller & Iraqi Jihad

In light of Tony Blair’s rebuttal of the repeated claims suggesting the ISIS uprisings across Iraq are linked to the removal of Saddan Huessein from power in 2003, it is interesting to consider the comments of Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, MI5’s Director General between October 2002 and April 2007, about the sudden rise of the Iraqi jihad following the Iraq Invasion:


Eliza Manningham-Buller speaking at a BBC Radio 4 event after her retirement from the British Secret Service.

Arguably we gave Osama bin Laden his Iraqi jihad so he was able to move into Iraq in a way he wasn’t before. [Iraq] increased the  terrorist threat by convincing more people that Osama bin Laden’s claim that Islam was under attack was correct. It provided an arena for the jihad which he had called for…and our involvement in Iraq spurred some young British muslims to turn to terror.

Corerar, Gordon. MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service. London: Phoenix, Orion Books, 2012. 386. Print.

With such a strong testimony from such a respected figure, it would be hard—almost impossible, in fact—for Blair to refute the notion that the 2003 Iraq Invasion did not instigate a surge in the country’s jihadism. (In hindsight, after the 1991 Gulf War, one  wonders how the British government and intelligence services—including Manningham-Buller—did not anticipate the shift towards radicalisation among the Middle East’s population.) Ten years on, despite whatever Blair might say in his defence, can we still see the dark clouds of the Iraqi invasion looming above, and still continuing to influence, the unstable, war-torn country?

Extract: The New Statesman Essay – Europe

Entitled ‘The Great Reckoning: Why the European ideal is under threat‘, written by Mark Mazower for The Centenary Issue of the New Statesman, this essay is an insightful critique of the ongoing economic crisis in the Eurozone. It questions Europe’s dependence on the financial sector for economic and social stability, arguing that money, since The Second World War, has generally been used ‘to make money and not things’, whilst it also examines the paradoxical role of globalisation in Europe’s financial influence worldwide, culminating with the global economic crisis that begun with the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers in 2008, more commonly known as The Great Recession. Consequently, having thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I have quoted what I think is the crux of the essay’s argument, a small section of fantastic political prose that might make you, in the same way that it made me, think about the financial situation of the Eurozone.

‘Today the consequences of financialisation, within and outside Europe, are clear enough. Look at average growth rates during the Trente Glorieuses and during the past 30 years: the comparison makes sobering reading. Banks and hedge funds may have increased their profitability, but national and continental economic performance have lagged sharply behind. One reason for this is that globalisation has made the world more crisis-prone, not less so: nostalgia for the dictator António Salazar in Portugal or communism in Russia reflects how the greater self-sufficiency of the years before 1980 brought greater predictability and stability. And it has also made the world much less equal or fair. The trend towards equalisation of wealth and incomes that occurred within European societies between 1945 and 1975 has been stopped, and the curve, without exception in Europe, now points the other way, towards an ever-widening income gap, which is forcing large sections of the population to recalibrate their social expectations for themselves and their children.

In so far as the EU stands for the defence of the single currency, it thus finds itself aligned against those very priorities – ­stability, solidarity, equality – that helped restore the legitimacy of democracy to the western half of the continent after 1945. The recent divide between creditor north and debtor south makes these problems far more acute, but in fact they existed before the crisis hit. Even then, they lay at the heart of the fundamental political challenge that financialisation has produced, the challenge posed by the decoupling of political from economic power. The euro-crisis has made this challenge evident, and more morally troubling.

In these circumstances, what demands explanation is not the emergence of organised protest, but the lack of it. Why, we need to ask, do people find it so hard to imagine alternatives? Taxpayers are bailing out the financial sector. So why haven’t they demanded more regulation, more control of pay, and ultimately a rebalancing of relationships between finance and manufacturing, between global liquidity and nationally rooted communities?

The main reason is the absence of widely believed alternatives. The revolutionary left, whether communist or anarchist, has failed at the ballot box, which may not matter to its adherents but signals its lack of political weight. In the few cases where it has succeeded, as in austerity-riven Greece (with Syriza), its recipes for the crisis are scarcely revolutionary. People may have soured on the globalisation dream but politicians continue to regard the financial markets as indispensable in more or less their present form. Domestically, what is striking is the degree to which recovery programmes today rely simply on expanding liquidity through the banking system rather than by means of the kind of ambitious public works projects that characterised recovery across Europe after 1945. Thus, while the left hand of Whitehall chastens the banks, its right hand begs them to kick-start a new boom’.

Extract: How To Spot a Murderer’s Brain

Written by Tim Adams, the extract below is quoted from an article, entitled ‘How to spot a murderer’s brain‘, that appeared in The Guardian on Sunday 12th May, 2013. Having read some of Adrian Raine’s neurocriminology research in the past, I think he is perhaps one of the most important figures in our society today, although he has yet to receive the widespread recognition that he fully deserves, investigating a scientific field that could question the very foundations of our current justice system. One day, though, he will receive such recognition but, before he does, our attitudes towards criminals must continue to be challenged.

“In 1987, Adrian Raine, who describes himself as a neurocriminologist, moved from Britain to the US. His emigration was prompted by two things. The first was a sense of banging his head against a wall. Raine, who grew up in Darlington and is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was a researcher of the biological basis for criminal behaviour, which, with its echoes of Nazi eugenics, was perhaps the most taboo of all academic disciplines.

“As Raine began to explore the subject more, he began to look at the reasons he became a researcher of violent criminality, rather than a violent criminal. (Recent studies suggest his biology might equally have propelled him towards other careers – bomb disposal expert, corporate executive or journalist – that tend to attract individuals with those “psychopathic” traits.) Despite his unusual brain structure, he didn’t have the low IQ that is often apparent in killers, or any cognitive dysfunction. Still, as he worked for four years interviewing people in prison, a lot of the time he was thinking: what stopped me being on their side of the bars?

“Raine’s biography, then, was a good corrective to the seductive idea that our biology is our fate and that a brain scan can tell us who we are. Even as he piles up evidence to show that people are not the free-thinking, rational agents they like to imagine themselves to be – entirely liberated from the limitations set by our inherited genes and our particular neuroanatomy – he never forgets that lesson. The question remains, however, that if these “biomarkers” do exist and exert an influence – and you begin to see the evidence as incontrovertible – then what should we do about them?

“Perhaps we should do nothing, simply ignore them, assume, when it comes to crime, that every individual has much the same brain, the same capacity to make moral choices, as we tend to do now. As Raine suggests: “The sociologist would say if we concentrate on these biological things, or even acknowledge them, we are immediately taking our eyes off other causes of criminal behaviour – poverty, bad neighbourhoods, poor nutrition, lack of education and so on. All things that need to change. And that concern is correct. It is why social scientists have fought this science for so long.”

“The implication of neurocriminology, though – where it differs from the crude labelling of phrenology, say – is that the choice it presents is not an either/or between nurture and nature, but a more complex understanding of how our biology reacts with its environment. Reading Raine’s account of the most recent research into these reactions, it still seems to me quite new and surprising that environmental factors change the physical structure of the brain. We tend to talk about a child’s development in terms of more esoteric ideas of mind rather than material brain structures, but the more you look at the data the clearer the evidence that abuse or neglect or poor nutrition or prenatal smoking and drinking have a real effect on whether or not those healthy neural connections – which lead to behaviour associated with maturity, self-control and empathy – are made. The science of this is called epigenetics, the way our environment regulates the expression of our innate genetic code.

“One result of epigenetics might be, Raine suggests, that “social scientists can actually win from this. I mean, if a child experiences a murder in his or her neighbourhood, we have found that their test scores on a range of measures go down. There is something happening in the brain as a result of that experience of violence to affect cognition. So social scientists can have their cake and eat it. They can say look, we can prove that these environmental social factors are causing brain impairment, which leads to some real, measurable problems.”

“One difficulty of embracing this “epigenetical” idea of crime is the degree to which such factors should be taken into account in courts of law. There have been several landmark cases in recent years in which particular neurological disorders caused by blows to the skull or undetected tumours have resulted in arguable changes in character and behaviour – and the violent or sexual crime is blamed on the disorder, not the individual. In most of these cases, it has been argued by the prosecution that brain imaging is prejudicial, that the brightly coloured pictures are too compelling to a jury and more emotional than scientific. But if neural scanning becomes more routine, and neuroscience more precise, will there not come a point where most violent behaviour – that of the Boston bombers, say, or the Newtown killer – is argued away in court as an illness, rather than a crime?

“Raine believes that there might well be. He even likens such a shift to our change in perception of cancer, until fairly recently often deemed the “fault” of the sufferer because of some repressive character trait. “If we buy into the argument that for some people factors beyond their control, factors in their biology, greatly raise the risk of them becoming offenders, can we justly turn a blind eye to that?” Raine asks. “Is it really the fault of the innocent baby whose mother smoked heavily in pregnancy that he went on to commit crimes? Or if he was battered from pillar to post, or even if he was born with a, abnormally low resting heart rate, how harshly should we punish him? How much should we say he is responsible? There is, and increasingly will be, an argument that he is not fully responsible and therefore, when we come to think of punishment, should we be thinking of more benign institutions than prison?”


The Great Gatsby

For generations of young (especially Ivy League) Americans, Gatsby and the whole Fitzgerald myth has had the same destructive effect as Brideshead on a certain type of English youth. Nearly all countries have some national variant of this: novels that slipped their moorings and epitomised a certain aspiration. Read in the right — or rather the wrong — way they may be the epitome of style. But how strange it is that so many books that should be read as a warning get read as a yearning. Gatsbyinvites us to wallow. Doubtless in the coming weeks we will again. But we ought not to‘.

The not so great Gatsby‘ by Douglas Murray for The Spectator 

Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address

The two paragraphs below are taken from Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Address, dating back to Tuesday, January 20th, 1981. Though the speech may have taken place more than thirty years ago, does its message not seem pertinent with regard to the unstable economic situation in Europe and the United States?

“For decades, we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children’s future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.

You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think that collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by that same limitation?”

It appears that ‘we, the people’, to quote Reagan, are headed for ‘tremendous social, cultural, political and economic upheavals’, then. However, with Greece, Italy and Spain floundering financially (and the United States shouldering a debt of over two trillion), it seems the process – a frightening, crippling one – has already begun, and nobody knows when it will end…

What Is Patriarchy?

‘Patriarchy is what makes us think that ‘balls’ are symbols for aggressive go-getting behaviour; patriarchy also makes us thinks that this is the type of behaviour that should be rewarded above all others. And patriarchy also means that any man who doesn’t ‘live up’ to this stereotype is thereby considered a lesser man – perhaps even, horror of horrors, ‘a girl’. Those men who don’t easily fit into the alpha male category have the choice of being taunted as ‘pussies’, or learning to behave in an acceptably ‘ballsy’ way that enables them to keep up with their peers’.

Can Men Be Feminists?‘ by Caroline Criado-Perez for the NewStatesman.