I’m just back from a vacation in Lake Placid with my husband’s entire family. The weather was wonderful and the hiking was fun. And while I’m sure my mother-in-law is waiting with bated breath to see what I’ll write about the week, I’ve decided that what happens in Lake Placid, stays in Lake Placid. There was, however, one interesting discussion that bears further exploration; the difference between being a snob, and an elitist. We did not reach consensus (or perhaps we did, and I can’t recall it because I was besotted, thanks to a 1983 Chateau d’Yquem Sauterne with which we were toasting our gathering). Strangely, though there were half a dozen iPhones in the group, and as many laptops, at the time, no one thought to look up the meanings of those words.
According to my trusty paperback edition of The Merriam Webster Dictionary (circa 1994) a snob is, “one who seeks association with persons of higher social position and looks down on those considered inferior,” and elite means, “the choice part; a superior group” (and “a typewriter type providing 12 characters to the inch,” which has no bearing on the discussion, but I’ve thrown it in to see if you’re paying attention). It seems clear from those definitions that if one feels no pressing need to associate with those higher up the class food chain, then they may well be the elite, which does not, however, preclude them from looking down on those they consider inferior, hence they are also snobs.
I embrace the philosophy originally espoused by Groucho Marx (though often incorrectly attributed to Woody Allen) that I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. I guess that makes me a snob. But then, I maintain that we are all snobs; we all look down on those we consider inferior to us. If we consider them inferior, then we must, by definition, be looking down on them.
One of my favorite modern musicals, Avenue Q, has a song called, Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist. I encourage you to read the lyrics for yourself, as a quote taken out of context here might cause a flap, but the point I’m making is, it might just as well be called, Everyone’s A Little Bit Snobby.
There’s no doubt that the word snob has horrible connotations. Most people accused of being a snob would probably object strenuously, while glancing around to make sure no one overheard the accusation. Instead, maybe we should just embrace our inner snobs and comfort them with the knowledge that there’s always someone who is snobbier than we are, thereby making us look positively well-adjusted.