A SNOOTful of Sprachgefuhl

After yesterday’s post, I felt the need to reread D.F.W’s essay “Tense Present: Democrat, English, and the Wars over Usage.” (You’ll find a link to this Harper’s Magazine original buried in the myriad references in that post; I should have titled the post “Everything and More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About D.F.W.’s Work.”)

On this second reading, I rediscovered a new moniker to embrace:

SNOOT (n) (highly colloq) is this reviewer’s nuclear family’s nickname a clef for a really extreme usage fanatic, the sort of person whose idea of Sunday fun is to look for mistakes in Satire’s column’s prose itself. This reviewer’s family is roughly 70 percent SNOOT, which term itself derives from an acronym, with the big historical family joke being that whether S.N.O.O.T. stood for “Sprachgefuhl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance” or “Syntax Nudniks of Our Time” depended on whether or not you were one.

I always find that it behooves me to keep a good dictionary at hand when reading anything by D.F.W., so I also learned a great new word. Like schadenfreude, sprachgefuhl is one of those wonderful words of German origin that precisely capture a concept that doesn’t seem quite as natural in English:

A feeling for language; an ear for the idiomatically correct or appropriate. [German: Sprache, language (from Middle High German sprache, from Old High German sprahha) + Gefuhl, feeling (from fuhlen, to feel, from Middle High German vuelen, from Old High German vuolen.)]

For that matter, I’m willing to admit that even the word nudnik was new to me, though I must also concede that this term applies to me just as much as the more favorable definition of SNOOT.