Saturday, 4 June 2005


I'd assumed that the word "snark", so useful and necessary these days, was of fairly recent coinage. But according to the OED it was being used in more or less the current way well over a hundred years ago (and apparently without any special connection to "snark-hunting", quite a different activity.)

snark, v.

2. intr. and trans. To find fault (with), to nag.

1882 Jamieson's Sc. Dict. IV. 314/2 To Snark, fret, grumble, or find fault with one. 1904 E. NESBIT Phnix & Carpet x. 185 He remembered how Anthea had refrained from snarking him about tearing the carpet.

The #1 definition at Urban Dictionary says it's a contraction of "snide remark." I buy that, too.

It's a bit surprising that the word's been around so long, because the behaviour it refers to seems fairly new. In my mind, it's firmly linked to fighting-on-the-internet and other seductive but ultimately unsatisfying cyberspatial foolishness (shouting at the television, etc)

I think the internet is making me worse in this department. Not that I've ever seen much point in keeping myself nice: discovering The Smiths, certain books of Evelyn Waugh's, and critically, Kingsley Amis's, at an impressionable age, meant that I grew up committed to the belief that if you find yourself hemmed in by mediocrity and stupidity and boredom, it is almost sinful to leave off being revolted, enraged by it. From Lucky Jim:

There was a long pause while Atkinson looked censoriously round the room, a familiar exercise. Dixon liked and revered him for his air of detesting everything that presented itself to his senses, and of not meaning to let this detestation become staled by custom.

But lately I've begun to suspect that I'm gradually but permanently crossing a line, from quiet and contained and rational detestation, of things which deserve to be detested (for instance, Dorian is right now playing Khe Sahn in my ear, why? why?) into a state of mind where dwelling on the profound shittiness of very many things that really don't matter all that much takes up most of my waking hours.

For instance, child actors. The very worst ones = a rating of about 9546,793,4855,285 on the atrocity meter. I am thinking of Dakota Fanning in particular; that vampiric little infant is a monster of appallingness. It is not just the terrible miniature adultness, the pathetically calculated saccharine cuteness, the masquerade, it is also the whole backstory of what the parents of such children must be and do in order to manufacture these plastic automata out of the materials of a real child. I imagine many right-thinking people would share my opinion on these matters. But if one actually goes in search of other views on the wrongness of child actors, one inevitably gets sucked into a mise-en-abyme of further wrongness of different, yet equally compelling, varieties.

(This is taken from a 1930s book called "What Is Wrong With the Movies"; the chapter is entitled 'Movies break down virtue, inflame lust, definitely cause sex delinquency.')

The real issue I suppose is whether being appalled by appalling things is something one becomes pathalogically addicted to, eventually losing the ability to recognise goodness and merit when it finally does at last struggle through the garbage. But when the national broadcaster is foisting shite upon us like last saturday's Phil Collins: A Life Less Ordinary, or tomorrow night's nonsense about the worst book ever perpetrated on the human race, well, you're either with it or against it, and I am against it.

Tomorrow, I shall post something lovely, nice, and kind.


boynton said...

Snark still seems to be the currency of blogging, alas.
To me it seems the easiest thing to do - so e-z that there's a generator somewhere that automates the bile-style that people respond to.
To be as morally panicky as that movie article, I think at its worst there is a reductionist element in it, as annihilating as a contsant sneer can be. Hopefully this gets tedious, but who knows.
I used to worry about this more; now it seems 'chill: it's only blogging...'
and obviously a good snark from the heart can be a thing of beauty.
Still, I generally prefer reading positive stuff.

Brownie said...

Oh Boynton now I feel bad about my picky posting. I do have some positive Community Noticeboard type things.

re 'snark' - is there a Snark in Alice In Wonderland?

boynton said...

Naa don't feel bad - I'm clearly in a majority of one on this.
(I think I only meant the extreme end of snark which can get a bit predictable.)

and The Hunting of the Snark?

Scrivener said...

So which of your posts for Sunday qualifies as the "lovely, nice, and kind" one? I mean, you were positive about my post, but then again my post was a snarky response to some dumb turtle statues, so does that count? Hard to see how complaining about the stupidity of eBay auctions for toast qualifies, even if you are absolutely 100% correct on that one. So I guess that means the dream post is the one? But, um, really?

R H said...

They sure do get hysterical, these apple-pie moms. They've found out being married is no sort of life. They hate having sex but it's part of the economy. Wallmart makes sure of everything.

Lucy Tartan said...

Scriv, I never got around to it - says something, huh?

& Brownie, I don't think you should feel bad, either. Though Boynton is IMO right about this, same as she's right about most stuff ;-) The problem is how to save up the detestation for the things that really deserve it - I guess like saving up really bad swear words for special occasions. It's just that there's so many options to pick

Ampersand Duck said...

I don't think thee's enough quality snarking in the world. There's lots of petty snarking, and always room for a good dash of niceness, but tasteful (in the full sense of the word) snarkiness is a rare and elegant thing.

I think the fact that they had to emphasise the 'less ordinary' part of Phil Collins's life shows that they doth protest too much.

R H said...

No one's more predictable than all these fledgeling academics with their latest cause celebre. All that nicely-reasoned argument and how to write a good essay. All those informative introductions and firm conclusions. Golly, I'm impressed!

Yes indeedy, they're radical alright.

Just like mummy and daddy.