General English

  • noun a person who likes people who are of a higher social class than himself or herself
  • noun a person who thinks he or she knows much more about art or is better-educated than other people

Origin & History of “snob”

Snob originally meant a ‘shoemaker’. Cambridge university students of the late 18th century took it over as a slang term for a ‘townsman, someone not a member of the university’, and it seems to have been this usage which formed the basis in the 1830s for the emergence of the new general sense ‘member of the lower orders’ (‘The nobs have lost their dirty seats – the honest snobs have got ’em’, proclaimed the Lincoln Herald on 22 July 1831, anticipating the new Reform Act). This in turn developed into ‘ostentatiously vulgar person’, but it was the novelist William Thackeray who really sowed the seeds of the word’s modern meaning in his Book of Snobs 1848, where he used it for ‘someone vulgarly aping his social superiors’. It has since broadened out to include those who insist on their gentility as well as those who aspire to it. As for the origins of the word snob itself, they remain a mystery. An ingenious suggestion once put forward is that it came from s. nob., supposedly an abbreviation for Latin sine nobilitate ‘without nobility’, but this ignores the word’s early history.