To snub, Norse style

Words about words

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

snub

Photo: Engraving by James Goodwin in The Wits and Beaux of Society, 1861
Beau Brummell cutting the Prince Regent with the quip, “Who’s your fat friend?”

The verb to snub means to rebuke or reprove in a cutting or sharp way; the noun snub derived from the verb means the act of so doing. The word is derived from the Old Norse snubba, meaning to cut short or make stumpy. Modern Swedish has retained the Old Norse spelling, while in modern Danish and Norwegian only the final vowel differs, snubbe.

The first recorded existent mention of the word in English was in 1340 in the Psalter or Psalms of David, translated into English by Richard Rolle (1305-1349), a preacher and venerated hermit, who at the end of his life, lived near a Cistercian nunnery in the village of Hampole in Yorkshire, England. That usage makes snub one of the older words describing human behavior in English.

Beau Brummell (1778-1840), an iconic dandy and writer in Regency England, may be best remembered for describing the occasion of a historically famed snub. Brummel long was a close friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. But after the two quarreled, Brummel got into debt and was obliged to take refuge in France. In the occasion described, Brummel meets two men. One of the two is the Prince Regent, who Brummel pretends not to know by asking the other man “Who’s your fat friend?” The occasion was illustrated with an engraving in The Wits and Beaux of Society by Grace and Philip Wharton, originally published in 1861 and now a two-volume vintage facsimile book listed by Amazon.com.

M. Michael Brady was educated as a scientist and, with time, turned to writing and translating.

This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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