Please Don’t Feed the Snoofs: An Anti-Paternalistic Screed

A couple of years ago, in the middle of an intense, protracted, hilarity-inflected conversation, my sister Kiskilili invented the term “snoof” to designate the imaginary beings sometimes posited mid-argument to bolster the claim that ________* is harmful. The snoof-positer isn’t herself harmed by ________. She’s too intelligent, too intellectually sophisticated to be hurt by ________ personally. But she just knows there are snoofs out there–hordes of interchangeably childlike people who aren’t quite as bright or worldly-wise as she is. These poor snoofs are earnest, blank souls, liable to be utterly confounded by the first deviation from the sacred orthodoxy of ________ they encounter.

Snoofs, needless to say, must be protected at all costs. And so well-intentioned attempts to make the world safe for snoofs are born–attempts to make the world more consistent, more univocal, more bland. The snoof-protectors themselves don’t suffer in the face of disturbing unorthodoxies, but they argue for censorship for the sake of the snoofs they are vigilantly herding into the confines of their imaginary intellectual sheepfolds.

On closer inspection, snoofs sometimes turn out to bear a striking resemblance to our former selves. But this is the thing: there are no snoofs. There are only people, in all their otherness, in all their complex, messy glory. These other people bear no necessary relationship whatsoever to our own histories of faith or disillusionment, or to our own histories or present realities more generally. It’s not for us to orchestrate their intellectual safety or to correlate their stages of faith or doubt.

This is not to say that children shouldn’t be vigorously protected from adult realities, and introduced to certain complexities at appropriate stages of development. I completely support parents’ right and responsibilities to drastically censor the world for their young children (although it’s also true that children tend to know more about the world sooner than their parents sometimes want to admit). And, more to the point, this is not to say that people don’t get hurt by feminism, patriarchy, or horrifying misuses of Q-tips (see below). Of course they do. But when we speak of the harm institutions and ideologies have done, let’s speak in specific terms of specific people rather than imagining up unto ourselves hordes of our former, sillier selves.

Please don’t feed the snoofs.

*Take your pick: feminism, patriarchy, Marxism, capitalism, failing to get one’s earwax regularly irrigated

18 thoughts on “Please Don’t Feed the Snoofs: An Anti-Paternalistic Screed

  1. 1

    On further consideration, I’m afraid I may have mistimed this post quite badly. Just to clarify: this is an issue I’ve been thinking about and discussing with my sisters for several years now. Recent discussion of satire on the thread below finally prompted me to get it up, but (despite Trash Calls’ very understandable interpretation to the contrary) it’s not aimed at m&m or any particular person, nor meant to be tied to any particular recent discussion; it’s an attempt to discuss a general rhetorical strategy that I’ve long seen employed by both sides of various issues.

    Eeek. My heartfelt apologies to m&m or anyone else I’ve offended. Now that my foot is firmly lodged in my blogging throat, I’d best be off to the boring homework I’ve been procrastinating for hours now….

  2. 2

    I like the word, I’m going to hijack it.

    Ever since I discovered that “poofs” had an alternate meaning, I’ve needed a new word. That will fit just right.

    BTW, on earwax, it turns out that ear candles don’t do anything but create an illusion. Sigh.

  3. 3

    Great post. Now that you’ve defined snoofs so well, I believe I think in terms of snoofs everyday.
    I will take issue with the idea that there aren’t such people out there. Why else would my baby’s Bumbo chair be recalled to have a sticker placed on it “DO NOT PLACE ON ELEVATED SURFACE”. There really are some stupid people out there. I’m not incredibly wise or experienced, but I do think there are sillier versions of me walking around out there (my 18 yo sister comes to mind) who might fit your definition of snoof. *(or am I really missing the point?)
    Also, “snoof” does have an entry in the Urban Dictionary, FYI.

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    I think there’s a difference between a theoretical person who might misuse a product and sue the manufacturer over it and a theoretical person who might be offended at a particular idea or style of expressing an idea. ZD’s aren’t trying to avoid being sued, but rather to have a conversation with real people about real ideas without having to tiptoe around the delicate feelings of imaginary people.

  6. 6

    Eve, I’m personally okay with this post, but I’m worried about the effect of the term “snoofs.” What if someone who has an allergy to invented vocabulary terms, and doesn’t know much about ZD and how careful we are about using fantastical words, were to read this post and conclude that we don’t know how to use the English language properly, and just casually toss out terms like “snoof” without following appropriate linguistic protocol? On their behalf, I’d like to request that you reconsider your casual use of made-up words. 🙂

    (Jessaway, that’s interesting that the term does have a definition–thanks for the link!)

  7. 7

    Lynnette posted #6 because she knows I have an allergy to invented words. It is a side effect of having green blood. (If you didn’t know, Trash Calls outed me. I can’t keep it a secret anymore.)

    Eve, thanks for your disclaimer all the same.

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    So would asking people not to feed snoofs because you are wise enough never to fall for such a thing qualify as snoof feeding? Have you ever fed a snoof? Is this a version of your former sillier self or should you name a real snoof feeder. I like the paradox, very deep. 😉

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    . Snoof
    15 up, 31 down

    A person of many principles, mostly of goodwill. Also, a hero in many facets.

    “Hey, that Mother Theresa was a real Snoof.”

    “Arnold Schwarzenegger really plays a great Snoof in movies.”

    I’ll skip the rest of the definitions, though by the time you get to the end, you are probably ready to look for another coined word.

  12. 12

    Whew, I’m late getting back to this one!

    Jessawhy, yes, you’re entirely right. There are stupid people out there, and even more frightening, there are stupid people in here, and all of us are sometimes they. (We have met the enemy, and it is us, etc.) But I think Katya’s nailed it, and Lynnette has kindly illustrated it: the snoof problem, as I see it, is a problem of made-up, imaginary stupid people.

    Thanks to Ethesis for the links to the urban dictionary (so much for originality!) and Tracy for the ear-bulb recommendation. I agree that snoof is just a fun word; I’ve loved it ever since Kiskilili invented it (or at least our particular twist on it). m&m has green blood? What other secrets are people keeping around here??

    rowish, inevitably. But I like to keep my sacred cows real. There are so many real sacred cows I’m not really up to letting a herd of imaginary sacred cows stampede across a given discussion I might want to have.

    doc, oh, I’ve fed a snoof or two in my time, I have no doubt. But I take issue only with real snoof-herders, or to put it differently, with actual invocations of imaginary damaged persons that occasionally show up as arguments against the continuation of a particular discussion or topic. I give wholly imaginary snoof-herders, or if you prefer, imagined positers of imaginary damaged persons, a completely free rein.

    If you’re not real, you can do whatever you wish. That’s the beauty and the drawback of being unreal.

  13. 13

    Stephen M –

    There’s no reason a word can’t have more than one meaning. And since the word “snoof” seems to fill a phonetic gap in English (as evidenced by similar words such as “snood” and “poof”), I’m not at all surprised that more than one person has come up with the word. However, unless the majority of the ZD / bloggernacle readership is familiar with the term in another context which would render this one confusing, I don’t see why it can’t be used here, with Kiskilili’s definition.

  14. 14

    We’re all a little stupid, right?


    I love the word. Does it also apply to the ever-present ‘that’s exactly what the _____wants you to think” (i.e. devil, “world”) — the ‘other’ against which we can’t help but define ourselves? It also sounds a bit like reification, but now I’m just throwing out words to try and make myself sound smart.

    How’s the ward holding up, by the way? Have people grown back their testimonies since I’ve been away?


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    Glenn, oh, sure, I think we can let “snoof” have a lot of linguistic slippage. 😉

    Great to hear from you! The ward seems about the same as always, but I’m probably the wrong person to ask about general trends, since I never seem to be on the grapevine or in the thick of things socially (!) Tell your wife hello. We miss you and hope you’re doing well in your new situation.

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    Cool. Yeah, we’re doing well. Tracey keeps one of those nice family blogs that links within six degrees of seperation to every other nice family blog in the world (finally, Malachai’s turning of the hearts comes to a URL near you). If you wanna take a look, send me an email and I’ll give you the link, but it’s probably best to not advertise it here for all the.. eh hem.. “riff-raff’ your site is known to attract. 😉 I’ve got to come and read this stuff more often. I forget how much I enjoy it.

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