Do not be the snools of the captious.

The Economist’s style guide proscribes “split infinitives” (which is like proscribing Antarctic polar bears – they’re a myth) not because they’re an error – it acknowledges they’re not – but because “to see [the rule against them] broken is so annoying to so many people that you should observe it.” In response, the redoubtable Stan Carey posted a mini-rant. My position is in accord with his: they are fools to be snools of the captious.

What does that mean? It means they are fools to snool before snooty peevers. It means they are fools to let priggish pedants snool them. They should, instead, school the captious wretches.

OK, but what is this word snool?

The context should give you some clue. As a noun, it means a snivelling, drooling lickspittle tool, a uselessly pusillanimous stoolie. Someone who has o no engraved in their heart, someone terrified of crossing anyone less they get bonked on the snoot (or punched in the groin: “Snool!”). As a verb, it means (transitive) to make a snool of someone, or treat them like a snool, or (intransitive) to be a snool.

Don’t hear this word much? That’s no surprise; it’s not current in most places. It may still be used in Scotland and Northern England. It’s a Scots English word, the origin of which is unclear. It fits tidily into poems by Robert Burns: “O, for ane and twenty Tam” and “A Bard’s Epitaph.”

You may have observed that the printed form of the word is like a spool with the bottom cut off, or backward loons, or a school with something missing, or a snow owl without its wings. You may have noticed that its opening /sn/ is often found in words to do with the nose (sniff, snout, snot, sneeze, snore). This word has many flavours in it for those who wish to explore it.

But it is a word for the sort of people who would avoid exploring flavours and meanings for fear of giving pique to captious people with personality disorders – the last people who should get their way on anything. Give way to them and they will just take it as further proof of their unassailable rightness.

So do not be snooled by the captious. School them instead.

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