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"Try to pay attention to the language we all agreed on.”

February 3, 2020
Every now and then I feel like writing something non-baseball related. This is one of those articles, although its genesis is rooted in something I frequently see expressed in a sports context, and it creeps into other areas as well. And I’m probably going to end up sounding like Dana Carvey’s "Grumpy Old Man" character that he used to portray on Saturday Night Live roughly 30 years ago who always complained about how things had changed from when he was younger ("I don’t like things now compared to the way things used to be" and "that’s the way it was, and we liked it!"), but here goes…..
First, a step back….
George Carlin passed away a little over a decade ago. I miss his humor. He covered a lot of ground, from politics to religion to psychology, but the one thing about his humor that resonated with me was that he had a real fascination with and a true love of the English language (and I’m not even specifically referring to his famous "7 words you can’t say on TV" bit). His observations on the English language were an underlying foundation of his comedy.
Here’s a quick example, where he comments on the concept of "self help" books (condensing the excerpt a little):
"Why do so many people need help?  …..And the part I really don’t understand, if you’re looking for self help, why would you read a book written by somebody else?  That’s not "self help"…. that’s "help"! There’s no such a thing as "self help"…if you did it yourself, you didn’t need help. You did it yourself!  Try to pay attention to the language we all agreed on."
It’s that last sentence that was the inspiration for the title of this article. Because…well, I love language. I love trying to choose the optimal word. Sometimes I obsess a little too much over it and consult the thesaurus a little too much. It slows me down when I’m writing, as I’m constantly second-guessing the words I select in the pursuit for even better options, but the way I see it, words are tools. I try to pick the right word, much like a good analyst tries to choose the proper technique to research a topic or a handyman strives to select the right tool to tackle a repair. Pick the wrong tool, and you can end up with a bigger mess on your hands. Proper word choice is essential to effectively communicating one’s thoughts. Communication is one of the most challenging things we do as humans. The goal of any good writer is to try and bridge that gap between what the writer is attempting to convey and what the reader actually receives. It’s a tricky bridge to navigate, complete with noise and distortions, encoding and decoding, intent vs. interpretation. Use the wrong word, and the message can deteriorate.
We have no shortage of word options. Think of all of the words we have at our disposal to express the concept of "big". There’s large, great, considerable, enormous, huge, immense, tremendous, vast, colossal, gigantic, mammoth, jumbo, humongous, bulky, voluminous…..and on and on. They’re synonyms, but each one offers a slightly different variation on the concept. And in many cases, using one instead of another can make, well, a "big" difference.
Which brings us to the use of the word "snub"……
I think "snub" has to be one of the most mis-used words that regularly appears in sports and entertainment articles. It’s commonly used when people refer to real or perceived oversights of various honors (like the Hall of Fame or an All-Star game selection), or an award nomination (such as the Oscars).
Google the phrase "baseball all star game snubs", and you’ll be treated to a series of articles where the notion of a "snub" is applied frequently. Seems like everyone comes up with a list of "snubs". 
Combing through the articles on just a couple of pages of article links, here are some of the names that I saw referenced as "snubs" for the 2019 Major League All Star game (no particular order):
Fernando Tatis, Jr.
Luke Voit
Xander Boegarts
Gleber Torres
Felipe Vazquez
Trey Mancini
Daniel Vogelbach
Pete Alonso
Brandon Lowe
Paul DeJong
Matt Chapman
Max Kepler
Tommy Pham
Eric Hosmer
Hunter Renfroe
Franmil Reyes
Max Muncy
Yoan Moncada
Rafael Devers
Jose Berrios
Eddie Rosario
Stephen Strasburg
Liam Hendricks
Marcus Semien
Byron Buxton
Hunter Dozier
Matt Boyd
Lance Lynn
Chris Sale
German Marquez
Roberto Perez
Christian Vazquez
Ken Giles
Bryce Harper
Manny Machado
Shane Bieber
Cole Hamels
Rhys Hopkins
Luke Jackson
Adalberto Mondesi
Anthony Rizzo
Alex Verdugo
Brandon Woodruff
Yadier Molina
Ozzie Albies
Dansby Swanson
Juan Soto
That’s 47 names, which is almost as many "snubs" as there are actual roster spots (68). Now, granted, several of these players ended up making the final rosters anyway due to injuries (does that mean they were "unsnubbed"?), but even so, that’s a whole bunch of "snubbing" going on.
Except that….no, there’s really not. These players weren’t snubbed. That’s absurd. Others were chosen instead of them. That’s all.
Not to go all Funk and Wagnall’s on anyone, but here are the main definitions of "snub" according to various sources:
to treat with contempt or neglect.
Cambridge Dictonary:
1) to treat someone rudelyespecially by ignoring that person.
2) to insult someone by not giving them any attention or treating them as if they are not important.
1) to treat with disdain or contempt, especially by ignoring.
2) to check or reject with a sharp rebuke or remark. explains it this way:
To snub is to ignore or refuse to acknowledge someone. If you want to snub your former best friend, you can refuse to even look at her when you pass in the hallway.
When you snub someone, you deliver an insult by pretending to not even notice someone that you know. There’s an element of disdain and rejection to a snub, as if you’re too good to even acknowledge the person. As a noun, a snub is that act of cold rejection. Your former friend probably noticed the snub, and she’ll probably snub you from now on. Snub also means "very short," like the nose on a bulldog.
Even, which can often be counted on to provide some additional takes on a word or phrase, describes "snub" in this manner:
Describes the action of ignoring, failing to notice, or pretending not to see someone.
A person is usually snubbed when they are disliked or the other person couldn’t be bothered talking to them.
Now, do any of those seem anything like what people are talking about when they refer to Hall of Fame or All Star game (or Oscar) "snubs"? Of course not. That’s ridiculous. There are only so many slots available on an All Star game roster, and there are guidelines (such as having every team represented) that need to be followed that impact the selections. Somebody is going to be left off. Several, in fact. There will always be players who have a legitimate argument and are completely worthy of making an All Star team, but we can’t put them all on, and the line that separates who makes the team vs. who has to be left off is typically very thin indeed. To characterize this as being "snubbed" is absurd. There are only so many "best movie" and "best director" nominations available. Someone or something that is someone else’s favorite is going to get bypassed at some point. There’s just not enough room.
In a nutshell, the problem is that "snub" is getting used as a synonym for simply omitting someone or opting for someone else.  But look at those definitions again. Look at the tone contained by the key words that help define a snub: disdain, contempt, rudeness, scorn, rebuke, malice.   A "snub" is more than simply passing over someone in favor of someone else. It contains an element of intentional negativity being delivered by the person doing the "snubbing".
I would say that, without exaggerating, not 1 in 100 of the examples of "snubs" in articles such as these are even remotely close to being a true "snub". It’s just someone being lazy with the language.
Now, I certainly realize that the application of words and word usage are never entirely stable. They can evolve over time, and their meanings and usage can certainly change. I’ve mentioned this example before, but I recall going into a steakhouse once and asking what choices they had for steak sauces, and the server listed them off and I made my selection, and he replied with "Awesome"! In my head, I thought to myself "No, my steak sauce selection was most certainly not "awesome". I simply made a choice. But, "awesome" has evolved over time, and to this dude, it simply meant "great, I have that sauce available, thank you for making your selection so I can proceed with my duties!"
So, yes, words and usage of words do change over time. But I find it disheartening when perfectly good words get softened. To "snub" someone carries a very strong underlying meaning. When someone uses it to simply describe a situation where someone got passed over by another person that is arguably inferior, then the word is effectively neutered. And that’s what bothers me most. We have plenty of other options to describe a decision that you disagree with. 
Besides, "snub" is a great sounding word, in a family with other great "sn" words that connote negative imagery: snake, snob, snide, sneer, snark, snuff, snit. There’s something about the "snnnnnn" sound that is deliciously bleak. I’d hate to lose that from our arsenal of vocabulary.
So I say, stop with all the talk of "snubbing". If you disagree with a selection, say so, but realize that it’s just your opinion. If you think that someone else was more deserving, make your case. But please leave the implication of being "snubbed" out of it.
"Try to pay attention to the language we all agreed on." 
And, if you made it this far…..thank you for not "snubbing" this article.

COMMENTS (29 Comments, most recent shown first)

Steven Goldleaf
Don't disagree a bit with any of that, just pointing out the counter-argument.
2:26 PM Feb 10th
Marc Schneider
I meant it "annoys" the hell out of me.
1:57 PM Feb 10th
Marc Schneider
Steven Goldleaf,

I understand there will always be some imprecision and people will disagree on the metes-and-bounds of a definition. I don't have a problem with that. Often people will say something in conversation that is not exactly true or does not convey what they really mean. In most cases, you can understand what the person means and, frankly, it ignores the hell out of me when Bill pretends not to understand a question because it has not been phrased right. But words do have meanings that are not arbitrary. My concern is where people specifically expand the meaning of a word in order to dismiss an argument or to impugn someone else. For example, socialist is often used by the right to mean anything that involves government intervention, which is not really the historical meaning of the term. But it serves the purpose of implying that the person advocating for, say, Medicare-for-All, is a wild-eyed communist, who is unamerican. Same with terms like racist. A little imprecision is inevitable, but I think it's a problem when you start expanding the historical definition of a word.
1:56 PM Feb 10th
Marc Schneider
"I do have to say, for someone who openly insists that anyone can use the language in any way he’s comfortable with, Bill does devote a lot of his answers on “Hey Bill” to criticizing harshly his questioners’ terminology, lack of clarity, ambiguous phrasing, poor vocabulary, etc."

Very true, especially considering that Bill spends more time not answering questions than he does answering them, and often on the basis of not understanding the question.
1:46 PM Feb 10th
Steven Goldleaf
But what if your "racist," Marc, is my "bigot" and Dan's "white supremacist" and his "racially insensitive person" and her "Nazi" and their "redneck thug"? Are we all going to have to confer to agree on terminology, or are we going to allow others a little imprecision in order to have a coherent conversation? That's the other side of this topic. To apply here, aren't we maybe better off letting people use "snub" incorrectly (in our view), and maybe starting our piece with, "I take your point, though I prefer to use the term 'omit' rather than 'snub' but anyway...."
12:19 PM Feb 10th
Marc Schneider
I think precision in language, pace Bill James, is important. What has happened is that people have taken to, not just misusing words, but making up their own meaning, often for political reasons. For example, terms such as racist, sexist, socialist, etc. People discard their dictionary meanings and make them mean whatever they want them to mean as a way of weaponizing the words. I disagree strongly with Bill's notion that people should be able to use words how they want.
11:28 AM Feb 10th
Steven Goldleaf
Dan--Great. I'm simply and clearly pointing out that the concept of "wrong" where language is concerned seems to ignite a pretty good-sized flame for Bill James, and I think that's sometimes a spectacular show to watch, especially when you're not the one he's roasting like a marshmallow. I think your getting away with this subject for a column is proof positive that he doesn't read these things, or just that he's adopted a policy of never commenting on other folks' columns. I couldn't agree more with you that there's plenty of stuff that's right and wrong about language.
4:23 PM Feb 9th
And remember, kids, much of what people call “irony” or “ironic” is really “coincidence “. Goodnight.​
9:53 AM Feb 9th

First, thanks for the reply.

I'm not offended by the use of the word snub. People are simply and clearly using it wrong, and I'm simply and clearly pointing that out.

For sure, people can do whatever they want, and if the public decides through its collective application of the word that it now means something in addition to what it historically has meant, I'm definitely powerless to stop that. I'm just simply pointing out that they're using it wrong. A snub without the element of intentional contempt or disdain simply isn't a snub. That's a key element, and if it's missing, it's a gross misuse of the word. It's the same thing as when I go to Chipotle and choose the white rice instead of the brown rice and my kids tell me that I'm being "racist" (and yes, that's a true story, and no, they weren't kidding). I will resist any attempts to soften a word by removing a key element of what that word exists in the first place.

The Hall of Fame and the All Star Game and the Oscars and the Grammys don't exist as a means for people to be treated with contempt or disdain or to be rebuked. They exist to honor excellence. That's their raison dêtre. If people want to try to imply that people who don't get these honors are somehow being treated rudely or coldly rejected, I'm within my rights to call out that I think it's a completely unfair characterization. Or, at the very least, they should make their case as to why they think it rises to the level of a true snub. If they're going to take the lazy way out of characterizing the people who simply don't make the final cut as having been treated poorly because there's some larger insidious factor at work, and that factor isn't really present, I'm within my rights to call that out as absurd.

So, no, I suppose not everyone "agreed" to the language. Neither did I, really. But language does exist to help communicate ideas, and if they're using a word in a way that doesn't accurately characterize what's happening and normally carries additional negative implications, I'm certainly going to call that out.

7:45 AM Feb 9th
Steven Goldleaf
Dan—I enjoyed this article, and I mostly agree with your observations, but I gotta say “Try to pay attention to the language we all agreed on” is the linguistic equivalent of kicking Bill James in the balls on his own website. I hate speaking for Bill (mainly because I get kicked in the balls whenever I do, and Bill has a kick like a methed-up jackass) but I believe he has expressed the diametric opposite of this sentiment many a time on this website, stuff like “You don’t own the language, I never agreed to any of your rules so shove them up where the moon don’t shine, I’ll speak and write like I want to, not like you copyediting grandma nozzleheads tell me to, “ and on and on and on and on and on….It’s one of the few subjects I find him totally unreasonable and intemperate on.

In a less parodic vein, the argument that Bill has made (that I am utterly opposed to) is that words’ meaning and connotations evolve as people use them, and if people want to use “snub” in a way that offends you, well, too bad for you. My objection to this argument (and maybe yours) is that by encouraging imprecision we’re muddying up communication and making the language ambiguous to the point of incomprehensibility. If “snub” means something else in addition to its “agreed-upon” meaning, we can’t be sure if the author is implying a rebuke or simply noting an omission. To my mind, that ambiguity weakens the words “snub” and “omit,” both. But to Bill (and I should really say “to thinkers like Bill” or just “to descriptivists” because I really don’t want to drag Bill into this, I’m just amused at the irony of writing about “the language we all agreed on” on his site) it’s a natural and desirable trait of language to be flexible and inclusive and open to everyone’s own individual style.

I don’t actually believe that sharp, clear writers like Bill believe half the twaddle they profess about copy-editors, grammar Nazis, pointy-headed innaleckuwells, experts, coastal elites—if they did, they’d have no problem with my spelling of “intellectuals” and every other word in the language any damned way I feel like it, which they don’t. Everyone (to generalize indefensibly) wants the rules they themselves have learned (and can apply easily ) to stay rigidly in effect, and for the other rules, the ones that trip them up or that they can’t always remember, to get pitched in the garbage, along with the coffee grounds and banana peels, the problem there being that everyone (to generalize defensibly) masters a slightly different set of rules, so we’re really just fighting over turf, not principles. It sounds better, though, if you can make it sound like you’re fighting for a noble principle.

(See, that last phrase is clearer if I spell it like I did, because “fighting for a Nobel principal” sounds like I’m defending the guy who ran your grammar school after winning a valuable Swedish prize. A descriptivist might say, “Oh, hell, I understood what you were trying to say there, no need to get all stuffy and schoolmarmish about how you spell or capitalize words—it all comes out the same in the warsh.” ) Understanding the “rules” of clear writing, and being able to employ them without having a conniption fit, is just a by-product of being able to think. Not a one-to-one correlation—I’m sure there are others than just Bill who write superbly while resenting the “rules” of formal discourse—by there’s definitely some cause-and-effect going on here. I do have to say, for someone who openly insists that anyone can use the language in any way he’s comfortable with, Bill does devote a lot of his answers on “Hey Bill” to criticizing harshly his questioners’ terminology, lack of clarity, ambiguous phrasing, poor vocabulary, etc.

7:24 AM Feb 8th
I just re-read my post and realized I overstated my case. Oh well, it belongs to the internet now.
3:42 PM Feb 6th
I'm glad you brought up the colloquial use of the term 'awesome." This is part of a continuing trend of overuse of superlatives and other words. There's a continuous lowering of the thresholds required to qualify for use of a word. Awesome used to mean awe-inspiring, as in Nature's Awesome Power to Destroy Whole Cities with tidal waves, tornadoes, etc. "Awesome" has now been diminished to the point that it's used to describe a menu selection.

The most common offenders of overuse of superlatives have probably been sports media. Superstar, great player, all-time great, best team: none of these phrases are applied as selectively as I believe they should be. For example, I've heard Ernie Els referred to as an all-time great, a designation that I believe should be reserved for the five (or ten, or three, or whatever [small] number) greatest golfers ever. So the greatest golfers of all time are Woods, Nicklaus, Hogan, Hagen, and...Ernie Els?

But you all know that. There's a more concerning problem that is rapidly moving to the top of my list of language pet peeves: overuse of the terms "racist" and "racism." I'm 62 years old, and I'm accustomed to the term racism being reserved for things like housing discrimination, the Holocaust, Balkan war crimes, Jim Crow laws, genocide, and the mistreatment of Africans, Asians, and Native Americans by European colonial powers. It's a heavy term, used to indict for crimes against humanity.

Or so I thought. Today racism is a much broader term than that, encompassing everything from genocide to unconscious bias and microaggression. I believe that microaggression and unconscious bias are real things. I just think they don't rise to the level of my idea of Racism. I like to place these things under the broader (in my mind) category of biases and prejudices, and reserve the term 'racism' for actions that describe more powerful injustices.
11:18 AM Feb 6th
Or near miss. It's not as good as a miss near, but it's better than being snubbed.
11:25 AM Feb 5th
“Those not selected” isn’t as exciting a headline as “snubbed”.
10:18 AM Feb 5th
Evolved words and evolving attitudes.

For a long time I was irritated by the misuse of two words: Fantastic and Incredible. But I eventually (and not all that long ago) decided to accept the will of popular opinion.

Not only that, I have found a way to use those words combining both meanings. When someone expresses opinions I find both ridiculous and in need of mockery, I say to them things like, "That's fantastic!" or, "My good fellow, that's incredible!" while smirking inside with passive aggression, heh, heh.

I never said I was a nice person.

Good article, Dan. I'm a spiritual cousin to you as regards searching for the right word, though probably an inferior one.
9:20 PM Feb 4th
Excellent comments, all. Thanks.

I don't really have anything much to add, but I would like to say, touché, Don :) In an article bemoaning the misuse of language, I got lazy myself. Touché, indeed.

6:21 PM Feb 4th
Dan is disrespecting those awesome posters who publicized all-star snubs.

Peace out. ​
5:47 PM Feb 4th
One of the things that also happens is the further down the line you go the thinner the line is between players. For example look at WAR for position players.

160 - 170 2 players
150 - 160 2 players
140 - 150 1 player
130 - 140 2 players
120 - 130 4 players
110 - 120 4 players
100 - 110 6 players 21 players so far
90 - 100 9 players
80 - 90 7 players
70 - 80 32 players
60 - 70 55 players

For me and others I think, sixty is the hall of fame line.

2:50 PM Feb 4th
Snub and disrespect are similar words. Talk of "no disrespect" and "disrespecting someone" has become quite prevalent in the past 15 years or so. I don't remember hearing it much in the '90s. It seems now it's considered morally wrong to criticize someone else, or simply do something other than praise that person.
2:25 PM Feb 4th
You have, I suspect inadvertently hit one of my hot buttons:

"The goal of any good writer is to try and bridge that gap..."

Shouldn't that be

"The goal of any good writer is to try TO bridge that gap..."?
1:48 PM Feb 4th
I share this pet peeve and whole-heartedly endorse this article. I am convinced that this misapplication of "snub" has been going on for so long now -- nearly a generation, I believe -- that 99.99% of people misusing it don't even know what it really means.
11:11 AM Feb 4th
"Use the right word, not its second cousin."

--Mark Twain, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses"​
10:27 AM Feb 4th
I don't know what your waiter thought was so "awesome" about you snubbing the other steak sauces.
10:13 AM Feb 4th
Maris, your last post has a perfect response, so I'll make it.

If you had 150 players on each roster, the guy at #151 would be a 'snub.' The quality of the player, team, musician or grease-covered troupist with mother issues doesn't matter. Every group, every cohort with a line will exclude something or someone.

Random person: "pick a number between 1 and 10"

11: "What am I, chopped liver?"
10:02 AM Feb 4th
The problem with stamping out this cheap use of 'snub' is who uses it and why.

Without doing any research (sorry), I would guess that somewhere between 96 percent and EVERY SINGLE TIME, the snub-shouter is a member of the media who is stuck for a story. The only reason I qualify it is that sometimes they actually have something to write about, and their editor made them do a snub story because they get clicks.

Thinking about it (thinking doesn't qualify as research, Descartes can suck it), that's not true. The word bleeds into online conversations quite a bit, and I'm sure a simple search for the word (not doin' it) would find it all over the reader posts section. But does anyone use it in verbal form, other than media members who are stuck for a story? Or forced to do it by hungry editors looking for cheap clicks?

So that's probably your target audience. BTW, I had to google Descartes, so I broke my pledge to not do any research whatsoever. Please don't snub me for it. :)
9:59 AM Feb 4th
Steven Goldleaf
Hed Lingo Irks Dan
6:38 AM Feb 4th
(Been that way at least for some years; dunno exactly how long.)

Amazing that even with so many spots, there are always so many good candidates who don't make it.
10:40 PM Feb 3rd
There are 34 people on an all star team!?!?!?!

10:32 PM Feb 3rd
Dan: Love it!

I do the same thing of looking for what feels like exactly the right word, and if I don't find it, which is often, I mark it in my mind as a thing for me to "look up" later on (I'm not into pulling out my cellphone, nor, BTW, for saying merely "phone" for a cellphone) ....I mark it in my mind as a thing for me to "look up" later on if I remember, which I rarely do.

About the snub thing, and how all that it usually means is just that some other worthy or more worthy person was picked.....
I sometimes participate in this odd thing called "amateur piano competitions," in which many of the contestants are basically ringers, i.e. professionals who either didn't make it or whose parents made them also go to medical school or law school, but never mind about that.

When someone doesn't make it to the next round, which most don't because that's how it is, often they feel they've been "snubbed," and often they talk about some person who is advancing (of course they pick the one they think is the worst) and say, how could anyone think he played better than I did.
I might not have so easily appreciated the 'fail' in that if not for stuff of Bill's that I've read over the years.
It's a version if the "If....then why not" argument that we see constantly about the Hall of Fame, kind of like "If Harold Baines is in there, how can [pick any of about 1000 players] not be in there....."

And it's even less of a "snub" when it's about a quite subjective thing, which music is and which all-star picking is to a considerable extent, and/or a thing where many candidates are closely bunched together, which is always the case in all-star picking.

BTW, I don't agree that the evolved meaning of "awesome" is "great."
I'd say it's more like "doesn't suck." :-)
9:32 PM Feb 3rd
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