Open Letter to The Awl
June 18, 2010 | by John Jeremiah Sullivan
First you tell us—in what begins to sound like a rage-filled howl against the light—that there is “no such word as snuck.” Then you send us a link to an Internet site, where we learn that snuck “has reached the point where it is a virtual rival of sneaked in many parts of the English-speaking world.” With enemies like that, who needs friends?
You instruct us to look at the OED, yet when we do, we find not only a snuck entry there (“chiefly U.S. pa. tense and pple. of sneak v.”), but also dozens of usage citations, going back to the nineteenth century, many of which are taken from such known language slouches as Raymond Chandler, Jack Kerouac, William Faulkner . . .
Speaking of Faulkner, the coincidence of our being crackers is not, as you imply, irrelevant in this case. The very first appearances of snuck are almost exclusively Southern, and opposition to it has always been inseparable from the idea that it sounds country, or vulgar, or demotic.
That's probably why the dear “ass-people” at your high school taught you never to say snuck. They wanted the best for you, and didn't want your college professors making fun of you in class. That's only proper. High school is the time and place for rigid prescriptivism of the kind you're trying to put over on us. Later on, though, you put away high-school things. You wake up to the idea that English is an ocean, full of words that live, change, and die, and that your task is not to fix them in place but to master their flow, as best a person can.
A story I heard during the course of my own education changed my mind forever on this subject. When William Tyndale was doing his translation of the New Testament in the sixteenth century—the one that got him killed—there was a certain ancient word for which he lacked an English equivalent. His solution was to mash together a French word, beauty, and an old Saxon one, full. That's how we got beautiful. By your logic, we should stop using it, since, after all, it wasn't a word. Nothing is, until it is.
Snuck is a beautiful, almost onomatopoeic word. We've asked you for a good reason not to use it. In return you've given us the opinions of a long-ago ass-person (enjoyable term in itself—your coinage?). That person has been oppressing you. Set yourself free.
Yours in the cause,