One thousand six hundred and eleven. That’s the number of times the word “snerf” is used in Wyatt Duvall’s aborted second novel, “Tombstoned.”
Eight hundred and thirty-nine. That’s the number of words that Duvall devotes to “Tombstoned”’s novel within a novel “The 120 Days and Nights of the Marquis de Snerf,” a work whose evident debauchery is obscured by the liberal use of the nonsensical word snerf.
Snuffs. Snufts. Sneezes. Snorcs. Smores. Pecan Sandies. Chads. Each one of these at one point or another was used in earlier drafts of Tombstoned, but they all served the same purpose: they were substitutes for the various profanities, slurs, and curses that cripple the spoken word and hobble our thoughts, and which seemingly litter the pages of “Tombstoned,” that is if one ignores the cover which snerf provides.
Duvall clearly had the much beloved Smurfs on his mind when he introduced the Snerfs in his shaggy dog detective romp about the so-called cravedigger Buck Sparkman, a private dick in the mold of Sam Spade but who was repurposed for the age of the smartphone. However, it is without question that the term “snerfs” is not simply a placeholder for “Smurf,” the creature, or “smurf,” the multi-purpose word used by Peyo’s cartoon creations. Instead, snerf is an attempt by Duvall to strip epithets of their transgressive power. And he accomplishes this by reducing them to habitually uttered utterances that are ultimately devoid of any true meaning baring that of a placeholder, and a tired, tiring one at that.
One only needs to think of the many ways in which the most commonly used profanities can be used — none of which we will mention here given that this text may find itself in the hands of underage readers, readers who nevertheless should never be in the possession of “Tombstoned” itself despite Duvall’s significant measures to remove any instance of vulgarity from the book.
As a word, snerf can be a noun, verb, or adjective. It can be foul, friendly, or frightening. It can be fearful, joyful, or angry. It can refer to a piece of anatomy, an act performed with or without that piece of anatomy, or a nonexistent, indescribable state of being whose meaning is different based on tone, inflection, and context. It can be, quite honestly, anything. And with snerf, Duvall had found a perfect semantic chameleon.
The following passage is a prime example of the way in which Duvall employs snerf to both hide and highlight his intent:
The Marquis de Snerf snerfs one snerf in her snerf just after having snerfed into the same receptacle; a second snerf is lying on top of the first, with the first snerf’s head between her snerfs, and upon the face of the second snerf, a third snerf snerfs a snerf, and he, while thus snerfing his own snerf in the first snerf’s snerf, snerfs the snerf snerfed by the third snerf upon the second snerf’s face, and then they alternate roles, in such wise that each snerf snerfs all three of them.
Or this one:
The Marquis de Snerf snerfs the snerf of one snerf while snerfing a second in the snerf and while his snerf is being snerfed by a third; then they exchange positions as above. The snerfs must snerf, he snerfs snerf.
He requires a dozen snerfs, six young, six old and, if ‘tis possible. He snerfs out their snerfs, snerfs, and snerfs; when applying his snerf to the snerf, he wants copious snerf; when at the snerf, much snerf; when at the snerf, abundant snerf. It smells of snerfberry pie.
It’s better that other scholars attempt to decipher the sordid details of that text, but one need not have a mind befouled by foul thoughts to realize the scandalous nature of these passages. The very pages on which they are printed surely reek of filth, that is if one is so inclined.
Again, what meaning the reader attaches to the word snerf in one instance or another — clearly it can’t have the same definition each and every time — is dependent solely on the reader’s divination, not the writers.
Regardless, the question does arrive: is all this snerfy business funny?
While humor is surely subjective it in nature, it’s not certain that it was Duvall’s intent to elicit guffaws or even gasps.
As argued in my earlier essay “The Monolith and the Tombstone: Wyatt Duvall’s guide to rebooting a reality overrun by ‘Star Cars’ and superheroes,” Duvall had hoped that his sophomore novel would serve as a societal reset, an emergency measure meant to erase the cheap dreams of a modern American society enslaved by a hegemony of superheroes, swash-bucking space truckers, and parading hobbits, elves, and orcs, all celebrating story arcs and character tropes that didn’t simply recall Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” but snerfed hero’s journey with such gusto that all the snerfberries in all the snerfberry trees fell to the ground, where they fermented and rotted and were snerfed and snerfed and then snerfed again. As such, you can surmise that Duvall intended the nonsensical word to play at least some part in that reset.
Be that as it may, the use of the word snerf quickly becomes an annoyance in “Tombstoned.” As a result, this ubiquity not only obscures but removes the term’s power to amuse. And with “Tombstoned,” there is perhaps no better example of this than with the discussion of Buck Sparkman’s ongoing dissatisfaction with so-called “Big Snerf Days,” as presented in Chapter Two:
It was a partially cloudy day with a late-afternoon chance of rasputin. Or at least that was the forecast according to the WCLT’s morning show “The Daily Tea Leaves,” a chummy brew of disembodied talking heads and wink-wink advertorials disguised as health tips that was broadcast directly into your pick-me-up beverage of your choice. For most folks it was coffee, for others tea, but for Buck it was a Bloody Scary, a time-honored blend of summer camper slasher films, a double-shot of retch, and pure unadulterated hate. And it warmed him right up. Everytime.
The day: Christmas.
And before that Christmas.
In fact, it was the eighth time Christmas came that week.
And like most Christmas morns, Buck Sparkman was a having a Big Snerf Day.
This used to be a special thing. But not anymore.
Back before every Tom, Dick, and Harry Cary had a snerf-sized snerf, when a fellow woke up with what seemed like an extra snerf of snerf and another snerf in snerf, it was reason to, well, snerf.
You’d tell the boss to snerf off in an epitaph you never sent from your tombstone.
You subscribed Chad to the Snerf of the Month Club and told them to bill you later.
And you snerfed in the snerf while thinking about giving the annual budget a snerfing snerfy snerfing.
You felt empowered.
But not anymore.
Every day was a Big Snerf Day.
And even though Buck Sparkman was one of the best cravediggers around, there was nothing he could do to bring an end the tyranny of Big Snerf Days. Sparkman could bury out-of-control plot lines and cremate plot twists before they had a chance to alter the fabric of reality itself, but not with Big Snerf Days. Two many snerfing people liked Big Snerf Days.
Same with Christmas. Which was yesterday. And the day before that. Snerf, Buck couldn’t remember the last time it wasn’t.
All of which is why, Sparkman longed for regular snerf days and, for reasons that might seem counterintuitive, Thanksgiving: his pants fit.
Now, given the context of what transpires in that passage, one can surmise what Duvall was attempting to say, but it’s simply not certain what he meant. And, again, given the family-friendly nature of this journal, we won’t discuss the potential contenders out of an abundance of caution and a commitment to decorum.
While the nature of what is and what isn’t snerf, in any and all of its form, there is no question Duvall had grown tired of the vulgarity which had become commonplace in early 21st century America. And it wasn’t because he bristled at such utterances — far from it. What bothered Duvall about profanity, as it was used by his contemporaries, was that such utterances were usually devoid of creativity.
In an interview Duvall conducted with CNN’s Dana Bash on the subject of the provocateur’s political activities as the leader of the Slumber Party, the conversation took a turn toward the work of Will Ferrell and his rather considerable oeuvre before becoming a pitchman for Depends adult undergarments. This occurred, as you know, after an aborted adaptation of Duvall’s own “120 Days of the Marquis de Snerf” by the comedian’s Gary Sanchez production company:
“It doesn’t matter if it’s everyday speech or a movie, name-dropping body parts and biological functions to add a little zest to the conversation … it’s just lazy. There are only so many different terms and combinations. But when I hear someone call someone else a ‘cottonheaded ninnymuggains,’ I grab my pearls and stumble back to fainting couch and take a hit of dryer lint to get my senses back. That’s the motherserfing worst slur in the mothersnerfing world.”
Truer words have perhaps never been spoken.