Apologies for the non-sequitur, but in today’s Doonesbury strip a character uses the phrase “to rock the snark”. Does anyone know what this phrase means?
Nobody answered the question on that 2013 comment thread, but we're here to offer lexicographic help to those who may still be puzzled a year later.
You can probably infer a meaning for rock in this example – Kara McGrath, "#manicuremonday diy: 3 easy ways to get a flirty v-day mani!", Seventeen 2/10/2014:
Valentine's Day falls on a Friday this year, which means 1.) It's timed perfectly for an ultimate group date or girl's night out and 2.) You can get away with rocking a fun pink-and-red mani all week long! Don't worry—you don't have to spend hours tediously drawing out hearts and kisses with your nail art pens. These three new stickers and topcoats will make your V-day manicure a total breeze.
And by the same author: "the easiest way to rock the matte lip trend"; "Just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you can't keep rocking a pretty floral print!"; "Try rocking a leather jumper dress with a fun blouse this holiday season!"
The sense seems to be something like "to wear or display conspicuously and proudly".
This usage has been around for a while — the earliest example I've found is in some Kanye West lyrics from 2007, but I'm pretty sure I heard it before that:
(Kanye West, "Everything I am", released 2007) I never rock a mink coat in the winter time like Killa Cam / Or rock some mink boots in the summertime like Will.I.am
I found the exact phrase "rock the snark" in a Livejournal comment from 6/23/2007:
*snort* Nine always did rock the snark; you've captured his voice perfectly.
I suppose that this might have been a semi-coherent echo of the Rock the Vote organization, which has been around since 1990; in that organization's name, and in other phrases like "rock your world", rock means something more like "impact strongly".
In any case, rock = "display" starts (?) showing up in teen and gossip magazines by 2008:
(Seventeen, 9/25/2008) Creating the Sarah Palin wig for Tina Fey (who played Palin in the sketch) was practically just as complicated! According to the New York Times, a wig requires "a hairdresser, a team of wig makers, colorists and a pound of human hair" plus 40-50 hours to make (and we thought we spent a lot of time doing our hair)! According to the article, the Palin wig was a combination of a "French twist with a '60s bouffant kind of thing, and bangs." Hmm… maybe we should start rocking this hairstyle at school?
And the usage seems to have gone viral recently.
I was interested to see that a recent (10/15/2013) Cosmopolitan feature "7 Absolutely Essential Tips For Pulling Off Dark Lipstick" was republished in Seventeen under the headline "7 Tips for Rocking Dark Lipstick". But my theory that Cosmo's older audience might have been put off by an invitation to "rock" something is clearly wrong: back in 2011, Cosmo wrote about "The Color Everyone's Rocking This Season"; and "Rocking Wedges the Right Way" appeared last August.
White guys can sometimes rock stuff as well:
(2010) Huey Lewis is rocking some righteous pinstripes. "If Huey wins this," emcee Tom Dreesen said, "he'll give those pants back to the lady he got them from."
(2013) My dad is way ahead of the curve he has been rocking ass cleavage for years.
(2013) Always thrilling to see two characters meet in a flashback, and putting time-crossed Desmond together with physicist Daniel Faraday was A) awesome, and B) perfectly allowed the writers to establish a little science behind the time travel they were about to dive into. Suddenly the purple sky, the electromagnetic phenomena and the Island started to make sense. A little. Plus, Faraday is rocking some righteous hair.
Update — Ben Zimmer surveyed the history of transitive rock, and especially the phrase "rock the mic", in "When Did We First 'Rock the Mic'?", NYT On Language 7/9/2010, and "Rocking the English Language", Word Routes 7/9/2010. He suggests that in examples like this quote from Grandmaster Flash,
Cowboy rocked the crowd, Creole rocked the flow, Mel rocked the entire English language, Ness rocked the style, Rahiem rocked the ladies, and I rocked the turntables harder than ever.
an appropriate gloss is something like "to handle effectively and impressively; to use or wield effectively, esp. with style or self-assurance". (See Ben's comment below for more.)
At some point, "handle effectively" sense morphed into the contemporary usage that I've glossed as "to wear or display conspicuously and proudly", and Ben's OED update glosses as "to wear, esp. with panache; to display, flaunt, or sport (as a personally distinctive style, accessory, possession, etc.)" — though I guess it's still true that someone rocking a hairdo is "using or wielding it effectively, with style and assurance".
I should have known to check the OED!