• nobble •
Pronunciation: nah-bêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To tamper with a racehorse by drugging or otherwise disabling it. 2.To win someone over by devious means; even to kidnap, literally or figuratively, as to nobble a good manager from the competition. 3. To steal, snitch, rip off.
Notes: Today's colorful Good Word comes to us from the colorful lexical world of British and Australian horseracing. Punters (bettors) in these games like to blame nobbling for disappointing results that go against the odds—in the past they were often right. Someone who wins anything by means underhanded would be a nobbler, the noun form of today's word. (Those who nobble are not noble.)
In Play: If you frequent the races, you might want to add this word to your vocabulary: "The only way anyone could understand how Dish Rag won the Veldt Derby was that all the other horses had been nobbled." More generally we use this word in the sense of gaining something by cheating: "Phil Anders nobbled Ben Dover's girl at the dance by offering her a ride home in his Lamborghini."
Word History: The origins of today's word are officially unknown. It's close enough to hobble to suspect its influence. However, the suffix -ble was at one time a common verb suffix, which sends us off to find a noun that this word might come from. The prime suspect, of course, is nob, which has long been a slang term for the head and the origin of the British boxing slang verb to nob, which means to strike on the head. Now, if we can stretch this sense to cover the logical means of stunning a racehorse before modern drugs became available, we can see how nob, a spelling variant of knob, may well underlie today's Good Word. (We should be nobbled were we to forget to thank Patricia Tancred for suggesting this interesting Good Word.)