Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Snicklefritzes and Spizzerincta

I received this query from a long-time subscriber to the Good Word, David Lloyd-Jones:

“Seeing snickersnee made me wonder whether schnicklefritz had crossed over from German into English yet.”

“I searched on it, and was referred to shnicklefritz and shnickelfritz, and was appalled to find it in the Urban Dictionary (which I assume means black English), [defined as] a snob or a pretentious person.”

“In my experience it’s what my ver-ree conservative father-in-law called his grand-daughters, and snobbishness was far from his mind. It migtht have overtones of mischief to it, but cuteness is surely the dominant theme.”

My response to him is as follows.

Yet another reason why not to trust the completely unedited Urban Dictionary. You should see the entry for Pennsylvania Dutch (Dutch as in Deutsch = German) written by someone who is not only ignorant of their culture, but who bears a major grudge against them. They are predominantly Amish or Mennonite and in my Pennsylvania county (Union) with a large population of these people, no crime committed by a Mennonite or Amish has ever been recorded.

Now, let’s get down to business. Schnickel is a real German surname and Fritz is just short for Friedrich. Put them together backwards and you get a pretty amusing appellation.

Schnicklefritz started out in English around here; it comes from Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch brought it over from the Neckar Valley in Germany in the 18th century. Schnicklefritz is an affectionate name for a mischievous, overly talkative, or otherwise bothersome child.

In North Carolina in my day my father called his children spizzerinctum for similar reasons, to amuse by befuddling the child and in a gentle way to dissuade them from mischief.

2 Responses to “Snicklefritzes and Spizzerincta”

  1. Ed Brown, Jr. Says:

    Dr Beard,
    I was Stationed for a total of 7 years in Germany I an area called Mittle Franken. During M fourth year there I met the girl that I married , Resulting in my becoming fluent in The German Language.
    In Mittle Franken because of there being man persons with the same name, to specifically identify Which Hans or Meta is being referred to it is expressed thusly. Die Kleins Meta or Der Kleins Hans
    (My mother-in-law and brother-in-law). I feel that if other dialects have adopted the same usage, it is possible that in one or another the usage Schnickels Fritz may have evolved into Schnickelfritz.
    Respectfully submitted for your consideration
    Ed Brown, Jr.
    Freemason PM
    Past District Lecturer D 61
    MWGL Colorado

  2. Robert Beard Says:

    I don’t really get your point: How is der kleins Hans related to schnikels Fritz. Even if you have an answer for this question, the semantic problem remains. Where is “MWGL Colorado”. I have two sons living in Colorado.

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