• guttersnipe •
gêd-êr-snaip • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The common English species of snipe, Gallinago caelestis or media. Yes, it is a real bird with a long, straight bill, whose favorite haunt is marshes. 2. A rag-picker who collects useful garbage from the gutters. 3. A dirty, raggedy, bedraggled child, a ragamuffin, an urchin, a tatterdemalion with a bad attitude.
Notes: Today's is another word that arose as a term for misfortunate children but today it is used to refer to an unkempt child who is nasty in appearance and attitude. It is a lexical orphan that is easy to spell so long as we remember that it is one (compound) word.
In Play: We don't usually disparage others because of their poverty any more, but dirtiness is another matter: "Which one of you little guttersnipes tracked mud across the kitchen floor I just mopped!?" However, even a dirty kid usually has to snipe at us to get us to call him a guttersnipe: "One of the little guttersnipes at the playground told me I'm fat!'
Word History: Today's Good Word is interesting for its semantic meanderings. It originally referred to a bird that was hunted and eaten. They were shy birds, however, and it required considerable stealth to shoot one. When the noun was converted to a verb, to go sniping meant to hunt very stealthily and that sense carried over to the current meaning of the verb, the business of a sniper. Since snipers are known for their deadly accuracy, the verb naturally migrated to its current figurative meaning, to take verbal potshots at someone. All this time, the meaning of today's Good Word was changing, too, along the lines of its Meaning given above. By the time it came to mean "a ragamuffin", the sense of the verb influenced this meaning to imply a ragamuffin who takes verbal potshots at people.
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