Printable Version
Pronunciation: snæg-êl-tuth Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, adjective

Meaning: 1. An irregular or projecting tooth. 2. A set of teeth with one or more missing or a person with such. 3.A child whose baby teeth missing, because they are being replaced by adult teeth.

Notes: Snaggletooth is a word of my childhood in the 1940s. When children began trading their baby teeth for their permanent ones, all were called "snaggletooth" at some point in their lives. It comes with an adjective, snaggletoothed, meaning "having missing or irregular teeth". The plural in the first two senses, is snaggleteeth.

In Play: Do not snag on my teethIn the first sense, today's word may be used like this: "You can't see Griselda's snaggletooth except on the rare occasion when she smiles." Sharks have snaggleteeth in this sense, too. In the third sense, which I think may still be used down South today, you may hear things like this: "Hoppy is in the snaggletooth stage, when his dear little pearly whites are dropping out one after another, but he doesn't like to talk about it."

Word History: Today's Good Word is an obvious compound made up of snaggle + tooth. A snaggle historically was a small snag. The literal meaning of snag is a sharp spur capable of catching clothing or penetrating skin. This word is apparently of Scandinavian origin, for we find snag "sharp point" in Norwegian dialects and snagi "peg" in Modern Icelandic. How it came to be in these languages is a mystery. Tooth is a different matter. It comes from Proto-Indo-European dent-/dont- "tooth" with a Fickle N. It found itself unscathed in Latin dens, dentis "tooth", several forms of which English borrowed for dentist, dental, and dandelion. The latter was taken from Old French dentdelion, handed down from Medieval Latin dens leonis "lion's tooth".

Dr. Goodword,

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