Printable Version
Pronunciation: sni-kêr-snee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A large or long knife. 2. A Dutch method of fighting with large knives.

Notes: This absurdity of this word prevents it from developing any derivational relatives. It is pronounced pretty much the way it is spelled. Snickersnee may be used as a noun or as a verb meaning "to fight with a snickersnee": "Smedley discovered quickly that he could not snickersnee the rapidly approaching grizzly bear."

In Play: In Act II of The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan could not resist the humor in this word: "The criminal cried, as he dropped him down.... As he squirmed and struggled, And gurgled and guggled, I drew my snickersnee, My snickersnee!" Today, however, this word is used only figuratively. As late as 1976, according to the October 18 issue of Newsweek, Howard W. Smith, a Virginia Democrat, defended his use of the House Rules Committee chairmanship to block civil-rights legislation by quipping, "[Y]ou grasp any snickersnee you can get hold of and fight the best way you can."

Word History: This fascinating and funny word is a compound that originated as a phrase, to stick and snee "to cut and thrust in a knife fight". Until the middle of the 19th century the two activities had discrete names. The phrase itself is a moderate corruption of Dutch steken en snijden "stab and cut" from steken "to stab" + en "and" + snijden "to cut", with the N of snijden carrying over and replacing the T in steken. Steken is related to German stechen "to stick, stab" and the English verb stick. Snijden comes from the same source as German Schneider "tailor" and Schnitzel "cutlet", as in Wiener schnitzel, which English picked up from German.

Dr. Goodword,

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