snêr-dl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: A soft, suppressed laugh, a soft snortle (itself a reduced snort) or shortened snigger.
Notes: I am continually amazed at the subtle gradations of meaning offered by the English language to those who appreciate semantic subtlety. A snort is greater than a snortle, which is greater than a snirtle. A snirtle is not a snicker or a snigger, both of which are suppressed laughter and last a bit longer than a snirtle. A snirtle is a single, much shorter sound. Feel free to use this word as a verb or a noun.
In Play: Snirtles are very, very subtle snorts, usually a suppressed laugh: "Geraldine could not help but snirtle when she first heard her roommate's date lisp." You might think of a snirtle as a short, repressed snigger: "The girls just snirtled, then went back to the kitchen for a good laugh when the guys noticed that their pizza had chocolate chips in it."
Word History: Why so many words with similar meanings begin the same way is a mystery: snigger, snicker, snirtle, snortle, and snort all begin on SN. It could be the result of the nose being involved, since that organ is associated with this sound combination, as we hear in such words as snore, snozzola, and sniffle. It could be onomatopoeia, sound imitation, since the word underlying today's word is snort, which itself sounds a bit like one. Snort has a known associate, snore, which shares its origin with Greek pneuma "breath, wind, spirit", which turns up in English pneumatic and pneumonia.