Printable Version
Pronunciation: snU-kêmz Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A condescendingly affectionate term of address for a child, wife or sweetheart, a bit on the silly side these days.

Notes: As the Word History will show, today's word is generally associated with children and, in that distant era when women were treated like children, it was often used as an affectionate form of address for them—wives, sweethearts, and the like. At the turn of the 20th century George McManus wrote a comic strip, The Newlyweds, about a couple and their child, Baby Snookums. Snookums is a variant of snooks, a word that has been floating around for a century or so. Since then it has faded from view and hearing in the US.

In Play: These days this term of address is most often directed at children: "Snookums, would you please not gnaw on the corner of the table? It really upsets mommy when you do that." Using it to refer to a wife or even sweetheart sounds a bit condescending if not silly nowadays: "I'm sorry I forgot snookums's birthday; I'll take you out to dinner and that will make everything all right."

Word History: Snookums is an extension of a ghost of a word, snook, a word that has been in search of a meaning since the 13th century. It has been used, at various times and places, to refer to a kind of fish, a promontory, a morsel, and a sign of disrespect. By the last I mean the "five-finger salute" resulting from someone placing their thumb to the end of their nose and extending all five fingers while crossing their eyes, as in "to cock a snook at someone". In Britain, Snooks became a proper name for a hypothetical person like Joe Blow or Joe Sixpack in US English. Fanny Brice adopted snooks for her "Baby Snooks" show in the 1940s. The fake suffix -ums has been added to several similar words like sweetums, diddums, and huggums, simply to soften them up. (We would like to thank Chris Berry for suggesting today's Good Word, resisting the temptation to call him "snookums".)

Dr. Goodword,

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