Printable Version
Pronunciation: snêk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, past tense, past participle?

Meaning: Moved in a stealthy, quiet manner so as not to attract attention, slinked (slunk?).

Notes: One of the standard assumptions of linguistics is that irregular forms tend to become regular. So, what once was dive : dove is becoming dive : dived, hang : hung is becoming hang : hanged, while help : holp, which my grandmother used regularly, has long since changed to help : helped. (For more on language change, read Dr. Goodword's latest article on the Reference Shelf.)

In Play: Contrary to this assumption, however, new irregular forms appear and occasionally stick in the language. Irregular past tenses like kilt (kill), thunk (think), brang (bring) are treated as jokes. Yet the past participle in "I am broke" cannot be replaced by broken nor the one in "I am beat (tired)", by beaten. The same is not quite true of snuck: sneaked is still available. But according to the American Heritage Dictionary, snuck was almost 20 percent more common in newspaper articles published in 1995 than it was in 1985. So, the use of snuck has grown tremendously since its introduction in the 19th century and now most US dictionaries accept it as a legitimate option.

Word History: Today's (more or less) Good Word reflects a usage limited to the US, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The basic form, sneak, seems to be an English original that descended from Old English sncan, possibly borrowed from Old Norse snkja, which is snike in Modern Norwegian. The root is clearly related to snake and, probably, to snail. Beyond this, little is known about its history.

Dr. Goodword,

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