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Pronounced /snɑːdʒ/Help with pronunciation

You had best skip this item if you’re eating or have a delicate stomach. When bird strikes cause air accidents — such as the flock of Canada geese that forced a plane to ditch in the Hudson River in January 2009 — it’s important to find out the species involved in order to work out ways to reduce such accidents in the future.

There are usually bits of mixed-up bird remains on the aircraft, such as blood, beaks, feathers, and flesh. This is snarge, a term widely known among US air-accident investigators. Analysing the remains can often tell its species.

Scientists are analyzing snarge DNA to track airplane bird strikes, with the hope of decreasing hazardous collisions.

Wired Magazine, 23 Sep. 2005.

The standard technique for collecting it involves spraying the area with water and wiping it with a paper towel. The towel is sent to the Feather Identification Lab at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The Lab currently gets about 4,000 samples a year.

An article in the magazine Flying Safety in 2003 says that the term snarge was invented at the Lab. However, one of its researchers, Carla Dove, says they didn’t but instead borrowed it from the experts who prepared bird specimens for the collections: “Everyone referred to the bird goop, guts, tissue, etc. as snarge. I think anyone who works in a museum and prepares bird specimens for research collections is familiar with the word.”

Its ultimate source is unknown. The only reference I can find to the word is in a 1925 British book, Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, by Edward Fraser and John Gibbons, in which they gloss it as “any ugly or unpleasant person”. We may reasonably describe the mess that’s left by a collision as both ugly and unpleasant, but a link between live persons and dead avians seems unlikely. The source must be some other word.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 21 Feb. 2009

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 21 February 2009.