If we ever come across this word now, it’s most probably in the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera The Mikado: “As he squirmed and struggled, / And gurgled and guggled, / I drew my snickersnee!” A snickersnee was a large knife.
A couple of centuries earlier it was not a single word but a phrase, steake or snye, which was also written as stick or snee, snick or snee, snick-a-snee, or in other ways. All these versions go back to a couple of Dutch words, steken, to thrust or stick, and snijden, to cut. We have exactly the same phrase, though inverted, made from native English words: cut and thrust.
Snickeersnee and its variations referred to a type of hand-to-hand fighting with pointed knives, or — by the end of the eighteenth century — to the knife one did it with.
It was fairly common in Victorian Britain, and appeared several times in works by William Makepeace Thackeray, for example in his Burlesques: “Otto, indeed, had convulsively grasped his snickersnee, with intent to plunge it into the heart of Rowski; but his politer feelings overcame him. ‘The count need not fear, my lord,’ said he: ‘a lady is present.’”
It seems certain that Lewis Carroll had it in mind when he wrote Jabberwocky: “One, two! One, two! And through and through / The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!”
Search World Wide Words
Recently added or updated
Umquhile; Steal one’s thunder; Katy bar the door; Simoleon; Dope; Lord love a duck; Yarely; Upset the apple cart; Snooter; Fard; By hook or by crook; Polish off; Loggerhead; Lame duck; But and ben; Logomaniac; Type louse; Corium; Lie Doggo; Fewmet; Dingbat; Kibosh; Caucus; Oryzivorous.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.