Uninformed Comment


Posted in Grammar & usage, History, Personal, Reminiscences and anecdotes by uninformedcomment on March 21, 2010

When I were a lad, growing up in Hull, East Yorkshire, a common threat given by local parents to their children was that of “snickersneezing”. For example: if you don’t stop that, I’ll snickersneeze you. It’s a phrase from Lincolnshire dialect that had migrated north of the river, and in our household it was used as a humorous threat of something strange and undefined.

I’d always thought that this was a nonsense term, but it seems to have Dutch origins. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original phrase in English was snick or snee, and it meant to thrust, as with a knife; the etymology is teken (German stechen) to thrust, stick, and snijen, snijden (German schneiden) to cut.

The first recorded usage in that form was in 1613:

Let falchion, polax, launce, or halbert try

With Flemings-knives either to steake or snye.

By 1673, it had changed in form to snick-a-snee:

There lies my sword, and … I tell you I am as good at Snick-a-snee as the best Don of you all.

and in 1727, snickersnee was defined as “the Dutch way of fighting with pointed Knives”.

So, when my parents threatened to “snickersneeze” my sister and me, it turns out that they were inadvertently threatening to thrust long, Dutch knives into us.  I’m glad we had to wait until adulthood to find this out.


13 Responses

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  1. Peter Ward said, on March 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Presumably this is akin to the vorpal blade, from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, which went snicker-snack.

    • uninformedcomment said, on March 22, 2010 at 1:05 am

      Hmmm – sounds quite likely. I’d forgotten that part of Jabberwocky.

      Also, thinking about it, both terms are quite possibly onomatopoeic, by the sound of them (ha!).

  2. Simon said, on January 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Someone once told me – can’t remember who – to snickersneeze someone meant you’d pull their tongue and turn them inside out. I was threatened with it, as a child living in Lincs, by a Lancastrian Grandmother. Far too humourous a term to be taken seriously. I am still the right way out.

  3. Christian said, on March 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    My Grandmother, from a Boston Lincolnshire family used to threaten us kids with this and when pressed on it’s meaning would reply furtively “oh…something too terrible to mention…”. I’d never heard it outside of the family until now. The dutch connection is fascinating.

  4. M Charlesworth said, on December 26, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    When I was a lad back in the 50s I went to see Peter Pan at the Palace Theatre in Hull. The particular production starred Margaret Lockwood and her daughter Helen. I recollect that the character ?Smee would threaten to snickersneeze Peter Pan with his sword. Could the particular use of the word in this instance be part of the retained memory of a generation of people in Hull and District that happened to see this particular and very popular production of Peter Pan?

  5. Frankie said, on April 21, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I’m also a product of the 1950’s and have also been threatened with a snickersneeze as humorous threat to punish cheeky behavour. In my case our father – a third generation Kiwi – would encase me in a hug of sorts and lightly jab a finger in my ribs. I think I will probably carry on the tradition with my grandchildren. Frankie

  6. pennydog said, on June 13, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    My great grandad used to say it when I was small in the early 90s. He used to say it in a playful way, and rub his fist against my nose when he said it- I don’t think he knew what it meant either!

  7. Richy V said, on March 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    This is fantastic!!

    My mother, (I’m 37 now), just asked me to search for snickersneeze as her my grandad, (her father), would always say he’d snickersneeze us…

    Am so pleased to see a response for a Hullite, (we’re all from Hull), and to learn the origins.. My brother in law is Dutch and we all found it most amusing….

    Thank you!

  8. Robert Kemp said, on December 7, 2014 at 10:31 am

    My mum used to say “I’ll snicker sneeze you” to me when I was a little boy (born 1964). Both of us were born in Hull and lived close by.

  9. Richard Colebourn said, on January 28, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Funny that. The word “snickersneeze” just came to mind the other day (a remembered frequent threat from my mum when I was growing up on Kirkstone Road back in the 50s) so I googled it and ended up here. Didn’t realise it had such a history – always thought it was just a family word.

  10. […] hey. Like that word *snickersneeze? It’s demystified […]

  11. […] as readily available online so I broadened my search for a subject. I found the term Snickersneeze here and chose just because it was an interesting word which had a short backstory that was easy to put […]

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