schneid and snipe oddities

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 21 07:34:49 UTC 2010

  A three-parter, mostly concerning the "snipe", but with a couple of
other issues attached.


[Please note that the text of the clippings was largely copied and
partially edited from GB ORC. Some typos may remain.]

Part I: Snipe and Snide

I thought I'd look up some things concerning "holding the bag" and
"snipe hunting" and soon came across Leland's Dictionary of Slang,
Jargon and Cant (vol. 2, 1890). Being a dictionary, it's in alphabetical
order, so "snide" and "snipe" appear on the same page. Given the recent
interest in "schneid", I thought I'd reproduce the content.
A dictionary of slang, jargon & cant: embracing English, American, and
Anglo-Indian slang, pidgin English, tinker's jargon and other irregular
phraseology, Volume 2. Albert Barrere and Charles Godfrey Leland.
[Volume 1 is here:]
> *Snide* (common), bad, base, spurious, false, mean ; as /snide/ coin,
> /snide/ fellow. Also, "he's a /snide/."
>> Sometimes the police will help the thieves by getting /snide/
>> witnesses . . . who will swear anything according to
>> instructions.—/Rev. A. Mursell: Shady Pastorals./
>> But no matter how often they sold him.
>> He failed to perceive that their motives were /snide/,
>> For he always believed what they told him. —/Sporting Times./
>> " Say I you, look here, now I " he would explain to a native, " these
>> 'ere men don't want none of your /snide/ outfits, but just good
>> bronchos, and a waggon, and strong harness."—/F. Francis: Saddle and
>> Moccasin./
> In Dutch, /snyden/ means to swindle, "as some inn-keepers do," meaning
> that they cut, or, as Americans would say, " chisel" or " gouge "
> strangers. " Men /snydt/ de luyden lustig in die herberg," that tavern
> is a swindling shop. /Snood/, in Dutch, means base, sordid,
> villainous; /German schnode./
> *Snide-pitcher* (thieves), one who gets a living by passing base coin.
> Such are looked down upon by thieves as of the lowest rank of the
> criminal fraternity.

Then, there is "snipe". There are three entries for "snipe"--one dealing
with "long bill" of a snipe causing it to be used for a "long bill" on
an account, another derived from "snip" and the last a verb meaning
"pilfer". The latter comes with a quote:

> Yes, it is bad indeed in some respects.
> I have to buy my own tobacco now ;
> Or beg it when 1 can from other boys,
> In place of /sniping/ it from the old man's
> box.
> —/Rome: New York Sentinel/

So "snipe" means more than snipe-hunting.
But the interesting entry is actually under "snip":

> (American), a small boy or girl, a small person. Generally in a
> contemptuous sense, as if the /snip/ were conceited and ignorant. The
> writer supposed at first that this was derived from /snip/, a tailor's
> cutting; but he finds that in Bargoensch, or Dutch thieves' slang, the
> word means not only a young person, but also a heedless or foolish
> one. Shakspeare uses the word /snipe/ with the meaning of fool,
> blockhead. In French /bècasse/ (snipe) is a stupid girl.

So here we have both Shakespeare /and/ Dutch slang leading to a similar
expression of foolishness. Is "hunting the snipe" really "playing for a
fool", with much longer history than previously suggested?

And "snipe hunting" in itself is not necessarily a foolish enterprise,
as a number of 19th century volumes (~100000 GB hits in 19th century
alone!) describe the habits and distribution of the wily snipe and the
methods of shooting them--and all, apparently, in earnest. The specific
meaning of "snipe hunting" that leads to "left holding the bag" appears
to have very little to do with the snipe bird, although some of the
descriptions of the "hunt" do mention the peculiar kind of snipe bird
that is being hunted. Other accounts leave the nature of the "snipe" out.

And "snipe" describes quite a number of English birds--most related to
"woodcock" (which goes by the secondary name of "snipe"), but some are
sandpipers and plovers (including, perhaps, the ever-hated piping
plovers of Gloucester, MA, area beaches).

Part II: Snipe-drive

And here's an episode of the prankish "snipe-hunting"--or, as they
initially call it here, "snipe-driving".
Scribner's Monthly. Volume 6:2. June 1873
The Ascent of Mount Hayden. p. 133/1-2
> Among our own hunters was a trapper named Shep Medary—a lively,
> roystering mountaineer, who liked nothing better than to get a joke
> upon any unfortunate " pilgrim " or " tender foot " who was verdant
> enough to confide in his stories of mountain life.
> " What a night! " said Shep, as the moon rose broad and clear—" what a
> glorious night for drivin' snipe ! "
> Here was something new. Two of our
> young men were eager to learn all about the mystery.
> " Driving snipe ! what's that, Shep ? Tell us about it."
> " Did ye never hear ? " replied Shep, with a face expressive of wonder
> at their ignorance. " Why, it's as old as the mountains, I guess ; we
> always choose such weather as this for drivin' snipe. The snipe are
> fat now, and they drive better, and they're better eatin' too. I tell
> you, a breakfast of snipe, broiled on the buffalo chips, is not bad to
> take, is it, Dick?"
> Beaver Dick, who had just arrived in camp, thus appealed to, growled
> an assent to the proposition contained in Shep's question ; and the
> boys, more anxious than ever, pressed Shep for an explanation.
> " Maybe," said one of them, " maybe we can drive the snipe to-night
> and get a mess for breakfast: what have we got to do, Shep ?"
> " Oh well," responded Shep, " if you're so plaguey ignorant, I'm
> afear*d you won't do. Howsomever, you can try. You boys get a couple
> of them gunny-sacks and candles, and we'll go out and start 'em up."
> Elated with the idea of having a mess of snipe for breakfast, the two
> young men, under Shep's direction, each equipped with a gunnysack and
> candle, followed him out upon the plain, half a mile from camp,
> accompanied by some half-dozen members of our party. The spot was
> chosen because of its proximity to a marsh which was supposed to be
> filled with snipe. In reality it was the swarmingplace for mosquitoes.
> "Now," said Shep, stationing the boys about ten feet apart, " open
> your sacks, be sure and keep the mouths of 'em wide open, and after we
> leave you, light your candles and hold 'em well into the sack, so that
> the snipe can see, and the rest of us will drive 'em up. It may take a
> little spell to get 'em started, but if you wait patiently they'll come."
> With this assurance the snipe-drivers left them and returned
> immediately to camp.
> " I've got a couple of green 'uns out there," said he with a sly wink.
> " They'll wait some time for the snipe to come up, I reckon."
> The boys followed directions,—the sacks were held wide open, the
> candles kept in place. There they stood, the easy prey of the
> remorseless mosquitoes. An hour passed away, and yet from the ridge
> above the camp the light of the candles could be seen across the
> plain. Shep now stole quietly out of camp, and, making a long circuit,
> came up behind the victims and, raising a war-whoop, fired his pistol
> in the air.
> The boys dropped their sacks and started on a two-forty pace for camp,
> coming in amid the laughter and shouts of their companions.

Here's another, and, again, it's a "snipe-drive".
The history of Rock County, Wisconsin. Chicago: 1879
p. 600-1
> Another favorite amusement, and one that furnished to them the rarest
> of sport, was the "snipe drive." It was necessary that the subject in
> this case should be a little "green," else even the remarkable
> plausibility of the wags conducting the'• drive " would fail to
> convince the victim that Wisconsin snipe were different from any other
> species of that bird, and would not be captured in any other way. The
> programme was this: Half a dozen or so of the members of the Thousand
> and One, having previously spotted their victim, would make their
> appearance, wearing rubber boots, at one of the public resorts or the
> place of abode of the subject. They were going on a snipe drive, and
> needed some one to hold the bag; there were thousands of these
> delicious birds just at the south end of town, and they could be
> caught by the bushel. Who would go along and hold the bag ? The bait
> was generally swallowed by the right person. Furnishing their victim
> with a pair of long boots and a large bag, made of gunny material, the
> the crowd were not long in reaching Spring Brook. Arriving at " the
> only spot where snipe were ever caught.1' the individual with- the bag
> would be instructed to wade into the creek and remain, while " the
> rest of the boys " went down the stream to "whistle up the snipe.'1 He
> was also told that when he saw the birds coming he should hold open
> the bag and they would fly into it. In that position he was left,
> while " the boys " returned to the city, informing every one they met
> of the joke. More than one individual has quit Janesville forever,
> after returning from an unsuccessful "snipe drive."
> ...
> Proceeding to the office of a friend and brother attorney, he related
> his experience, and with an air of disgust, said it only confirmed his
> previous opinion of Janesville justice and of the Jancsvillc bar. He
> soon learned, however, that it was all a joke, but it is said Ely did
> not become thoroughly sophisticated until after he had held the bag
> for a "snipe drive."

The earliest of this type can be found in the Puddleford Papers.
Puddleford: and its people. By Henry Hiram Riley. New York: 1854.
p. 150-1
> 'Stranger!' said Bates, turning the subject of conversation ; 'do you
> ever hunt ?'
> 'Never,' answered Farindale.
> 'Rare sport to-night, going a-sniping,' said Bates.
> '/Sni/-ping ?' inquired the stranger, emphasizing tne first syllable;
> '/sni/-ping! what is /sni/-ping ?'
> '/Sni/ ping,' answered Bates — 'why, catching snipe, to be sure.'
> ' Great sport,' said the Colonel; ' bagged three hundred night before
> last.'
> ' The real yaller legs, too!' remarked Turtle.
> Farindale said ' he would like to accompany them—never saw a snipe in
> his life — would like to take one back to the city. Do they /sing/ ?'
> he inquired, turning to Turtle.
> ' Great singers! catch any tune ! s'prising critters to larn,'
> answered Ike: 'got one up to my house that goes thro' half of 'Old
> Hundred,' by jest hearing the folks hum it round the house.'
> '/Re/-mark-able !' exclaimed Farindale.
> 'Great eating, too,' said Longbow.
> 'Hain't got mor' n two or three bones in their whole body; all the
> rest meat,' said Bates.
> Preparations were immediately made for the sniping expedition. The
> stranger put on his India-rubber boots, and shawls, and overcoat; Ike
> procured a large bag of Bulliphant; and all hands, excepting Squire
> Longbow, whose dignity forbade any thing like sport, wended their way
> to the river, where, Turtle said, 'there were whole droves on 'em.'
> 'Now,' whispered Turtle, drawing Farindale close to him, and holding
> his arm all the while as he spoke in his ear, 'we must keep very still
> — snipe are scary critters, and when they get frightened they put
> straight for the river. There is a big log out yonder—a favorite spot
> of theirs—down which they travel and jump off into the river. You jest
> take this ere bag, creep softly down to the log, slip the bag over the
> end on 't, and wait there until we drive in the snipe. Do n't speak —
> do n't move; make 'em think you are the trunk of a tree ; and when the
> bag is full, slip it off and close it in a jiffey.'
> 'Yes ! yes ! ' whispered back Farindale.
> 'Mind, do n't stir from your post 'til I halloo.'
> 'No ! no ! ' said Farindale.
> Farindale did as he was directed. He found, however, a foot of black
> muck ; but, after ' slumping ' awhile, he managed to plant his spread
> legs out like a pair of extended compasses, and slide the bag over the
> log. Here he stood, half bent together, grasping the bag, and waiting
> for snipe.
> There was a beating of the bushes around him ; then all was still ;
> then another beating and another, and then a longer silence. Farindale
> was sinking deeper and deeper in the mud, and the water was nearly to
> the top of his boots. By and by, the noises ceased — no footstep could
> be heard, and the stranger was alone with the bag and the log, and
> half up to his middle — waiting for snipe.

I can't swear that this is the earliest printed occurrence of
snipe-driving as a practical joke, but I could not find any that
preceded it. Could H. H. Riley have originated the "snipe drive"?

Part III: Holding the bag

I found exactly four exact hits for "left holding the bag" in the 19th
century, all between 1888 and 1895.
The Western Druggist. Volume 10:11. Chicago: November 1888
Iowa Letter. p. 415
> Suppose, now, you had taken the other course, sent him to a physician.
> Do you know that he will take your advice and go to your doctor ? Is
> there not a chance that he may go to your competitor, or to the M. D.
> who sends his prescriptions to some other store ? You know, and I
> know, that when one sends an advice-seeker off in this manner, he does
> not always come back to you with a prescription on one of your blanks
> ? The doctor may get a percentage somewhere or may have dispensed the
> medicine from his own stock, and that bought elsewhere perhaps, or, if
> bought from you, has been sold very close—at cost may be, and charged
> besides, and you are left holding the bag
The Southern Journal of Homeopathy. Issue 10 (72). San Antonio, TX:
November 1889
Homeopathy in the New Asylum. By C. E. Fisher. p. 282
> Allopathy has all the offices, while Homeopathy, a more modern, humane
> and generally successful system of medicine, is left "holding the
> bag." And this too, notwithstanding the fact that hundreds of
> thousands of the most intelligent people of Texas prefer and employ
> this system.
The Railway Conductor. Volume 9:2. Cedar Rapids, IA: February 1892
p. 82/2
> Railway employes have antagonized the farmers without rhyme or reason
> and as a consequence they will be left "holding the bag."
A History of Lawrence, Kansas: From the First Settlement to the Close of
the Rebellion. By Richard Cordley. Lawrence, KS: 1895
p. 143
> They all brought money and they all had to spend money. It was a time,
> therefore, of "unexampled prosperity. " The merchant sold no end of
> goods at prices that made him happy. The land dealer sold lots without
> limit, and so long as the tide kept up, at constantly advancing
> prices. The purchaser of one day became the seller of the next, and
> all went on swimmingly until the last man should be left "holding the
> bag." It was not unusual for a man to double his money in a few weeks.
> Money loaned at unheard of rates, to be used in unheard of bargains.
> Everybody was getting rich trading back and forth in property that
> produced no income, and had no intrinsic value.

Several other variations proved fruitless. But a brute search through
"holding the bag" results revealed something more interesting.
Thirty-Third Annual report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture.
Volume 25, 1883. Indianapolis: 1884
[Immediately follows the report on Executive Committee Meeting of Nov.
13, 1883.] p. 40
> The condition of affairs might be illustrated as follows: The citizens
> of Indianapolis invited the Board of Agriculture to go snipe hunting,
> the Board to hold the bag, while the citizens would drive in the game.
> The Board of Agriculture are still holding the bag in the shape of a
> $40,000 bonded debt. They, at that time (1873), were offered $150,000
> for their property, had S6,000 in the treasury and without any
> incumbrance.

Another Indiana publication pops up.
Counties of Porter and Lake, Indiana. By Goodspeed & Blanchard. 1884
> As they approached the place where one of the number had seen :"an
> acre and a half of snipe" that morning, they all provided themselves
> with clubs for driving snipe. The novice was unanimously chosen to
> hold the bag. This he declined to do on account of his not being
> acquainted with the kind of snipe that grew in this country, but
> agreed to hold it the second time. Another was appointed in his place.
[Note that only a snippet is available in GB and that date has not been

Another issue of the same Railway Conductor also pops up in an
alternative search:
The Railway Conductor. Volume 9:4. April 1892
p. 158/2
> Some time ago, in reply to a request from the /Switchmen's Journal/,
> we promised to faithfully report all that was accomplished in Iowa in
> the way of legislation by the Railway Employés Club, and to give them
> due credit for all legislation favorable to employés which was
> procured through their efforts. We also prophesied that the result
> would be that the employés of the state, the laree majority of whom do
> not support or endorse this political move, would be left in the
> position of a snipe hunter of whom most of us have heard, and that the
> efforts of a few to make capital and notoriety for themselves, would
> leave the mass of employes in the state "holding the bag."

An identical version appeared in the Switchmen's Journal.
Switchmen's Journal. Volume 7:1. May 1892
p. 49

And one more (the rest of GB hits are post-1895).
Conquering the Wilderness: Or, New Pictorial History of the Life and
Times of the Pioneer Heroes and Heroines of America. By Col. Frank
Triplett. New York: 1883
Part 2. The Plains. The Era of Commerce and Exploration. Chapter 2.
Plains Character. p. 361
> The freighter, with his teams of oxen or mules, is too well known to
> require description, and the "wagon boss," a petty tyrant in a very
> small way, will be passed by in silence. The "pilgrim" of the plains
> is the "tenderfoot" of the mountains, and the green-horn of the
> further East. He was the new comer, the man of but little experience,
> and the butt of all the stale, practical jokes. He was the one
> selected to hold the bag on sniping expeditions, and in every way his
> verdancy was taken advantage of. His salutation was then, is now, and
> I suppose ever will be: "I say, Cap ! "

Note that all of these references have one thing in common--they are
either published in the Midwest (Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois,
Kansas) or are publications about the plains/Midwest. The sole exception
is a journal published in San Antonio. But the author of that piece, C.
E. Fisher was the journal's erstwhile editor who was born in Ohio and
lived in Kansas, prior to his sojourn to Texas. So the Midwest
connection is present here as well.


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