thumb the nose

Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Sat May 15 14:24:54 UTC 2010

On 5/15/10 12:00 AM, Automatic digest processor wrote:
> Date:    Fri, 14 May 2010 19:05:16 +0100
> From:    Robin Hamilton<robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM>
> Subject: Re: thumb the nose
>> >  I remember it as "cocking a snoot".
>> >
>> >  DanG
> All this possibly goes back to an original West Germanic root (of "snoot",
> "snout", "snook", and "nook") whose existence can only (now) be inferred
> from later recorded cognate forms.
> But I'm outside my territory here -- if Amy West is listening, she'd
> probably be able to clarify this.

Sorry, and you better get used to disappointment: I'm not an
Indo-Europeanist or etymologist.

Here's an entirely light-hearted and completely fraudulent and crackpot
suggestion: it obviously derives from the Old Norse "snekkja" -- meaning
a light, fast longship. The extension of the thumb and pinky forwards
and backwards obviously imitates the stem and stern of a Viking Age
ship, with the waggling fingers imitating a luffing sail. This sign was
brought over by the Norse who settled Bangor, Maine -- the lost
settlement of Norumbega -- in the 1200s and 1300s and was used as a sign
within their group. A related handsign is the fingers-waggling under the
chin "high sign" used in another lost-settlement group, "The Little

I think just variation within English can account for the snoot, snook,
snout variants. [For the German cognate, Schnauze, according to the ety
in my Wahrig it's from Middle Low German "snut(e)", although there's a
Middle High German relation. I haven't got a Kluge for the real dirt.]
---Amy West

The American Dialect Society -

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