thumb the nose

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Sat May 15 15:21:57 UTC 2010

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

Demurral duly noted.

> 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.

Somehow, I'm reminded of John Knox's riposte to over-bold women -- "Sneck

> 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
> Rascals."

No wonder the Chronicle glumly summarises the the Norse incursions into
England with the statement:  "And men said that God and all his saints
slept."  <g>

> 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

I'd go along with part of that, but what I'm wondering (still) is whether
some of the variants are changes of an original word, or independently
derived from a proto-Germanic form.  "snout" (for nose) [a1300] changing
into "snoot" [1861] seems fairly clear, but "snout" *coexists in Middle
English with "snook" (promontory) [c1236].

So are (specifically) "snout" and "snook" independent variants of an
hypothetical lost original, or simply orthographic/pronunciation variants
one of the other?  Or, to go in the opposite direction, totally distinct

(Ah, it occurs to me that I haven't checked this out with the MED.)

            OED2 gives the following cognates for "snout":

ME. snut(e, = WFris. snút, snute (NFris. snüt, snit), MDu. snute, snuut
(Kilian snuyte, Du. snuit), MLG. snût(e, G. schnauze (schnausze, schnauz),
MSw. and Sw. dial. snuta, Da. snude, Norw. and Sw. snut.

            ... but says of "snook", simply:

[Of obscure origin: cf. NOOK n.1]

What it comes down to, I suppose, is, "What's the (ultimate?) relation
between SNOOK and SNOUT?"

If it wasn't for an apparent semantic cluster around the idea of <something
sticking out>, and all the various terms in question, I wouldn't be so

(Would _The Historical Thesaurus of English_ illuminate this?  If anyone has
easy access to it?)


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