We’re all guilty of it, right? Snark, I mean? Being Snarky? I used this word talking with a friend of mine the other day, and I was compelled to look into its derivation. (As a Word Nerd, words compel me often. It’s just a fact of my life.)
So, imagine my delight to discover that it was coined by Lewis Carroll in 1876 in a nonsense poem called “Hunting of the Snark.”
“Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis Carroll, 1876 (from Fit the First)
“Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.
“Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.
The Random House College Dictionary (1975) says Carroll coined the word by combining sn(ail) and (sh)ark.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2006) says it is a combination of sn(ake) and (sh)ark.
[BONUS: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969) doesn’t have the word at all, in any form. Interesting! It was a word just six short years later.]
Either way, Carroll created quite a monster for the hunting. The poem has eight “fits” (as he calls the fairly short sections of the poem) to give it the feel of a good old-fashioned epic. It’s a fun read, especially if you have children who love to hunt.
Wait, what? A snark is an imaginary animal? That certainly doesn’t fit how it is used today, at all. Snark is when you jab someone with sarcasm, right?
Enter “snarky.” As an adjective, it means “touchy, short-tempered, irritable,” but Webster’s New World only gives it “informal” status and no derivation. The other two dictionaries don’t have it at all.
So, okay, maybe we English speakers took the idea of the terrible snark from Carroll’s poem and through the years turned it into an adjective that describes us when we humans act like that terrible beast, and from there turned it into a noun that describes the biting sarcasm we use when we act so.
Not so fast, fellow Word Nerd! The Online Etymology Dictionary says snarky the adjective comes from snark, “to snort,” taken from Low German snarken. Snarken apparently is meant to imitate the sound of a snort. Which is kind of what we’re doing to someone when we’re snarky at them, isn’t it? Giving them a verbal snort?
Okay, you knew I couldn’t let it go. Frumious is a combination of “fuming” and “furious.” From the seventh fit of “Hunting of the Snark,” and also from Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: I love the English language! What other words, like frumious and guesstimate can you come up with that we have created by combining two or more words.
AND A NOTE: My family is so grateful to all those who covered us in prayer after last week’s post on our daughter’s pregnancy. Some of you have been doing so long before that. Others don’t know us, yet still lifted us in prayer or offered support. Thanks! And Blessings back at ya!
- Now We’re Just Making Stuff Up: A Guide to the Rise of the Portmanteau (theatlanticwire.com)