I subscribe to dictionary.com’s word of the day, and awhile back the word of the day was snickersnee, which is a large knife. Most words I read there sound at least vaguely familiar, but snickersnee? Nope, not a flicker of recollection.
From the age of 12, I would say the majority of my vocabulary acquisition has been through reading*, and this is all the more true for my knowledge of bladed weaponry. It is because of a childhood spent reading fantasy that I learned about, in no particular order, claymores, broadswords, stilettos, daggers, long knives, rapiers, katanas (or was that one from a CRPG? hmm…), scimitars, and cutlasses.
No one taught me about snickersnees.
I initially thought it must’ve been another of Lewis Carroll’s contributions to English, like chortle or galumph. It makes sense: You attack the Jubjub bird or the Bandersnatch with your snickersnee so that you can be sure your vorpal sword is still sharp when you go after the Jabberwock. Snickersnee just sounds Carrollian.
But no, according to www.etymonline.com, snickersnee has been around since the late 1600s and comes from Dutch.
So then I figured, the reason I never learned snickersnee until the age of 33 is because the modern writer cannot use the word in a nonfacetious manner. Consider the following:
The warrior priestess surveyed the oncoming orc horde. Teeth bared, she drew her mighty snickersnee.
Or how about:
Joram slammed his bag of coin before the blacksmith. “I need the finest snickersnee that ever was smithed, capable of slaying ten thousand men!”
The spy darted through the crowd, struggling to keep her cloak closed around her bloodied snickersnee. She shivered; sense memory would not let her forget the slight resistance before the tip of her snickersnee slipped under the prince’s ribs. Every time she blinked, she saw the tip of her snickersnee, blooded.
They all lose a certain . . . sense of intimidation, shall we call it? The poor snickersnee cannot hope to lose its immediate association with snicker, for which titter is also a synonym–and tittersnee is no better. Plus, thanks to the Mars company, snickersnee also brings to mind an attack with a chocolate bar. Nougaty, caramelly, peanuty goodness does not blend well with violence. At least not in my circles.
Anyway, I suppose snickersnee is useful in that it serves as a reminder that the fluidity of language is a good thing. So good on you, snickersnee, good on you.