Daily Archives: April 20, 2011


Well, you may not like this, but I’m feeling a little snotty today. I don’t mean I have a bad attitude – it’s just that my snoot does. It’s in a snit, just to spite me; I’d like to smite it, but I just snite it.

Snite? ’sright! What means snite? Well, consider that what you fight is fought, and what you wright is wrought; you abide in an abode, and what you get is got. And, similarly, what you snite is snot. (Oh, don’t wince; snot didn’t use to be a low-toned word. It was in common unexceptional usage a few centuries ago, and it’s been around for a very long time.)

I’m not making this up! The nose knows. Snite means “wipe the nose”, and has for a millennium – though it doesn’t get used much anymore. Pity: it’s much more concise than wipe your nose, and it fits so nicely with the rest of the snooty sn set: snout, snot, snoot (all cognate) plus sneeze, sniffle, snuffle, snide, sneer, snub… It’s not that all sn-onset words have to do with noses; there are ones like snip and sned and snicker, and also outliers like snow (and you’re more likely to be sniting when the snow is out lying). But there’s a lot of nose in those sn onsets, with that sniffy /s/ sound to start and the nasal /n/ to follow (and in this case, to finish the tip-of-the-tongue set with a stop, /t/).

Snite also has a couple of other meanings. It can mean “blow the nose” (especially if you do it with just the thumb and finger, a practice which I remember the narrator so disdained in Margaret Laurence’s Stone Angel). It can also mean “snuff a candle”, a sense that seems to have grown from the nose sense.

Incidentally, what’s left when you snuff a candle could (in past times and perhaps still in some northern English dialect) also be called snot. No, I don’t mean the wax drippings, though I can see why you might make that connection (boogers from bougies?). It’s the burnt, snuffed wick.

Which is what my nose feels like about now. Well, it’s nite, and maybe if I snooze I’ll feel all snappy and snazzy in the morning. If not… there’s a more-than-slight chance I’ll be looking for the smite button.