Tuesday, 3 August 2010

snails, snakes, and snarks

Browsing other etymology books, I had a look at Anatoly Liberman's Word Origins and how we know them - and was struck by one of the covers, which shows the word snark formed from a snake and a shark. Liberman writes:

Snark is certainly, not probably, a blend of snake and shark, because Lewis Carroll explained his coinage.

I've written about snark in the past, and I found this curious. The Century Dictionary gives the snake/shark derivation. It's repeated in other places too. But as far as I know, the only real evidence we have is the fact that Beatrice Hatch wrote that Carroll told her that it was a portmanteau of snail and shark. Where and when did Carroll explain that he coined the word from snake and shark?

6 comments :

mahendra singh said...

I have never read any other reference to the snake/snail theory than the one you mentioned, which Gardner identifies as coming from the Sttrand Magazine in April, 1898.

I've mangled this theory in an earlier mangling,http://justtheplaceforasnark.blogspot.com/2008/11/fit-fourth-page-26-panel-1-joy-of.html">here … and I don't think much of it. Doug Howick, the eminent Australian Snarkophile, had long ago uncovered an earlier usage as the caption for an engraving of a tattooed Maori warrior, described as being "all snark'd", available here … dated 1773. Proof positive, perhaps?

mahendra singh said...

Dreadfully sorry but the wrong link for the mangling mentioned above, the correct one is here

goofy said...

I don't think much of the snail/shark theory either.

But why snake? where did the snake come from?

mahendra singh said...

Perhaps the usual anti-snake sentiments are at work here, postlapsarian stress syndrome combined with Judeo-Christian antichthonic hysteria …

besides it's the most boring etymological theory of them all and hence, most implausible. QED

Goetz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Goetz said...

What we know is that Carroll did not want the Snark to be depicted as a big fish. But (as the Barrister found out) it can sneak into your dreams.