I constantly find myself blown away by the richness and peculiarities of the English language.

Finding the word

In lifelong gratitude to the OED


I’ve looked up snig, noun, late 15th century, 

a young or small eel,

and discover it’s a doing word as well:

verb transitive, late 18th,

to drag a heavy load, especially timber,

by means of ropes or chains –

origin, it says, Australia.

And I think of blue haze, 

cool eucalyptus scent 

and men with weathered skin

wrestling the snigging chains.

Then snigger, verb intransitive, early 18th,

is not just that half suppressed laugh,

the one that hangs on in the mind, just won’t go away,

but, transitive, late 19th, to catch salmon

with weighted hooks and, in only fifty years,

a noun: the grapple poachers use, 

waist deep in dark water,

a stifled curse as the metal misses its mark.


Long before, mid-17th,

men sniggled (verb intransitive)

for eels with baited hooks or needles 

thrust into their burrows, crouched low,

intent beneath the bank 

to trick them to their deaths

as England fell apart in civil war.


And here, another sniggle

from my own life’s time:

in a game of marbles 

to shuffle the hand forward unfairly

and I’m seeing the early sun

shine through the lemon swirl 

of my prize taw,

dobber, bumbo, shooter, masher,

fourer, biggie, tronk.