WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The word snipe, as used for long-billed stripy sandpipers, derives at least from the 14th Century from the Old Norse snipa from myrisnipa (moor snipe). There are various north-western European alternatives, including the Old Saxon sneppa, Middle Dutch snippe, German Schnepfe, Swedish snäppe (meaning sandpiper) and the Old English snite. The word has become uncomplimentary in the sense of guttersnipe, presumably derived from the snipes’ choice of gutter or ditch-like habitat. Snipe has also given us the term sniper, originally applied for a shooter accurate and skilful enough to take down one of these small, fast, jinking ‘targets’. The jack part of Jack Snipe probably derives from Jack as used as a diminutive, as in terms like Jack Pike for a small Pike or the ‘jack’ in bowls. However, it may also derive from the Welsh word for a Snipe Giack (though that would be pronounced with a hard g, so it seems unlikely).