Friday, January 23, 2009

Estne serpens parvus?

Is it a small snake?

In English, we call those charming little slimy gastropods "snails." The etymology is offensively dull. Via etymonline:
snail Look up snail at Dictionary.comO.E. snægl, from P.Gmc. *snagilas (cf. O.S. snegil, O.N. snigill, M.H.G. snegel, dial. Ger. Schnegel, O.H.G. snecko, Ger. Schnecke "snail"), from base *snag-, *sneg- "to crawl" (see snake). The word essentially is a dim. form of O.E. snaca "snake," lit. "creeping thing." Also formerly used of slugs. Symbolic of slowness since at least c.1000;snail's pace is attested from c.1400.
The Romans were more observant. They called a snail a coclea, identical to their word for "spiral screw." And with their observation, the Greek tradition mixed in creativity, establishing my personal favorite (via LSJ): φέροικος--literally, house-bearer.

1 comment:

Roy said...

So what about slugs? What came first, the word slug for a slow thing or the little slimy critter?