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shameless pleading

Snoot Full

Tee many martoonies.

Dear Word Detective:  Whenever I drink alcohol, which has become all too often as of late, my nose always becomes “stopped up” for lack of a better term.  One night I told my husband that I know where the term “snoot full” came from because my nose was congested (I found a better term after all).  I was just joking at the time but then began to ponder where the term actually did originate.  Can you help? — Sally.

I’ll sure try.  But I’m operating at a disability, I realized when I read your question, because I’ve done it again.  First I forgot to get into sports, then I forgot to watch TV to the extent I’m supposed to (129 hours a week, I gather), and now I realize that somewhere along the way I forgot to take up drinking.  It sounds like fun.  So, if you’ll bear with me, I’m going to pop out to the truckstop and pick up some joy juice.

I’m back.  Hey, this “gin” stuff ain’t bad.  But is the room supposed to tilt like this?  My feet feel funny.  Why is the cat looking at me that way?  You got a problem, cat?

Just kidding, of course.  I have something better than booze, namely a brand new book by the always entertaining and awesomely erudite Paul Dickson.  In “Drunk: The Definitive Drinker’s Dictionary” (Melville House, 2009), Mr. Dickson notes that English has more synonyms for “drunk” than for any other word, and then proceeds to list more than 3,000 of them, complete with fascinating annotations and admirably strange little illustrations.  It’s impossible to pick a favorite from such a range, but “full of loud mouth soup” strikes me as true genius.  I’m also glad to see that Mr. Dickson includes “tired and emotional,” a euphemism invented by Spy magazine to describe, within the bounds of Britain’s strict libel laws, politicians discovered in a state of public intoxication.  Mr. Dickson notes that the US media similarly employs the terms “outgoing” for a happy drunk and “ruddy-faced” for a completely marinated public figure.  Now we know, eh kids?

“Snoot full” is here as well, while the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) prefers the spelling “snootful.”  The term “snoot,” meaning the human nose, is actually just a very old dialectical variation of the word “snout,” which comes from the same Germanic root that gave us “snot.”  Interestingly, the first recorded written use of “snout’ in English, from around 1220, uses the term  to refer to the trunk of an elephant.

The earliest citation for “snootful” in print in the OED is surprisingly recent, from 1918, but the term is almost certainly several centuries older than that.  There doesn’t seem to be any connection between “snootful” or “snoot full” and nasal congestion.  “Having a snoot full” is simply one of a number of terms for “drunk” that conjure up an image of the drinker’s body as being literally either partially or completely filled with alcohol (“had a skinful,” “drunk to the gills,” “full to the brim,” etc.).  The popularity of “snootful” may also be due to the fact that consumption of alcohol, in some people, can cause a reddening of the face, especially the nose, thus making the “snoot” a highly visible barometer of inebriation.

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