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snap +‎ dragon, in reference to the supposed resemblance of the flower to a dragon's face. From 1570s.
For the parlour game sense, the 1704 Swift quotation is apparently the earliest appearance in print.



snapdragon (countable and uncountable, plural snapdragons)

  1. (countable) Any plant of the genus Antirrhinum, with showy yellow, white or red flowers.
    • 1998, Stephen H. Howell, Molecular Genetics of Plant Development, Cambridge University Press, page 146,
      Snapdragon leaves are asymmetrical with respect to dorsal-ventral surfaces (Fig. 6.6A).
    • 2000, Margaret Roberts, Edible & Medicinal Flowers, New Africa Books (The Spearhead Press), page 72,
      The snapdragon is indigenous to Europe and has been a much loved garden plant since before the Middle Ages, when it was considered an antidote against witchcraft.
    • 2006, Lynn Coulter, Gardening with Heirloom Seeds, University of North Carolina Press, page 59,
      Modern snapdragons aren't usually grown for their scent, although some do smell slightly spicy.
  2. (uncountable) A game in which raisins are snatched from a vessel containing burning brandy, and eaten; the substance snatched and eaten during the playing of the game; the vessel used for the game.
    • 1704, [Jonathan Swift], “Section XI”, in A Tale of a Tub. [], London: [] John Nutt, [], OCLC 752990886, page 198:
      He bore a ſtrange kind of Appetite to Snap-dragon, and to the livid Snuffs of a burning Candle, which he would catch and ſwallow with an Agility, wonderful to conceive; [...]
    • 1862, Anthony Trollope, Orley Farm, 1868, Chapman and Hall, page 159,
      "And now for snap-dragon," said Marian.
      "Exactly as you predicted, Mr. Graham," said Madeline; "blind-man's buff at a quarter past three, and snap-dragon at five."
    • 2014, Stephanie Barron, On Hosting Your Regency-Era Christmas Party, Soho Press, page 13,
      From the 16th to 19th centuries, no Christmas Eve celebration was complete without a hearty game of Snapdragon in the parlor.
    • 2014, Sabrina Jeffries, When Sparks Fly, Simon & Schuster (Pocket Star Books), unnumbered page,
      "I hope we play snapdragon," eight-​year-​old Timothy Metcalf said.
      "I wish we could," Ellie said, "but I doubt Papa will allow it. He'll say snatching raisins from a burning bowl of brandy is too dangerous."
      "But snapdragon is a Christmas tradition!" protested Percy.


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