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(1570s) From snap +‎ dragon, from children pretending that the flower is a dragon that opens its "mouth" when squeezed on the sides. For the parlour game sense, the 1704 Swift quotation is apparently the earliest appearance in print.


  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈsnæpdɹæɡən/
  • (file)


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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