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Old English *snyflan[1]. Akin to sniff, snuff. Related also to Old English snofl (snot, mucus)[2].



snivel (third-person singular simple present snivels, present participle (UK) snivelling or (US) sniveling, simple past and past participle (UK) snivelled or (US) sniveled)

  1. (intransitive) To breathe heavily through the nose while it is congested with nasal mucus.
    Synonym: sniffle
    • 1611, Josuah Sylvester (translator), Du Bartas His Deuine Weekes and Workes, London, Book 4, Week 2, Day 4, p. 623,[1]
      [] a Hagg, a Fury by my side;
      With hollow, yellow teeth (or none perhaps)
      With stinking breath, swart-cheeks, and hanging chaps;
      With wrinkled neck; and stooping as she goes,
      With driveling mouth, and with a sniveling nose.
    • 1794, Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, London: J. Johnson, Volume 1, Section 16, Subsection 2, p. 149,[2]
      [] in severe frosty weather, snivelling and tears are produced by the coldness and dryness of the air.
    • 1937, J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, New York: Random House, 1982, Chapter 9, p. 187,[3]
      [] he began to snivel, and wherever he tried to hide he was found out by the terrific explosions of his suppressed sneezes.
  2. (derogatory, intransitive) To cry while sniffling; to whine or complain while crying.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:complain
    • 1660, Roger L’Estrange, “No Fool to the Old Fool” in A Short View of Some Remarkable Transactions, London: Henry Brome, p. 95,[4]
      Let things come to the Worst; when we have Overturned the Government;—Polluted the very Altar, with our MASTERS BLOOD—Cheated the Publick, &c. ’Tis but to Whine and Snivel to the People; tell them we were mis-led, by Cardinall Appetites;
    • 1748, Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Roderick Random, London: J. Osborn, Volume 2, Chapter 61, p. 267,[5]
      [] after a good deal of sniveling and sobbing, she owned, that so far from being an heiress of a great fortune, she was no other than a common woman of the town, who had decoyed me into matrimony []
    • 1868, Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, Chapter 15,[6]
      I never snivel over trifles like that.
    • 1957, Graham Greene, The Potting Shed, New York: Viking, Act 1, Scene 1, p. 17,[7]
      ANNE: Aunt Sara’s in the garden, snivelling in a deck chair.
      BASTON: What a hard child you are.
      ANNE: It’s no good being mushy, is it? It’s the truth that matters. and she is snivelling.
      BASTON: You could have said “crying.”
      ANNE: But crying’s quite a different thing.
  3. (derogatory, transitive) To say (something) while sniffling or crying.
    • 1817, Walter Scott, Rob Roy, Volume 2, Chapter 13,[8]
      This by-dialogue prevented my hearing what passed between the prisoner and Captain Thornton; but I heard the former snivel out, in a very subdued tone, “And ye’ll ask her to gang nae farther than just to show ye where the MacGregor is?—Ohon! ohon!”
    • 1891, Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company, Chapter 9,[9]
      I, the Socman, am shorn of my lands that you may snivel Latin and eat bread for which you never did hand’s turn.
    • 1934, George Orwell, Burmese Days, New York: Harper, Chapter 2,[10]
      ‘Oh, hell! I’d snivel psalms to oblige the padre, but I can’t stick the way these damned native Christians come shoving into our church.’



snivel (plural snivels)

  1. The act of snivelling.
    • 1692, John Dennis, “The Triumvirate: or, The Battle” in Poems in Burlesque, London, p. 2,[11]
      So Parson Hugh, with Groan and Snivel
      Made half his Congregation drivel,
    • 1792, Charles Dibdin, Hannah Hewit: or, The Female Crusoe, London: for the author, Volume 1, Chapter 5, p. 50,[12]
      [] after a bit of a snivel, for you know I am a woman in these matters, I had her treated with all decency, and then committed her to Davy Jones’s locker; and for want of a chaplain, I said the burial service myself []
    • 1847, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Chapter 16,[13]
      Order! No snivel!—no sentiment!—no regret! I will endure only sense and resolution.
    • 1850, Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Chapter 42,[14]
      Uriah Heep gave a kind of snivel. I think to express sympathy.
  2. Nasal mucus; snot.
    • 1593, Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation: Or A New Prayse of the Old Asse, London: Imprinted by Iohn Wolfe, OCLC 165778203; republished as John Payne Collier, editor, Pierces Supererogation: Or A New Prayse of the Old Asse. A Preparative to Certaine Larger Discourses, Intituled Nashes S. Fame (Miscellaneous Tracts. Temp. Eliz. & Jac. I; no. 8), [London: [s.n.], 1870], OCLC 23963073, page 155:
      [A]nd if thou entreate me not the fayrer, (hope of amendment preventeth many ruines) truſt me, I will batter thy carrion to dirt, whence thou camſt, and ſquiſe thy braine to ſnivell whereof it was curdled; []
    • 1653, Thomas Urquhart (translator), The First Book of the Works of Mr. Francis Rabelais, London: Richard Baddeley, Book 1, Chapter 11, p. 53,[15]
      He did let his snot and snivel fall in his pottage []
    • 1770, Thomas Bridges, A Burlesque Translation of Homer, London: S. Hooper, 3rd edition, Volume 2, Book 8, p. 44,[16]
      In streams the blood and snivel flows
      From many a Grecian’s snotty nose,
    • 1860, George Borrow (translator), The Sleeping Bard; or, Visions of the World, Death, and Hell by Ellis Wynne, London: John Murray, p. 86,[17]
      On quitting this den of furious heat, I got a sight of a lair, exceeding all the rest I had seen in Hell, but one, in frightful stinking filthiness, where was a herd of accursed drunken swine, disgorging and swallowing, swallowing and disgorging, continually and without rest, the most loathsome snivel.
    • 1952, Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962, Chapter 3, p. 59,[18]
      [] he ran his sleeve under his nose to stop the snivel.

Derived terms[edit]


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  1. ^ snivel” in Merriam–Webster Online Dictionary.
  2. ^ snivel” in Merriam–Webster Online Dictionary.