Weird Words 3

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1973 edition


I admit right now that is not a real word. It’s something my husband made up. He’s always coming up with strange and supposedly endearing things to call me. This one is a combination of “snookie” or “snookums” and “püppchen.” The latter is German for “little doll.” I can understand “sweetie” and “cupcake” and the like, but “snookiepüpchen?” Come on.

It got me to wondering about “snookums.” I mean, that’s a pretty weird word, don’t you think? They say it substitutes for “sweetheart” and is considered a term of endearment. It is also said to be a nickname for a child. I haven’t really heard this word used a lot recently, but even in the past, I don’t remember it being used for a child. Certainly no one ever called me snookums when I was young. I mean, really!

The word is older than I am (some things are). Its first use is thought to have been in the year 1919. It comes from Snooks, a proper name used in Britain (from around 1860) for a hypothetical person. Think of Joe Blow here in the United States.

As an actual proper name, Snooks dates back to the Doomsday Book and might be from the Old English snoc, a projecting point of land. It is speculated that it was used to indicate someone with a big nose. How you get from a big nose to a term of endearment is beyond me. But then the French seem to think calling you a little cabbage is a term of endearment and the Germans might call you a yummy little mouse. So what do I know?

The Doomsday Book

Being made the way that I am, I got to wondering what the heck the Doomsday Book is. It sounds really ominous, apocryphal, sinister, and metaphysical. I’ve got this image in my head born of, most likely, having watched too many poorly made old horror movies. The room is dark and dusty. We hear a foul wind teasing around the windows that are hidden by dark draperies. In the center of the frame is a big old, closed book resting on an ornate wooden book stand. To either side are two fat and dripping candles, lit, sitting on pedestals. The book is bound in aged and cracked leather. The title on the cover, laid down in gilt, is just barely legible. It says “Doomsday Book.” We hear footsteps hollowly ringing off the stone floor as someone approaches. Two very old and wrinkled hands enter the frame and rest upon the Book momentarily before opening it. The fingernails are long, dirty and cracked. The hands open the Book directly to the page needed. The text looks to have been written in blood with a quill (my flick is not so old that it is in black and white) and is very difficult to read. But we can just make out three words at various places within the text: turkey, duck and chicken. Now we hear loud and maniacal laughter and the scene fades to black. The reality is not nearly so fantastical.

It is the book containing the results of the great survey of England which was completed in 1086. It was done at the behest of William I of England, otherwise known as William the Conqueror. Basically, it was a census of land holders, all of their holdings, and what the holdings were worth. Taxes were levied based on the findings and the Book could not be questioned or the results appealed. Sounds a lot like income and property taxes. I knew someone who once wanted to appeal the assessed value of his home. He called the property tax assessor and was advised by the person with whom he spoke to let sleeping dogs lie. She told him his property had not been physically assessed in over ten years and asked if he really wanted to know what the current value was. His reply was that she should forget they ever had that conversation.

The Doomsday Book was actually originally called the Domesday Book. The Old English word “dom” meant accounting or reckoning. “Dom” did eventually become “doom” in Modern English, for what to me are obvious reasons considering the use of the Book. Today we might want to call it the “IRS Book.” Who knows, one day in our future we might have supplanted “doom” in our vocabulary with “irs” and “irsday.”


That’s another oddity for sure. Well, I think so. After all, a nick is a shallow notch, cut, or indentation on an edge or surface. What’s that got to do with how you call a person?

Nickname is defined as a descriptive name added to or replacing the actual name of a person, place, or thing. It is also a name given in affectionate familiarity (Snookums?), sportive familiarity (Flash?), contempt (Butthead?), or derision (Shrimp? That’s one I had as a child.). I also found this definition: “a familiar or an opprobrious appellation.” Them’s some words, for sure.

They’ve traced this word all the way back to 1440 or so and it stems from a misdivision of “ekename,” circa 1300. It was more properly “an eke name,” or another or additional name. This, too, is from the Old English “eaca,” an increase. It is supposed that the misdivision rendered it as “a nekename” and hence “nickname.”

I had a lot of nicknames as a child. I’ve mentioned Shrimp. There were also Peepers, Deedy, Dee, Deeds, Punkin, and Princess. One little boy called both my sister and me Deeby, because he could never keep us straight and her nickname was Debbie. Our mom rarely called us by our actual names, Dianne and Debra, and when she did (especially if she used our full names) we knew we were in deep doo-doo.

I hate to disappoint you, but the only information I could find on the etymology of “doo-doo” was that it is “baby talk.” I think we all know what it means. Well, I’m “pooped” and I think I will stop now. What a relief, hunh?

Published by Dianne Lehmann

I'm a writer. But I'm also a wife and a mom to a couple of fur babies. You could call me a cook (but never a chef, I'm not that good) and provisioner as well. Laundress? Yeah. Probably. I design jewelry and I crochet. But mostly I love to write. I love words and how they sound. I love their meanings and origins. I love stringing them together. And of course, I love to read. Thinking about it just now, I realize that what I love most is life and the people around me with a special place set aside for my wonderful husband, our adorable dog and our inscrutable cat. It's the world and the people in it that fuels my writing. So thanks to you all for being the amazing beings that you are.

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