'Schnozz' is older than you may think.
"Hi, Grammar Girl. I have a family lexicon question. When I was a young child, I would often use the word 'schnozz' to describe my dad's nose. And my dad has a famously massive nose, and my mom and dad and the three of us use the word 'schnoz' all the time in lieu of the word 'nose,' and I thought it's what everybody said, and I thought that's what my family said and was a normal word that everyone uses. It turns out in my 20s, my mom mentioned that nobody really uses that word and, in fact, in my own family, my mom and dad didn't use that word till I, as a young child, started throwing out the word 'schnozz" as a synonym for a gargantuan nose. So can you talk to me about the word 'schnozz' and where it comes from? Did I pick this up from the 1980s TV show that my parents didn't know about? How does a three-year-old, four-year-old kid find this fabulous, specific word that fits so well in her family, but is not widely used. Thanks so much Grammar Girl. Love your podcast."
Thanks for the question. My first reaction is that my family uses the word "schnozz" for "nose" too! So I'm not sure it's as rare as your mom thinks.
Was 'schnozz' used in children's shows in the 1980s?
It's a good bet that if your family didn't know the word before, you picked it up from a children's TV show in the '80s. There was an episode of the "Muppet Babies" television series called "Beauty and the Schnoz" that aired in 1988, and the word also showed up in the TV show "Alf," which ran in the late 1980s. Remember him? He was another muppet-like character—an alien from outer space—who had a particularly big nose, or snout.
How old is the word 'schnozz'?
But the word is much older than the 1980s. The Oxford English Dictionary has it going all the way back to 1927 when "Variety" magazine referred to Lou Clayton, Eddie Jackson, and Jimmy Durante as "Schnoz, Schnoz, and Schnozzola."
What is the origin of the word 'schnozz'?
It probably comes from the Yiddish word for "snout,"—"shnoyts,"—and Etymonline points out that this also related to the German word for "snout"—Schnauze—which is where the schnauzer dog gets its name.
"Schnauzer" literally means "growler," which comes from the verb "schnauzer," which is, of course, related to "Schnauze." I guess because the growling sound an animal makes comes from its snout?
Is it spelled 'schnozz' or 'schnoz'?
Since "schnozz" isn't exactly a formal word in English, the spelling varies. Etymonline and the Oxford English Dictionary spell it with two Z's on the end, but the one-Z version is more popular in results from a Google Books search.
How popular is the word 'schnozz'?
A Google Books search can also give us a rough idea of how popular the word is overall. At least in published books, it's about as popular as using the term "pie hole" to refer to your mouth and far less popular than using "noggin" to refer to your head or "peepers" to refer to your eyes.
Thanks again for the question!
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