- snake (n.)
- Old English snaca, from Proto-Germanic *snakon (cognates: Old Norse snakr "snake," Swedish snok, German Schnake "ring snake"), from PIE root *sneg- "to crawl, creeping thing" (cognates: Old Irish snaighim "to creep," Lithuanian snake "snail," Old High German snahhan "to creep"). In Modern English, gradually replacing serpent in popular use.
Traditionally applied to the British serpent, as distinguished from the poisonous adder. Meaning "treacherous person" first recorded 1580s (compare Old Church Slavonic gadu "reptile," gadinu "foul, hateful"). Applied from 17c. to various snake-like devices and appliances. Snakes! as an exclamation is from 1839.
Snake eyes in crap-shooting sense is from 1919. Snake oil is from 1927. Snake-bitten "unlucky" is sports slang from 1957, from a literal sense, perhaps suggesting one doomed by being poisoned. The game of Snakes and Ladders is attested from 1907. Snake charmer is from 1813. Snake pit is from 1883, as a supposed primitive test of truth or courage; figurative sense is from 1941. Phrase snake in the grass is from Virgil's Latet anguis in herba [Ecl. III:93].
- snake (v.)
- 1650s, "to twist or wind (hair) into the form of a snake," from snake (n.). The intransitive sense of "to move like a snake" is attested from 1848; that of "to wind or twist like a snake" (of roads, etc.) is from 1875. Related: Snaked; snaking.