a name of various small, long-billed marsh birds, early 14c., from Old Norse -snipa in myrisnipa "moor snipe;" perhaps a common Germanic term (compare Old Saxon sneppa, Middle Dutch snippe, Dutch snip, Old High German snepfa, German Schnepfe "snipe," Swedish snäppa "sandpiper"), perhaps originally "snipper" (and so called for its long, straight bill). The Old English name was snite, which is of uncertain derivation. An opprobrious term (see guttersnipe) since c. 1600.
"spaniel dog trained to start woodcock and snipe in woods and marshes," 1811, from cock (n.1).
"concealed sharpshooter; one who shoots from a hidden place," 1824, agent noun from snipe (v.). The birds were considered a challenging target for an expert shooter:
Snipe Shooting is a good trial of the gunner's skill, who often engages in this diversion, without the assistance of a dog of any kind; a steady pointer, however, is a good companion. [Sportsman's Calendar, London, December 1818]