long-billed marsh bird, 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." The Old English name was snite, which is of uncertain derivation. An opprobrious term (see guttersnipe) since c. 1600.
"shoot from a hidden place," 1773 (among British soldiers in India), in reference to hunting snipe as game, from snipe (n.). Figurative use from 1892. Related: Sniped; sniping.
"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]
"spaniel dog trained to start woodcock and snipe in woods and marshes," 1811, from cock (n.1).
Originally in photography studios.
Let me not forget the receptionist — generally and preferably, a woman of refined and gentle manners, well informed and specially gifted in handling people of varied dispositions. A woman especially who knows how to handle other women, and who can make herself beloved by the children who may visit the studio. A woman, also, who in a thoroughly suave and dignified way, knows just how to handle the young man of the period so that the photographer may be glad to have his business. What a power the receptionist is when properly chosen and trained. It is not too much to say that she can both make and destroy a business, if she has the amount of discretionary power given to her in some galleries. [John A. Tennant, "Business Methods Applied in Photography," Wilson's Photographic Magazine, October 1900]
Earlier as an adjective in theology and law (1867).
1590s, "one who intends;" 1620s as "one who puts forth a claim;" agent noun from pretend (v.). Specifically of a claimant to the English throne from 1690s, especially the Old and Young Pretenders, the son and grandson of James II who asserted claims to the throne against the Hanoverians. Meaning "one who feigns, one who makes a false show, one who puts forth a claim without adequate grounds" is from 1630s.
Having been a spectator of the battle of the Boyne, on the first of July 1690, he thought it most prudent, while the fate of the day was yet undecided, to seek for safety in flight. In a few hours he reached the castle of Dublin, where he was met by Lady Tyrconnel, a woman of spirit. "Your countrymen (the Irish), Madam," said James, as he was ascending the stairs, "can run well."—"Not quite so well as your Majesty," retorted her Ladyship ; "for I see you have won the race." [anecdote of the Old Pretender, first, as far as I can tell, in Charles Wilson's "Polyanthea," 1804]