Word Origin & History
O.E. snaca, from P.Gmc. *snakon (cf. O.N. snakr "snake," Swed. snok, Ger. Schnake "ring snake"), from PIE base *snag-, *sneg- "to crawl, creeping thing" (cf. O.Ir. snaighim "to creep," Lith. snake "snail," O.H.G. snahhan "to creep"). In Mod.Eng., gradually replacing
in popular use. Meaning "treacherous person" first recorded 1590 (cf. O.C.S. gadu "reptile," gadinu "foul, hateful"). Snake eyes in crap-shooting sense is from 1929. Snake oil is from 1927. Snake-bitten "unlucky" is sports slang from 1957. The game of Snakes and Ladders is attested from 1907. Snake pit is from 1883, as a supposed primitive test of truth or courage; fig. sense is from 1941. Phrase snake in the grass is from Virgil's Latet anguis in herba [Ecl. III.93] Another O.E. word for "snake" was næddre (see adder
1653, "to twist or wind (something) into the form of a snake," from snake
(n.). The intrans. 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.