Word of Week (WOW) – Guttersnipe

wow (1)

Word of the Week (WOW) is a weekly challenge created by Heena Rathore P. It’s a fun way to learn new words every week. To participate, simply do a post with your word and leave the link as a comment on Heena’s WOW post for this week (above link).

This is my second time through the alphabet and I’m looking at the letter this week. Last time round I did the word gregarious.

So here is my WOW for this week: 






[guht-er-snahyp] ((gŭt′ər-snīp′)



Part of Speech


Related Forms:

Adjective: guttersnipish


  1. A child of the slums who spends most of his or her time in the streets:
Street Urchins: oil on canvas. Artist: Karl Witkouski, 1810-1910. Public Domain
Street Urchins: oil on canvas. Artist: Karl Witkouski, 1810-1910. Public Domain

2.  A contemptuous term applied to anyone regarded as having the unsavoury manners, morals, etc. sometimes associated with those living in filth, poverty, or squalor.



Word Origin:

C19: (1855-60) gutter+ snipe: originally a name applied to the common snipe (the bird the common snipe, which picks food out of gutters – and well suited to the boggy marshlands around rivers like the Thames in Victorian London) then to a person who gathered refuse from gutters in city streets.

Common Snipe. Author: Alpsdake. Commons
Common Snipe. Author: Alpsdake. Commons

Synonyms:  urchin, street urchin, ragamuffin, waif, stray, outcast, orphan, scarecrow, gamin (dated)

archaic: mudlark, scapegrace, street Arab (offensive) wastrel, tetterdemalion

Two guttesnipes, 1910. Author: Egon Schiele. Public Domain
Two guttesnipes, 1910. Author: Egon Schiele. Public Domain

Use in a Sentence:

For this, I just have a short story:

Mrs. Rowbotham scowled as she walked into the classroom full of overexcited adolescents. Teaching English to this lot on Bonfire Night was going to be well nigh impossible. Normally well behaved, today, all they could think about was how many fireworks they’d got.

‘Silence!’ she growled as she reached her desk. Silence was instant, as she expected. No one argued with her. ‘You’re behaving like a room full of guttersnipes! And I don’t like mannerless brats in my room.’

Matthew Henderson’s hand shot up, the cheeky grin on his face blatant. This cocky lad always considered himself spokesman for the group.

‘Take that ridiculous grin off your face before you speak, Matthew, or you’ll be seeing me at the end of school.’

The grin instantly dropped. ‘Sorry Miss. I just wanted to ask what a guttersnipe was.’

Mrs. Rowbotham sighed. ‘Does anyone here know what a guttersnipe is …? Well,’ she continued after a negative response, ‘guttersnipe is an old word that can mean someone – generally a child – who spends his or her life in the streets. It could refer to the homeless and destitute, or to someone who lives in an area of squalid housing. It’s often associated with the filthy conditions of the Victorian slums. But we still see the word used today, often in a derogatory way, referring to people living on the streets in many areas around the world. Their situation is often very sad…

A homeless man in Paris, June 2005. Author: Eric Pouhier. Commons
A homeless man in Paris, June 2005. Author: Eric Pouhier. Commons

We can also use the word to mean someone with shockingly bad manners – like you rowdy lot today!’

Jenny Marsden’s hand shot up. ‘I saw a great film once… about a Victorian woman called Eliza who came from the slums o’ London. Filthy she were; never ’ad  a bath. She sold flowers in the streets to get money t’ buy food –’

‘And this ’ere rich bloke comes along and decides to make  ’er  into a lady,’ Danny Roberts cut in, ‘with posh manners un’ all. Right good film, that were.’

Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison from My Fair Lady. Flower girl, Eliza meets Professor Henry Higgins.
Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison from My Fair Lady. Flower girl, Eliza meets Professor Henry Higgins.

The buzz of agreement sounded and Mrs. Rowbotham nodded approvingly. ‘Ah, so now we’re getting somewhere. The film is undoubtedly ‘My Fair Lady’, based on a play called ‘Pygmalion’ by George Bernard Shaw – although it’s set in Edwardian times, Jenny, a little later than Victorian era. A young, ill-brought-up woman, who lived in the slums of London… Though she wasn’t completely destitute, her appearance and uncouth manners provide a good example of a guttersnipe.

Mrs. Rowbottom  smiled as she lifted a set of books down from the shelf. Though not the lesson she’d planned, ‘Pygmalion’ would do very nicely for a day like Bonfire Night.

‘Please Miss, can I be Professor ’iggins….’ Matthew’s voice rang out.


(I’m quite fond of Professor Higgins. I was a Higgins for 23 years before I got married – my dad was Thomas Higgins.  The Yorkshire kids I taught at that time always dropped the ‘h’, so I was invariably Miss ’iggins to them!)


"Pygmalion" by George Bernard Shaw at the Rheingau Theatre in Berlin c1946. Eliza Doolittle with her father. Wikimedia Commons.
“Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw at the Rheingau Theatre in Berlin c1946. Eliza Doolittle with her father. Wikimedia Commons.
Delrae Knutson as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, 1986. Author: Delrae Knutson. Commons
Delrae Knutson as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, 1986. Author: Delrae Knutson. Commons

If you’d like to view more interesting words, visit Heena’s Page

Word Treasure

43 thoughts on “Word of Week (WOW) – Guttersnipe

    1. You know, Hedgie, that is such a great quote – probably the best known one from the play/film. (Other than the one where Eliza is at the races as a refined young woman, and suddenly shrieks at the horse she wants to win, ‘Shift yer bleedin’ arse!’)

    1. It’s not a word used much nowadays. I’ve only come across it in books and films, and mostly dated ones at that. Thanks for liking the pictures, Lynn. Most of the ones I could find this week were old b/w ones! Still, they fitted the word.

  1. I haven’t heard that one in a while either. Beautiful art. I can certainly identify with Mrs. Rowbotham and her rowdy students…it’s rather the story of my life right now. Great word, Millie 🙂

    1. I think dealing with rowdy students on special days and before Christmas needs a medal. They’re just high as kites. I’m sure you’re loving being back in the classroom. I still miss it at times, but I’m much too old to go back now. I like guttersnipe as a fun kind of word. Thanks, L.T. 🙂

    1. Guttersnipe isn’t a word that pops up too often over here, either. Nowadays its generally only heard in books and films. I quite like the sound of it and the images it conjures up of ragamuffin children in Victorian stories. Thank you, Suzanne.

    1. It’s probably unfamiliar to you because it isn’t used very much nowadays – although it’s not completely obsolete, either. I like the word, but it is rather Dickensian.

    1. I agree with you, it does sound rather German. But the only derivation I could find on various sites was of the combination of those two words gutter and snipe – which weren’t put together all that early (mid 19th century). Thanks, Rockhopper! 🙂

    1. It’s not a word I think about often, either, and wouldn’t think to use it normally. It is old-fashioned, and something very reminiscent of Victorian times. But it’s still in the dictionary and not obsolete yet. 🙂

  2. To me, this is a very English word and very appropriate to classic 19th c stories and plays. I doubt anyone who didn’t hear it at high school lessons would even know it here, but it does portray a good visual image. Your story is entertaining and a good use for the WOW.

    1. You’re absolutely right. Guttersnipe is a word rarely used in anything remotely modern. I find its origin interesting – the combination of the two words, and admit it screams of Victorian and Edwardian cities in Britain – mostly London, thanks to Dickens and GB Shaw. I’m glad you thought my story was OK. 🙂

      1. It in interesting that this one IS joined whereas a lot of words in English aren’t. This contrast with other languages like the Scandinavian ones.

      2. I think it’s just that guttersnipe really is two words that just came together because they were both applicable to people living in the streets. Snipe’s the name of a bird, after all. The word could have been hyphenated at first … who knows? But I see what you’re saying, and I can only agree with you. 🙂 I’ll be checking out your blog asap, Amanda. I think I’ll have missed a few this week – I always try to catch up later.

      3. No need to feel stressed about catching up. As one’s blog develops, it takes more and more time. I can’t get around to all my follower’s blogs all the time, so I have a core blogroll and then pop over to the rest if they have an interesting post. Blogging should be fun!

      4. I do find blogging fun and really enjoy reading people’s posts. The only thing that stresses me is balancing the time spent on my blog with my writing. I spent too long today writing a post, so didn’t get to read the posts I’d planned to. I’ll get there… eventually. I always like your proverbs on a Thursday, which is tomorrow for us. I imagine it’s already Thursday where you are.

      5. It’s been grey, miserable and wet all day here – and will probably the same tomorrow. I’d love to have a few weeks at 29 degrees. Winters here are just so dark, unless we get snow. Then everything is lovely and bright – but roads are treacherous … so we really can’t win. 😀

  3. Heard it after a long time. I loved the story that you’ve used for the word. 🙂
    “My Fair Lady” is one of favourites. Now at the mention of it I think I would watch it soon.

    1. Thank you for liking my story. I had 3 different sentences lined up, but they sounded boring so I wrote the story instead. It’s a word that suits old fashioned stories best, but it can be used in a modern setting. 🙂

  4. What an excellent word Millie 🙂 And I never realised it’s origins – it’s amazing how much more common snipes were in Victorian Britain. They aren’t rare now, but you don’t see them all that often even on marshland.

    1. Thank you, Andy. Guttersnipe is one of those old words that I really like the sound of. I’m not sure whether I’d use it in my writing, unless the story was set int the Victorian or Edwardian era. I imagine many species are far less common nowadays than in past times. Habitat loss is a great problem, but housing and industrial developments etc.keep bulldozing along. I hope you’ll see a few more snipes out on your walks.

    1. It’s a really interesting word, isn’t it? Probably not one to use in everyday speech or writing, though – unless it’s a historical piece. I’ve heard people using it jokingly, but it always seems to have derogatory undertones and aimed at unfortunate people. I just like the sound of the word, as well as the meaning and derivation. 🙂

  5. Such a fun story about My Fair Lady. I saw the movie and the play but never read the book. Miss seeing you around the challenges but I know you’re trying to balance your time. 🙂

    1. I loved the movie too, and I read Pygmalion years ago at school. I love most musicals, especially as most are set in the past. 🙂 No, I haven’t done a FF challenge for weeks now, Susan. I kept the FFfAW going as long as I could, but now I’m getting to the stage where I’m finding it hard to post anything. I’m trying to get all the awards done and I have a 3 day quote challenge to do, then I’ll have to ease off even more on my blog. I really miss seeing you all on the challenges, but I’ll be back as soon as I finish this book. I ‘m almost written one award post, so should have it up by Sunday. If nothing else crops up – and visitors stay away. Lol. We’ve had a lot of those, too, recently. Talk again soon. 🙂

  6. You have a lovely and intricate blog, Millie, it is fabulous. There are few blogs with such a cornucopia of information and beauty. A treat to visit!

    1. Thank you for that wonderful comment, Holly! I’m overwhelmed by your praise, and truly appreciate it. I’ve a long way to go until I reach your standads, though. ❤

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