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Re: Not to be sniffed at

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 30, 2007

In Reply to: Not to be sniffed at posted by Lesley on March 30, 2007

: Where does the phrase "not to be sniffed at" originate and what is it's meaning?


One way of showing contempt for something is to raise your chin, avert or close your eyes, and sniff (once), supposedly practiced by snobs in the presence of the lower classes. "Not to be sniffed at" means not to be scorned or underappreciated. It's rather an old expression, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

s.v. sniff: "3. To show or express contempt, disdain, disparagement, incredulity, or similar feeling, by sniffing: a. Const. at a person or thing.
1729 SWIFT Grand Question Wks. 1755 IV. I. 109 So then you look'd scornful, and snift at the dean. 1837 CARLYLE Fr. Rev. I. VI. iv, Camille Desmoulins, and others, sniffing at him for it. 1864 {emem} Fredk. Gt. XVI. x. VI. 262 Our Shopkeepers of the Rue St. Honoré would sniff at such a lodging. 1888 Times 6 July 9/3 Superior persons..will doubtless sniff at the expression of opinion upon these topics by the House of Lords.

b. Without const.
1837 CARLYLE Fr. Rev. I. VI. ii, Dusky D'Espréménil does nothing but sniff and ejaculate. 1871 MRS. WHITNEY Real Folks xvii, She did not sniff; she was a great deal too much a lady. 1881 BESANT & RICE Chapl. Fleet I. 91 Mrs. Gambitt sniffed disdainfully."
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