Historical Trivia: Snipe, Sniper, Sniping
The Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
The term sniper has an interesting etymology dating back to 18th century India. It comes from the common pastime of snipe hunting a hobby popular with British gentlemen who found themselves posted there. The Snipe lives primarily in marshlands and is an agile, easily spooked bird with an erratic flight pattern that throws off predators and potential hunters. This makes shooting them particularly difficult as such being a proficient snipe hunter became synonymous with being an excellent shot. The hunting of the birds often required the hunter to move quietly, make good use of cover and patiently await his opportunity. All qualities which are today recognised within snipers.
Snipe hunting in India circa. 1870
The term is believed to have arisen during the 1770s meaning someone adept at shooting snipe - a ‘sniper’. The term grew in popularity among British soldiers posted in India during the 19th century and eventually entered military parlance as another name for a marksman or sharpshooter. It is thought that the first documented use of the term occurred in the 1820s in sporting magazines. The name ‘snipe' itself is thought to come from the Old Norse 'myrisnipa' or moor snipe.