I have heard that the word "snooker" originally meant "beginner" and was coined at the time when the game was first invented.

Is there any truth in this theory?

3 Answers 3


A check on OED


1889, the game and the word said to have been invented in India by British officers as a diversion from billiards. The name is perhaps an allusion (with reference to the rawness of play by a fellow officer) to British slang snooker "newly joined cadet" (1872). Tradition ascribes the coinage to Col. Sir Neville Chamberlain (not the later prime minister of the same name), at the time subaltern in the Devonshire Regiment in Jubbulpore.

and word origins

The most widely canvassed theory of the origins of the term snooker is that it is an adaptation of late 19th-century army slang snooker ‘new cadet’ (‘These embryo generals were called by the somewhat sneering terms of “snookers” or “last-joined”,’ Routledge’s Every Boy’s Annual 1872)... The ancestry of snooker (to mean) ‘new cadet’, however, remains a mystery.

  • That's interesting. I wonder whether the army cadet meaning was related to cocking a snook meaning showing contempt. The Oxford dictionary says that the term snook in this sense is from the late 18th century but of unknown origin so the timing is consistent. The term could have referred either to the contempt in which old hands would hold cadets or, possibly more likely given many cadets' aristocratic origins, to the arrogance of the cadets themselves.
    – BoldBen
    Nov 6, 2017 at 8:28

The online etymology dictionary suggests it derives from a slang term for "newly joined cadet" http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=snooker

So, yes, that would seem to be true.


Following on from the other answers, what I find interesting is the hand position involved in "cocking a snook". Taken away from the face and placed on a flat surface, it's not dissimilar to the hand position formed by someone when using the snooker cue.

And given the meaning "to cock" as "to draw or bend back", then an uncocked snook would fit.


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