What is the meaning of "snatch the words from" as in this sentence:

  1. I have seen a religious who used to snatch the words from his superior’s lips, but I despaired of his obedience when I saw it led to pride and not to humility.

Source: St. John Climacus's The Ladder of Divine Ascent (composed c. AD 600, translated in 1959) page 23

Another example, but I'm not sure whether the meaning is the same:

Here are the things you shouldn't miss about school because they, most certainly, didn't promise you a good time.



Everyone read the fiction based on you that someone sent to the school yearbook. It seemed like reality to them. They roasted you and even remembered you because of that very rumour. Some even got a bad first impression. You encountered them, trying hard to snatch the words from their mouths but that only made the rumour seem truer.

Source: Things you shouldn't miss about school from The Daily Star Oct 11, 2018

Third example:

Pamela that next morning might have been the heroine of that almost forgotten "Spenserian" poem of Springtime—"The Gay Lady of Surprise." She opened the door to Martin herself, followed by Leida, carrying her modern suit-case. She walked down the stairs, her hands extended, her eyes dancing, colour on her cheeks—the very spirit of happiness in her walk.

"Confess now that I am an amazement, Martin," she cried, as she took his hands and, leaning over, kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Here I am, with no lines under my eyes, no signs of a sleepless night. You should tell me, indeed, that I am the very holiday lady of your dreams."

"Of course," he grumbled lightly, "if you are going to steal all my favourite phrases and snatch the words from the lips of my favourite poets, you will have to be content with a dumb lover."

"I should be content with you for my lover, dear Martin," she assured him, "however dumb you might be. The vital question is this. Is this forth-coming adventure to be a pilgrimage, a picnic, or an expedition?"

Source: Chapter XV of The Man Who Changed His Plea by E. Phillips Oppenheim, 1942

  • The syntax has been somewhat garbled.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 0:33
  • 2
    It does not seem garbled to me. "A religious" meant "a member of a religious order".
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 1:27
  • snatch means to take aggressively. It's a metaphor. He snatched the money out of my hand, is not.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 2:40

1 Answer 1


The quote refers to the one quoting the snatched the words from his superior’s lips. This means to use the words, snatch, borrow or take them, and use them in a way to further the cause of the man speaking, for other purposes, even when they were not taking the true meaning or sense of the words. That is leaning or borrowing from the authority of the quoted one in order to promote the sense of the personal or private interest. Misusing as it were the true meaning of the quotes used. Misusing borrowed authority.

  • Thanks. Does it have a sense of the religious's anticipating the superior's words by saying them first, and if so, does it indicate what kind of attitude in his saying them: whether it is bragging or "you don't have to tell me again" attitude, etc? Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 4:55
  • 1
    @GratefulDisciple, it has the opposite sense. If one is snatching the words from someone else's mouth, that person is not anticipating but mimicking or parroting the original speaker for personal gain, recognition, etc. The attitude may be that of a sycophant, a backstabber, or a manipulator of others' opinions.
    – RobJarvis
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 20:03
  • @GratefulDisciple, The wise RobJarvis is most eloquent on this point. The words are taken, snatched, for purposes less noble than the original speaker. It is the authority of the original speaker he is snatching.
    – Elliot
    Commented Jun 24, 2021 at 3:03
  • @Elliot Thank you for your additional clarification. Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 4:32

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