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It isn't often that I learn a new English word while reading the newspaper, but today's New York Times contains one: snarge. It means "the residue of birds that have struck an airplane" and is used by, and apparently was coined by, the people at the National Museum of Natural History who try to identify the birds that have had fatal encounters with airplanes. I leave to the imagination what future anthropologists will make of the existence of this term. They'll probably decide that 21st century Americans practiced a peculiar high-tech form of divination.


  1. GypsyJoker said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

    No doubt it'll have a special place next to the "Thagomizer."

  2. Ray Girvan said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

    Associated trivia:

    "SNARGE: Any ugly or unpleasant person" – Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, Edward Fraser, John Gibbons, G. Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1925

    Lord Snarge: the villain of Henry Major Tomlinson's 1933 novel The Snows of Helicon.

    So it has always had the commonly negative connotations of sn- words.

  3. Josh said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

    You can hear more of Carla Dove's thoughts about snarge in this NPR piece from a week ago:

  4. Bobbie said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

    Does that mean that there is another word for the detritus left on my window today by a warbler that crashed into it? We found it dead on the ground a few feet away. WARGE? (Window + snarge, or Warbler + snarge)

  5. Ray Girvan said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

    And what if an ugly or unpleasant person splatters against an airplane? Snargesnarge?

  6. Bobbie said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 8:28 pm

    And there was Snidely Whiplash, the cartoon archvillain to Dudley Do-Right in the Mounties segments of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The ultimate SN villain.

  7. devah said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

    Argh I have a problem somebody here should be able to solve in a jiffy: I need to type 'ā' with an acute accent over the macron (in Word). But I can't find the character even in Gentium.

  8. Matt said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

    So when can we start spreading the story about the NMNH having 100 words for snarge?

  9. Nathan Myers said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

    I keep seeing this expression "struck by a bird" (or, in this case, "birds that have struck"), but that USAir jet, e.g., wasn't struck by birds. It struck the birds itself. The birds were minding their own business and the jet blasted right through them. Even the (otherwise) heroic pilot was quoted blaming the crash on an "attack" on his vehicle.

  10. Nigel Greenwood said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 5:40 am

    @ Nathan Myers: So it was a planestrike, not a birdstrike.

  11. Nicholas Waller said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 5:50 am

    This reminded me of books like What Bird Did That? – subtitled A Driver's Guide to Some Common Birds of North America – that are illustrated guidebooks to windscreen snarge of the bird-droppings type.

  12. Jongseong Park said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 7:57 am


    If you have font-editing software like FontForge, you can create a custom glyph in Gentium. However, I suspect that will be too complicated for the average user.

    In Microsoft Word, one solution would be to take an ā from Gentium Alt (since the macron sits lower) and a combining acute accent from Gentium (use the Character Map utility if you're in Windows). The accents clash if you do this in Word, but it's better than nothing, and it's the canonical way to encode the letter. Or if you're concerned with how it looks rather than how it's encoded, you could take a simple acute accent, manually raise its position 1.5 points or so, and kern negatively to position the accent over the ā to make a more aesthetically pleasing solution.

  13. Fred said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    This will be even more applicable if the plane actually hit any birds. The UGU (United Geese Union) maintain no connection with bringing down flight 1594. We believe that the captain intentionally crashed into the Hudson.

  14. Netty said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 9:47 am

    Das Wort habe ich auch noch nicht gehört. Es könnte sein, daß es in den BCC News erwähnt wurde, aber ich habe in letzter Zeit nur mit halben Ohr zugehört. :)

  15. Netty said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 9:50 am

    Oh sorry, it is all in English. I don't divide the two languages sometimes. In our house it is a mixmash of English and German!

  16. Nathan Myers said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 10:14 am

    @Fred: … the intolerable showoff.

  17. Steve said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 10:23 am

    Off-topic, but @ Netty: Mixmash? I've always said mishmash, myself. (And said it, not written it, so |I'm not absolutely sure about the spelling. Should it be two words or hyphenated perhaps?) Anyway, is it just me? Is mixmash a variant (131,000 google hits, as opposed to 1,570,000 for mishmash) or is it an eggcorn? Judging from the first few google hits, mixmash seems to have a specific meaning in the world of dance music – whereas, despite a certain bias towards the worlds of clothing and cookery, mishmash seems to have a more general meaning.

  18. Robert Coren said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 11:05 am

    Well, at least I'll be ready if and when it shows up in a "bluffing round" of Says You.

  19. devah said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    Thanks Jongseong. I found this place,
    It's a solution if I don't mind a chunk of my document being in a different font (using Ehrhardt for the rest).

  20. Merri said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

    "I keep seeing this expression "struck by a bird" (or, in this case, "birds that have struck"), but that USAir jet, e.g., wasn't struck by birds. It struck the birds itself. "

    Relativist physicists will remember you that those two descriptions of the event are strictly equivalent, so that the way it is described depends on which point of view the describer wants to emphasize, and isn't that precisely what happened ?

  21. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

    @Netty, @Steve: Thanks to the discussion here, I've created an entry for mixmash in the Eggcorn Database.

  22. Nigel Greenwood said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

    The (evolving) Wikipedia article on Flight 1549 contains this sentence, which is worthy of the pen of St-Exupéry:

    On January 21, the NTSB noted that organic debris, including a single feather, as well as evidence of soft-body damage, was found in the right engine.

  23. Nathan Myers said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

    Merri: I'll remember that next time I run over you in my roadster: "Officer, I was just sitting there when she came out of nowhere and smashed my grill at what must have been 60 mph!"

  24. Netty said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    @steve, Mishmash is right – Mix (German) Mash (English) is both languages. Invented by our daughter growing up bilingual. ;)

  25. David Marjanović said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

    Strange, because I only know Mischmasch in German…

    Argh I have a problem somebody here should be able to solve in a jiffy: I need to type 'ā' with an acute accent over the macron (in Word). But I can't find the character even in Gentium.

    Strangely, Arial Unicode MS, Microsoft Sans Serif and Tahoma have the E version (Ḗḗ) and the O version (Ṓṓ), but not the A version.

    Found it! MS Reference Sans Serif has it in the user-defined space… though only the lowercase one (). Bad sign that it doesn't get displayed in the comment-entering window.

    Is it not in Unicode?!? Have the Sanskritists not lobbied enough?

  26. David Marjanović said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    …and it still isn't displayed, even though the Ee and Oo with macron and acute are.

  27. Nathan Myers said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

    I'm curious about opinions on the eastern European character coverage of the "Linux Libertine" OpenType typeface, (which may be dropped into a Windows font folder, despite the name). On my subpixel-smoothed LCD it's the best-looking roman face I have encountered, but I'm not qualified to evaluate its coverage of non-Western characters. It does have the o-macron-acute (1E53) and e-macron-acute (1E17) glyphs, but not obviously the A version. For a (slightly outdated) list of glyphs, see .

    I have read complaints about its cyrillic glyphs, but am also not equipped to compare them to those in other fonts. Comments welcome.

    I use a slightly modified version that substitutes the "st" and "ct" looped ligatures by default. The current versions of these ligatures look much better than those in the PDF file mentioned.

  28. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    January 27, 2009 @ 12:57 am

    More thoughts about mixmash in my Word Routes column.

  29. devah said,

    January 27, 2009 @ 7:51 am

    @David: that solves my problem. Thanks!

  30. devah said,

    January 27, 2009 @ 7:56 am

  31. Bob Ladd said,

    January 27, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

    Going back to the beginning of this thread, the Lithuanian word for 'snot' is snarglys. You don't suppose there was a Lithuanian-American working at the Museum of Natural History when snarge was coined? The similarity between the two words provides a nice example of the kind of problem Don Ringe discussed in his guest posts on Indo-European a few weeks back. Suppose snarge became established in English with the meaning discussed in Bill's original post. Historical linguists in the year 5009 would want to decide whether there was any relation between the two words. Pure coincidence? A borrowing from one language to the other, with a slight change in meaning? Descendants from the common ancestor of Lithuanian and English? The difficulty of deciding such things after so long a time interval is why reconstructing the past on the basis of linguistic evidence isn't straightforward and why even careful work like Don Ringe's can rarely be definitive.

  32. Greg Kochanski said,

    January 27, 2009 @ 6:48 pm

    Note that there seems to be no need for such a word for bug spats. Or, do you think bug splats are made of snarge? Either way, there are a fair number of web pages that claim to help you identify bugs from their splats.

  33. Colin John said,

    January 28, 2009 @ 9:12 am

    á (ta-daa!) produced using ALT160. Is that easier?

  34. Comments as a social medium « Arnold Zwicky’s Blog said,

    February 8, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

    […] as a social medium By arnoldzwicky A little while ago, a posting by Bill Poser (on the word snarge) on Language Log branched off into a totally unexpected […]

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