When I was talking with Clementsvale writer Reg Baird this summer he told me about an outing with his late father when they went into the woods and “snigged out a few logs.”
I knew exactly what he meant. Around this neck of the woods lumberjacks and farmers have been snigging logs for as far back as I can remember. “Snig” or “to snig out” is a common expression, meaning simply to attach a chain or heavy rope to a log and drag it out of the woods, usually with a beast of burden or tractor. If you talk to people who work in the woods today, especially people of the older generations, you will find that they still speak of snigging out logs. In some cases the word has also come to mean to move something that may be stuck, as in “We snigged the car out of the ditch.”
Snig may be a word born in the lumberwoods and farmlands of the Annapolis Valley and it undoubtedly is slang. As mentioned, I’ve heard snig and its variants snigged and snigging used often in various ways and accepted it as a legitimate word associated with lumbering. People tend to accept a word as legit when their fathers, grandfathers, friends and peers use it in their everyday speech.
Having literally grown up with the word, imagine my surprise when snig was rejected by the Scrabble program on my computer The computer informed me, in effect, that there was no such word as snig. After the game, which the computer won because snig was rejected, I consulted several dictionaries and couldn’t find the word. I was perplexed; how could so common a word not be recorded anywhere? Anyway, I decided snig must be a word coined here and forgot about it.
Recently I had the enjoyment of reading a history of families in the Forest Hill (Gaspereau Mountain) area by Lexie Davidson. While writing the history, Ms. Davidson came across the word “sneg,” which as it turned out, meant the same as “snig.” Like me, Ms. Davidson was stymied when attempting to learn more about this word. However, the following from her history confirms that “snig” is or was once in common usage.
“Pearley (Davison) was telling me about working in the woods and he mentioned… driving the sneg (rhymes with fig) horse. I wanted to jot this down. However, I wondered how to spell sneg. I scoured the two dictionaries we have and all the ways of spelling it that I could think of. I failed to find it anywhere. I asked (Pearley) if it could be that the word was sneak horse, instead of sneg horse. Pearley assured me that it wasn’t, that the horse didn’t sneak the log out, he snegged it out.”
Ms. Davidson contacted Lloyd Duncanson and explained that she wanted to use the word ‘sneg’ but couldn’t find it in the dictionary. Mr. Duncanson was surprised, she writes. “He had always heard others use the term… and he used it himself. So he explored his dictionaries and called someone he felt might know. Nevertheless, none of us was able to find such a word, even though it was and is widely used in this area.”
Ms. Davidson’s conclusion was that “sneg” (or more commonly “snig”) is a word or expression unique to this area. A friend suggested that “snig” might a corruption of the verb “snake,” to drag a log or limb forcibly along the ground.
This may be so but I like to think that people in this part of Nova Scotia invented a new word; or simply applied an Old World word to the pioneer activity of clearing out the forest.