A young, insignificant, and inexperienced person considered to be presumptuous, impertinent, or overconfident.

We don’t often hear the term ‘whippersnapper’ in conversation now, and my memory of it is probably from the movies, where some grumpy old man complained about young whippersnappers who didn’t know how to behave themselves.

The word comes originally from idle young men in the habit of just hanging around and snapping whips to pass the time. In the 1500s, they were literally called ‘whip snappers.’ Then, in the 1600s, this phrase combined with that used for street rogues, which was ‘snipper snappers.’ Christopher Marlowe mentions ‘snipper snapper’ in the 1604 edition of The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus.

Where once the meaning of ‘whipper snapper’ referred to a layabout, in the last few years has been used to describe a young man with an excess of both ambition and impudence. And, around the time that ‘whippersnapper’ came into use, the word “whipperginnie” was a derogatory term for a woman.

Here are some examples:

From Ed Kilgore at the Daily Intelligencer, October 2017: “There are certainly octogenarians who are physically fit, sharp as a tack, and as competent at work as any whippersnapper.”

From The Brattleboro Reformer: “Want to remind and share my first experience with you to all, of this new blue-jeaned young whippersnapper of a doctor with no shiny round mirror strapped to his head (far from the norm).

From The Pensacola News Journal: “Bayview Senior Resource Center recreation supervisor Jeremy Street, a non-senior whippersnapper, said the music program has been going a while, but has been growing in popularity recently as more aging boomer musicians find out about the jam.”

However little it may be used in conversation, the word seems popular as a name for assorted commercial purposes, including an English folk band.

I just can’t imagine myself using it, no matter how young and bratty my opponent is.


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