1: a young vagabond: an outcast boy or girl in the streets of a city
2: a person of the lowest moral or economic station
Did You Know?
“Unfurl yourselves under my banner, noble savages, illustrious guttersnipes,” wrote Mark Twain sometime around 1869. Twain was among the first writers to use guttersnipe for a young hoodlum or street urchin. In doing so, he was following a trend among writers of the time to associate gutter (a low area at the side of a road) with a low station in life. Other writers in the late 19th century used guttersnipe more literally as a name for certain kinds of snipes, or birds with long thin beaks that live in wet areas. Gutter-bird was another term that was used for both birds and disreputable persons. And even snipe itself has a history as a term of opprobrium; it was used as such during William Shakespeare’s day.
“He had blackmailed another ten dollars out of the urchin, also forcing the waif to watch the wagon while he spent the afternoon at Loew’s State watching a film about drag-racing teenagers. The guttersnipe was definitely a discovery….”— John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces, 1980
“Uneducated flower girl Eliza Doolittle, on the other hand, transforms from what Higgins calls a ‘guttersnipe‘ into a proper lady.” — Rohan Preston, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 5 Mar. 2020