to see them <snap at> her [them = eyes]

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amy20082008

Member
mandarin, P.R.China
....Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur. Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again. She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth-powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes. “What has been happening to me?” said the sad little eyes. Oh, how sweet it was to see them snap at her again from the red eiderdown! …
(by Katherine Mansfield. Miss Brill is an unmarried old woman. She likes her fur very much, which is made of an entire fox fur with imitation eyes and nose on it, and sometimes she talks to it because she lives alone.)

What does “snap at” mean here?
My reference book tells me that “snap at” means “to stare or gaze at someone”, but I doubt about it. I found the explanation as following: snap at: Speak irritably or abruptly to someone, as in. This teacher was always snapping at the children. This use of snap transfers an animal's sudden bite at something to a verbal attack.
I think “to speak to someone” sounds more reasonable.
 
  • Joelline

    Senior Member
    American English
    hyperdictionary.com explains an older use of the verb "to snap":

    \Snap\, v. i.
    Of the eyes, to emit sudden, brief sparkles like those of a
    snapping fire, as sometimes in anger

    In this case, her eyes have gone from being "dim little eyes" to sparkling, lively eyes. (The idea of anger is not present here.)
     

    vagonot

    New Member
    ENGLISH
    to "snap at"......is usually a very quick verbal response to something that bothers that person who is present at the time this is performed.

    When people are angry,bothered or have alot of things on their mind, they react irationally, usually is sarcastic, raised voice, and an obvious disturbed demeanor is seen.....thus to "snap at"........eg: My wife was nagging about something this morning, and I 'snapped back'......(something usually not nice...!}
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    "He thought she was asleep and bent down to steal the necklace from around her throat, but suddenly her eyes snapped open and, seeing him, she screamed like a Banshee."
     

    rsweet

    Senior Member
    English, North America
    Joelline's interpretation sounds best to me, but it could also mean something like "snap open" as Emma suggested. I was confused about the red eiderdown until I went back and read that she was talking about fox fur (red and fluffy).
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I agree with Joelline. The lonely Miss Brill is talking to her fox fur. With all apologies to our friend foxfirebrand, the fur probably was the "real" version of something like THIS.

    This type of wrap was popular during the early part of the twentieth century. Often, a small "clamp" or hinge was inserted into the animal's mouth so it could "clamp down" on its own tail while worn around the neck. And yes, the animal was, ahem, dead.

    Thank you, amy, for providing us with such nice context from which we could accurately respond to your request.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Excuse me, but an "eiderdown" is a quilted piece of sewn work stuffed with the soft underfeathering of a northern European sea duck, not the pelose sheddings of a vulpine carnivore. Much less the ugly grisly pelt I don't have to click on some hyperlink to see in all its ghastly inglorious squalor-- probably with a wizened remnant of the scalp and facial hide still attached.

    And decorous little eyes, made of the same globules of iridecent glass you see on Victorian hatpins. Ugliness incarnate.

    Ask any Dutch or Frisian or Danish native what eider down is, and what sort of quilted bedclothes or garments are stuffed with it. Words have meanings, and foxes and drakes are as distinct as anything mankind ever devised words for.

    By the way, in my lexicon "snap at" means a quick startling feigned effort to bite, a bluff of sorts. It doesn't draw blood, so is susceptible to figurative adaptation, involving sharp glances or testy remarks, delivered in such abrupt tones as to resemble barking.

    Eyes that snap at you may sparkle, but with a certain thrust-- I'd bet real money that they also startle.
    .
     

    rsweet

    Senior Member
    English, North America
    Thank you, foxfirebrand, I knew what "eider down" was. When I just had that snippet of the story, however, I fished like mad for a metaphor that wasn't there. It does get confusing when humans insist on making something completely different out of a perfectly innocent animal. Please accept my apologies and embarrassment at having, for a brief moment, mistaken a fox for a goose/duck.:eek: :eek:
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I still don't know. Here are some more "snippets" from the short story link. (Thank you, Joelline.)
    But the nose, which was of some black composition, wasn't at all firm.

    Little rogue! Yes, she really felt like that about it. Little rogue biting its tail just by her left ear.

    She might have been trying to compare the softness and "down-like" qualities of the animal's undercoat to eiderdown. At least, that's what I can think of.

    And for the photo above, it is of a stuffed toy animal, not one that has visited a taxidermist. It is by all accounts PETA-friendly. :eek:
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    GenJen54 said:
    And for the photo above, it is of a stuffed toy animal, not one that has visited a taxidermist. It is by all accounts PETA-friendly.
    Oh. I guess the phrase "real version of" was lost in the shuffle of your grisly and traumatizing description.
    .
     

    ChiMike

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    amy20082008 said:
    ....Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur. Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again. She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth-powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes. “What has been happening to me?” said the sad little eyes. Oh, how sweet it was to see them snap at her again from the red eiderdown! …
    (by Katherine Mansfield. Miss Brill is an unmarried old woman. She likes her fur very much, which is made of an entire fox fur with imitation eyes and nose on it, and sometimes she talks to it because she lives alone.)

    What does “snap at” mean here?
    My reference book tells me that “snap at” means “to stare or gaze at someone”, but I doubt about it. I found the explanation as following: snap at: Speak irritably or abruptly to someone, as in. This teacher was always snapping at the children. This use of snap transfers an animal's sudden bite at something to a verbal attack.
    I think “to speak to someone” sounds more reasonable.
    It looks like a transference. Wearing the thing when it was new probably made her feel "snappy" (= cleverly smart, brisk, full of "go"; also: neat and elegant, "natty" - see OED). She has restored its eyes to looking "snappy." There may also be a slight tone of mild derision and probably of commiseration for the unabashed use of the pathetic fallacy to which old-age and/or loneliness can drive almost anyone.
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    One thing is clear: Miss Brill thinks of her dead fox stole as a cute, engaging little living animal.
     
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