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From the Middle English snaile, snayle, from the Old English sneġel, from Proto-Germanic *snagilaz. Cognate with Low German Snagel, Snâel, Snâl (snail), German Schnegel (slug). Compare also Old Norse snigill, from Proto-Germanic *snigilaz.


  • IPA(key): /sneɪl/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪl


snail (plural snails)

  1. Any of very many animals (either hermaphroditic or nonhermaphroditic), of the class Gastropoda, having a coiled shell.
    • 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 7, in The China Governess[1]:
      ‘Children crawled over each other like little grey worms in the gutters,’ he said. ‘The only red things about them were their buttocks and they were raw. Their faces looked as if snails had slimed on them and their mothers were like great sick beasts whose byres had never been cleared. […]’
  2. (informal, by extension) A slow person; a sluggard.
  3. (engineering) A spiral cam, or a flat piece of metal of spirally curved outline, used for giving motion to, or changing the position of, another part, as the hammer tail of a striking clock.
  4. (military, historical) A tortoise or testudo; a movable roof or shed to protect besiegers.
    • (Can we date this quote by Vegetius and provide title, author’s full name, and other details?) (in translation)
      They had also all manner of gynes [engines] [] that needful is [in] taking or sieging of castle or of city, as snails, that was naught else but hollow pavises and targets, under the which men, when they fought, were heled [protected] []
  5. The pod of the snail clover.


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snail (third-person singular simple present snails, present participle snailing, simple past and past participle snailed)

  1. To move or travel very slowly.