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[snif] /snɪf/
verb (used without object)
to draw air through the nose in short, audible inhalations.
to clear the nose by so doing; sniffle.
to smell by short inhalations.
to show disdain, contempt, etc., by or as by sniffing.
verb (used with object)
to perceive by or as by smelling:
to sniff a scandal.
to inhale through the nose:
to sniff the air.
an act of sniffing; a single, short, audible inhalation.
the sound made by such an act.
a scent or odor perceived:
a sniff of perfume.
Origin of sniff
1300-50; Middle English; back formation from snivel
Related forms
sniffingly, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for sniff
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Seeing the high indifference of this small, bristling stranger, the ram stepped up and was just about to sniff at him inquiringly.

    The Watchers of the Trails Charles G. D. Roberts
  • Where,” said Our Missis, glancing gloomily around, “is sniff?

    Mugby Junction Charles Dickens
  • Try a sniff—you'll know what it feels like to be old man Millinborn's heiress.

    The Green Rust Edgar Wallace
  • "It'll keep you pretty busy," he responded with a sniff of profound disapproval.

    Sundry Accounts Irvin S. Cobb
  • Surely it would do no harm if she took just one sniff at the cedar chest before she went away.

    The Master's Violin Myrtle Reed
British Dictionary definitions for sniff


to inhale through the nose, usually in short rapid audible inspirations, as for the purpose of identifying a scent, for clearing a congested nasal passage, or for taking a drug or intoxicating fumes
when intr, often foll by at. to perceive or attempt to perceive (a smell) by inhaling through the nose
the act or sound of sniffing
a smell perceived by sniffing, esp a faint scent
Derived Forms
sniffing, noun, adjective
Word Origin
C14: probably related to snivelen to snivel
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for sniff

mid-14c., of imitative origin; possibly related to snyvelen (see snivel). As an expression of scorn or contempt from 1729. As a synonym for smell (v.) it dates from 1845. In reference to cocaine from 1925. Related: Sniffed; sniffing.


1767, from sniff (v.); the scornful sense is from 1859.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for sniff



To inhale a narcotic powder; snort (1920s+ Narcotics)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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sniff in Technology

A C++/C programming environment providing browsing, cross-referencing, design visualisation, documentation and editing support. Developed by UBS Switzerland and marketed by takeFive Salzburg.
[Jargon File]

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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