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sneak peek

What does sneak peek mean?

A sneak peek is an opportunity to see or experience something before it is officially presented or released to the public.

image of sneak peek

Where does sneak peek come from?

The origins of the term sneak peek are not exactly clear, but it is often used interchangeably with the similar phrase “sneak preview,” which has been used since at least the 1930s. In 1969, journalist Linda Deutsch wrote about the practice for local Toledo newspaper The Blade: “The sneak preview, an institution almost as old as movies themselves, is climbing to new status in this day of multimillion dollar epics when a major flop could destroy a studio.”

The now common practice of screening a newly finished movie to a select few audiences in order to test general reactions and determine whether anything should be cut or edited differently is valued for the opportunity it gives directors and studios to gain a new perspective on their films. On platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, the form of cinematic sneak peeks now includes not only trailers and small scenes but other potentially viral content like interviews with the cast and set photos. A teaser is another word often used interchangeably with sneak peek.

The term sneak peek is often used in a more general sense and in reference to any number of creative endeavors beyond film. Anything which suggests getting a glimpse into the future might be described as a sneak peek. For instance, a photographer could offer a sneak peek of an upcoming show by publicizing one photograph, or an author could promote a new book by releasing an excerpt as a sneak peek. A sneak peek could also be even more general and intangible than early access to a new release of any kind; for example, one could say that during a career fair, students are getting a sneak peek into the adult world or a particular field of work.

Sneak peek can also be used to describe a secret observation. If one doesn’t know the answer on a test, a person might take a sneak peek at a classmate’s test. Someone could also take a sneak peek into a closet full of birthday presents if feeling impatient.

A few things to note…

Sneak peek is often misspelled “sneak peak,” which is incorrect.

For example…

“A sneak peek into mysterious origins of tech terms”

“A sneak peek into mysterious origins of tech terms,” The Economic Times (January 18, 2015)

“Starz came up with a genius way to introduce the world to #AmericanGods, and Mashable has an exclusive sneak peek”

Laura Prudom LaurInLA Twitter (March 28, 2017)

“In LOVE with these senior pictures I had the opportunity to take for one of the most beautiful woman inside and out I've met in awhile.. 😍 - smiling face with heart-eyes emoji😙 - kissing face with smiling eyes emoji (sneak peek)”

Laura Prudom monkeylovermaniac Instagram (March 28, 2017)

This is not a formal definition of sneak peek like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of sneak peek that will help you expand your word mastery.