Slang dictionary

up to snuff

[ uhp too snuhf ]

What does up to snuff mean?

Up to snuff is an adjective phrase that describes something as reaching an acceptable or usual standard or being of passable quality.

The phrase is usually used in the context of an expected standard being met. It’s often used in negative constructions to indicate that something is not meeting such a standard (and is of poor quality).

Example: Our team’s effort simply hasn’t been up to snuff for the last two games—they’re not playing with their usual intensity.

Even when used positively, the phrase typically means about the same thing as satisfactory or adequate, indicating that a standard or expectation has been met but not exceeded.

An older sense of the phrase was used in British English to describe a person as shrewd or sharp. You can read more about this sense in the next section.

Note that the phrase is typically always used in postpositive position, meaning it’s placed after the thing it’s describing, instead of before it like most adjectives.

Related words

bury the lede, the proof is in the pudding, zoomies, coming down the pike, headcanon, bumper crop

Where does up to snuff come from?

dark aqua text up to snuff on light aqua background

One of the earliest uses of up to snuff comes from Hamlet Travestie: In Three Acts (1810) by playwright John Poole. In this humorous version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Poole uses the phrase up to snuff to describe Hamlet as being clever and sharp-witted.

Originally, the phrase up to snuff was used to describe someone as being mentally sharp—someone who’s not easy to fool. The phrase is thought to have used the word snuff in reference to a form of tobacco that was sniffed through the nose. This snuff was thought to heighten a person’s senses and make them more perceptive.

It’s unclear how or exactly when the meaning of up to snuff evolved to describe something as being of acceptable quality. It’s possible that the modern sense is simply a more general usage of the older sense, as a person who was described as up to snuff would be competent enough to perform a task.

Examples of up to snuff

Theranos was already sending blood tests to third-party vendors using traditional blood diagnostic analysis because its own technology was not up to snuff.
Caroline Polisi, CNN, September 2021
Nothing turns me off a property faster than a garbage kitchen. The rest of the house can be immaculate, but if your cabinets and range aren't up to snuff, I judge harshly.
@YesThatTeach, April 30, 2022

Who uses up to snuff?

Up to snuff is perhaps most commonly used in negative constructions by people expressing that something is not up to the usual standard.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of up to snuff like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of up to snuff that will help our users expand their word mastery.