Debrief

We used Google Trends to find six common questions on British snipers… and now an expert gives informed answers

THIS MONTH’S HISTORIAN: MICHAEL E HASKEW

Did British soldiers coin the term ‘sniper’?

The term ‘sniper’ is derived from the phrase ‘to snipe’, and the snipe is a wading bird. The word is used to identify any of nearly 30 species and now also embodies good marksmanship, fieldcraft and battlefield stealth.

For British soldiers posted to India during the 1770s, a day’s hunting regularly involved attempts to bag the wily waterfowl. The snipe was a master of camouflage, keenly alert, and when sparked to fly followed an erratic pattern, making itself a challenging target. The British soldier is therefore credited with popularising the word in the context of military sharpshooting.

Did a British engineer design the first sniper rifle?

Yes, this was Joseph Whitworth, who was also an entrepreneur and inventor.

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