Sneck /snɛk/ is a word I discovered the other day that means a door or gate latch, the lever that raises the bar of a latch, or a catch. It also means nose or cut. It’s used mainly in northern England and Scotland and is featured in the name of the beer, Sneck Lifter, from Cumbria. It comes from the Middle English word snekk(e), which is of obscure origin. It is possibly related to snick, and the Norwegian and Icelandic snikka (to carve, whittle).

Related expressions include, to draw a sneck (to act cunningly or stealthily); to leave (a door) on/off the sneck (to leave (a door) on/off the latch); sneck-bend (a type of fish hook); sneck posset (a cold reception or greeting; a discharge or dismissal); sneck drawer (one who draws or lifts a sneck or latch (in order to enter stealthily); a crafty, flattering, or sly fellow).

Sources: OED, Wikitionary

This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

10 Responses to Sneck

  1. Yenlit says:

    This word ‘sneck’ has come up in a previous blog post related to the dialect words ‘snig’ and ‘sneg’.

  2. TJ says:

    Hi Simon. I tried to send you an email on feedback[at] o m…etc, but the email got back to me. Maybe something went wrong in the mailing server?

  3. Simon says:

    Yenlit – that other post was about snegs, not quite the same as snecks.

    TJ – I’m not sure why your email bounced back. You could try sending it to simon[at]omniglot[dot]com

  4. D.Jay says:

    I always thought the word snick in reference to a lock opening was just imitative of the sound it made – interesting.

  5. TJ says:

    Ok. Sent again and hope it arrives this time!

  6. Trond Engen says:

    I think it’s related to the homophonous Swedish word snäck “snail with shell”. My Norwegian dictionary tells me there’s a Norwegian word snekke “screw with trapezoidal threading driving a gear-wheel or pushing a lever” (sorry if it’s meaningless, we’re well into a specialist terminology that I hardly have in Norwegian and all but lack in English). This word is borrowed from German. My visual dictionary translates German Schnecke into English as snail, but also

    cochlea of the inner ear
    scroll of a violin
    worm of a snowblower

    (the two last senses are given as snekke in Norwegian).

    No. snekke is also a type of wooden boat built in clinker and with both sterns pointed. This dates from before the German loan, having been used for a type of viking ship. I don’t know the etymology, but it’s easily drawn from “snail”, both as a shape and as a stealthy mover.

  7. Trond Engen says:

    I got a feeling I’d only heard the Swedish word in the compound sneckskal. It turns out I was wrong: it’s snäcka, and it too is borrowed from German. Since the old Germanic snail word had a -g and the k is from German, it may be that my idea won’t stand closer examination.

    But when I’m at SAOB, I see that the entry for the boat word mentions Germanic examples like OE snacc “a small and fast type of warship”. For etymology they point to Ger. Schnake “Crane fly” and Du. dial. snæks “sharp”, suggesting an original meaning “pointed”.

    So maybe

  8. Trond Engen says:

    No it didn’t. Then I’ll try again:

    [I lost something here:] … sneck is a Northern English word meaning “tip”? But I’d rather suggest it’s a borrowing of the Low German/Dutch form of Schnecke, just like in Scandinavian.

    But back to the g of the snail word: There’s a k in the snake word, Norw. snok “snake; sneaky or nosy person”, ON snákr “snake”, and in the sneak word, No. snike “sneak; move stealthily”, so maybe they’re related after all. With worm translating Schnecke for the snowblower part, there’s even some sort of a secondary semantic parallel.

    I’ll stop now.

  9. Yenlit says:

    @Trond Engen
    Old English ‘snacc’ – a small, swift-sailing vessel and ‘snekke’ a ship with both sterns pointed, connect with the OE adjective twi-snæcce – double-pointed.
    Snail in OE is snæg(e)l and maybe ‘snæd’ – handle of a scythe – has something to do with sneck?

  10. Yenlit says:

    The etymology dictionary mentions ‘sneck’ under the entry for the word ‘snatch’ –
    Snatch – Middle English ‘snacchen’, as if from *snakken; compare Lowland Scots ‘snak’ a snap of the jaws. Dutch snakken to grasp. Also dialect English ‘sneck’ snap or latch of a door.

%d bloggers like this: