A Cold Snap

We have recently had something of a cold snap here in Ireland, though the ‘worst winter in living memory’ promised by the Express or Mail or whichever English rag it was has failed to materialise, just as it fails to materialise almost every winter. However, the cold snap got me thinking about that word snap. I said back in July 2013 in the post titled Did Cassidy ever get it right? that I thought there was some chance the word snap as in a cold snap comes from Irish, though I said I wasn’t sure.

So, does snap come from Irish? Well, there is no doubt that snap is used in this way in Irish. Dinneen’s Irish dictionary gives various meanings for snab, including a snap, an end or fragment, a spell or turn (cf. “a cold snap”). The book also gives snap with the meaning “a snapping, a sudden assault or seizure.”

The word snap is also found with the sense of a cold spell of weather in English. Its first recorded use in this sense is in the 1740s.

So, which is it? An English word borrowed into Irish or an Irish word borrowed into English?

The evidence is very clearly in favour of this being an English word in Irish for a number of reasons. Firstly, Ireland was subject to English control for hundreds of years and there are many English borrowings in Irish but relatively few Irish borrowings in English, so the balance of probabilities is in favour of an English origin. There is no evidence for the existence of the word snap in Irish before the modern era. (You can check this on eDIL.) Furthermore, snap is recorded in the sense of a snap or sudden bite from the 15th century, and it has ancient cognates in other Germanic languages. It is related to Germanic words like snout.

Once again, Cassidy got it badly wrong about this word.

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