By Betty Kirkpatrick
I was interested to read the article by our health correspondent on orthorexia. People suffering from this supposed eating disorder avoid all foods that are considered unhealthy and end up short of some valuable nutrients. This has nothing to do with Scots except that it reminded me of the Scots word snasters, decidedly unhealthy food.
As is the case with several Scots words, it is difficult to translate snasters. Something like confectionery or goodies might fill the bill, although, unlike these, snasters is usually used in a disapproving way. It refers to sugary, high-calorie things like cakes, pastries and sweets that may taste good, but rot the teeth and pile on the pounds. Snasters are now totally banned from school lunch boxes.
Snasters was a word commonly used by my father in my childhood, usually in warnings not to eat too many snasters or I would not be able to eat my tea. It was not a word that I encountered elsewhere and for years I assumed it was derived from a Gaelic word. Although my father was not actually a Gaelic speaker, there was a distinct influence in his speech because both his parents were Gaelic speakers.
When I finally located a written source for snasters, I discovered that it was not Gaelic in origin and, in fact, that its first spelling is not snasters, but snashters. I find this very difficult to say. It tends to come out as ‘shnashters’ and sounds as though I have ill-fitting teeth or have had a few too many. So I am sticking to snasters, which is an alternative spelling.
Snasters, or even more likely, snashters, sounds as though it is related to the Scots verb snash, which means to bite or snap. Snasters/snashters are likely to have Swedish, rather than Gaelic, connections. Swedish has snask sweets and snaska to suck sweets.
I am not acquainted with anyone else who uses the word snasters but I am sure that there must be someone out there who does.
Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.