A sneck is a latch on a door or gate that is lifted by raising a small lever, the lever being traditionally known as a sneckin pin. If a door or gate is on the sneck the door is closed by means of a latch, but not locked. If, on the other hand, it is left aff (=off) the sneck the catch is left off and the door is unlatched, affording an easy entrance to all and sundry. Nowadays people are rarely so trusting as to leave a door in such a state. Insurance companies would have a fit.
To lift a sneck, as you would expect, literally means to lift a latch. Figuratively, the phrase means to act in a stealthy, crafty way in the manner of one creeping surreptitiously and illegally into a house– perhaps one where the door has been left invitingly aff the sneck.
Sneck has another connection with craftiness. A sneck-drawer was once used to describe a cunning, deceitful person, while craftiness or duplicity can be known as sneck-drawing, a word that can also be used as an adjective meaning crafty or wily
Sneck can also act as a verb. Predictably it literally means to fasten a door or gate latch or to make a catch secure. It can refer to locking up or locking in someone or something or to switching off something such as an electrical appliance, but it also has a very painful meaning. Should you sneck your finger you have probably closed a door, drawer or something of the kind without removing the said finger. The result? A yelp of agony and probably a few accompanying expletives.
The finger-injuring meaning of sneck is actually the one that I myself am most likely to use. Perhaps this is because I do not actually have any gates or doors that have latches. Perhaps it is because I should pay more attention when shutting doors and drawers.
Sneck can play a part in men’s head gear. A snecker-doun (pronounced to rhyme with soon) is a man’s cloth cap, known in Scots as a bunnet, with a stud fastener on the peak.
Unlike snib, sneck sounds as though it might be Scots—and indeed it is, although it is sometimes to be found also in the speech of parts of northern England. The word first appeared in Scots in the fifteenth century and it was also to be found in northern Middle English. Apart from that, little is known of its history. It falls into that well-known category of origin uncertain.
The phrase sneck up was certainly known in English in the sixteenth century because it was used by no less a person than Shakespeare. He used it as an interjection meaning shut up and, not surprisingly, it sounds a bit old-fashioned now. Slang has changed quite a lot over the centuries since Shakespeare’s time, much of the change having come from the other side of the Atlantic.
Part of the fun of writing this article is in coming across interesting, but now rather obscure, phrases. Into this category comes sneck your daidlie. This expression sounds rather rude, but it actually means to be overcome with strong emotion. It is strange that we have an expression for such an outpouring of feelings when traditionally this is not something that Scots tend to indulge in. When did you last sneck your daidlie?