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Word for 03rd September 2013
“ SNED v cut, prune, lop”
Snædan in Old English referred predominantly to lopping trees and it is no surprise to find it used similarly in Older Scots. John Knox writes in the History of the Reformation in Scotland (1547), “Otheris sned the branches of the Papistrie, but he stryckis at the roote”. The ancient meaning has survived. The Scotsman (1998) describes the wartime employment of women in forestry: “they undertook the work, proving they were as hardy as men. Training camps were set up to teach the women how to hold an axe, lay-in, fell, sned and cross-cut the timber”. Ulster Scots provides another modern example in the Belfast News Letter (2003): “Wi holly tae sned an puddins tae boil Ahm badly fashed fer hits tha near Christmas. Dis onieboadie ken tha Ulster Scots fer ‘Bah Humbug’?” Other plants come in for snedding. Michael Traynor’s The English dialect of Donegal (1953) gives an example: “Snedding turnips in winter is many a time sair work” and Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1825) defines sned-kail as “colworts or cabbages, the old stalks of which, after they have begun to sprout, are cut off and left in the ground for future product. The cutting is supposed to prevent their going to seed”. There is exuberant snedding by Burns in To a Haggis (1786): “Legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned Like taps o’ thrissle”. However, in Shetland, sned describes a sheep-mark with a piece cut aslant from the top of the ear. This very regional use probably comes from Old Norse sneitha (to cut), which survives in Faroese, where it shares the Shetland Dialect sense. In the Oxford English Dictionary the Old Norse descendant appears as snathe, amazingly with the same limited sense as Old English snædan and our own Scots sned – to lop trees. Languages get into some right fankles.
Scots Word of the Week is written by Chris
Robinson of Scottish Language Dictionaries