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Snack was originally a verb, meaning ‘bite, snap’. It appears to have been borrowed, in the fourteenth century, from Middle Dutch snacken, which was probably onomatopoeic in origin, based on the sound of the snapping together of teeth. The derived noun originally had the same meaning (it was particularly applied to the bite of dogs), but by the late seventeenth century this had developed, perhaps via some unrecorded intermediate sense such as ‘part bitten off’, to ‘portion, share’. A narrowing-down in meaning led by the mid-eighteenth century to ‘small portion of food eaten’, as contrasted with a proper meal: ‘We have but just time for a snack’ (Samuel Foote, The Mayor of Garret, 1763). The modern verb snack, ‘eat a snack,’ mainly an American usage, is an early nineteenth-century creation based on the noun.

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.

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