What's the Origin of the Word Nosh for Snack?

Posted on 25 Dec 2015 23:58

Nosh can be a noun or a verb. A between-meal snack is a nosh. Or, if you are hungry but it's not yet dinner time, you can nosh. Sometimes, as well, a nosh is any food or meal. A nosher is someone who eats between meals or who has a sweet-tooth. It may also refer to someone who has a hard time controlling his appetite, such as when dieting.

Originally, however, nosh referred to eating greedily, usually with the connotation of doing so on the sly, between meals. The term derives from a Yiddish word which came into English, nash or nashn, which in turn derived from the Middle High German nashchen, meaning to eat sweets in secret.

A nosh is often expected at and associated with cocktail parties, and it may be worth remarking that the word snack itself once tended to refer to a drink of liquor more than a bit of food. Snack has taken a circuitous route to its current meaning, but once meant a bite or to bite, meaning not a bite of food, but a literal bite, such as an animal bite.

According to Leo Rosten, in The New Joys of Yiddish, Jewish delicatessen counters often display little slices of salami or pieces of halvah, with a little tooth-pick and a flag with reads "Have a nosh, or "Nem [take] a nosh a nickel."

Nosh is just one of many Yiddish food related words which have made their way into English, as borrowed terms, such as blintz, kaiser roll, knish, kosher, and matzo meal.

© 2016 by Eric Troy and CulinaryLore. All Rights Reserved. Please contact for permissions.