Four (or possibly five) words of Welsh origin

With today being St. David’s Day, what better time to explore a language with more than half a million speakers and over 1,500 years of history?

Many Englanders’ knowledge of Welsh might be limited to what they have seen on road signs, but there are a handful of words they will be quite familiar with that originate from this fascinating language:

1. Bard

William Shakespeare may be England’s most celebrated writer, but a word often used to refer to him originates from Wales. The Welsh word is ‘bardd’, with the ‘dd’ pronounced like an English ‘th’.

2. Flannel

We can’t be certain of the origin of the word for this everyday bathroom accessory, but it’s likely that it stems from Welsh. The word ‘gwlanel’ is used for a Welsh fabric similar to flannel wool.

3. Wrasse

If you’re a keen angler, you may have reeled in the odd rainbow or cuckoo wrasse while at sea. Unflatteringly for the poor fish, its name comes from ‘gwrach’, the Welsh word for a witch or hag.

4. Cwm

A Welsh word that has slipped nicely into the English language while retaining its original spelling, a cwm is a valley formed by glacial erosion, and is a useful word to know in Scrabble!

5. Penguin?

The origin of the name of this Antarctic bird is very unclear, but it seems Welsh has as strong a claim as any other language to it. ‘Pen gwyn’ is Welsh for ‘white head’, and this might be the etymological root of the word ‘penguin’, even though the animals actually have black heads. More information on this theory can be read here.

Knowing the origin of words can broaden your understanding of them, and help you recognise how to spell them. For more guidance on how to boost your writing skills, try our Freelance Writing for Businesses diploma course.

Categories: Words and Language

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