To celebrate the historic occasion of Wales playing tonight in the semi-finals of their first ever European Championship, I want to write something short about English words of Welsh origin. Short, because there aren’t that many! I think this is largely because Welsh both looks and sounds so different from English that it’s different for Welsh words to enter the English language. But there are a few, such as…
Corgi: the cute little dog breed, literally means dwarf (cor) dog (gi). Quite a suitable name.
Crag: meaning rock, similar to a lot of Celtic-language words meaning rock.
Flannel: The experts aren’t 100% sure that this word is of Welsh origin, but it certainly sounds Welsh, so let’s say it is!
Dad: It’s safe to say that this is the most commonly-used English word derived from Welsh, in this case from the word tad, meaning father. Obviously.
Finally, possibly, penguin: From pen gwyn, literally meaning “white head.” Now, you might well say that penguins have black heads. Which is true, but the name was originally given to the great auk, which had white spots in front of its eyes. If this is the origin of the name, then it could also have come from Cornish or Breton, which both use pen gwyn with the same meaning. The other main theory about the origin of the word is that it comes from pinguis, the Latin for fat. But that’s so unfair on all those cute little penguins, so let’s say it comes from Welsh, shall we?
So Welsh hasn’t had a huge impact on the English language, but given that the number of current speakers is estimated to be about 560,000 people, it’s perhaps not so surprising. Still, the words it’s given us are quite significant, and hopefully the football team can have an even greater impact on the world of sport by winning tonight!