celtic-words-in-english

It is hardly surprising that there are Celtic words in English, when you consider that England is in the British Isles, which were inhabited exclusively by Celtic speaking peoples prior to the Anglo-Saxon migrations of the fifth century. What is surprising is how few Celtic words actually survive in English. It seems the Celtic languages just went out of fashion after the Germanic invasions. But the English language has borrowed words from all the Celtic languages, including the Brythonic (Britonnic) language of the natives of Southern Britain, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Scottish and Gaulish from France.

 

All of these Celtic languages have a common root in the Proto-Celtic language, also called Common Celtic, which was probably spoken in Central Europe around c. 1300 BC – 750 BC. The language branched out Westward to be spoken by the natives of the British Isles, who were not genetically related to the actual so called “Celts” of central Europe, but had a similar culture. Today, the word “Celt” is used mainly to describe the native cultures and languages of North-Western Europe, even though it comes from the Greek “Keltoi” which described a people in Germany.

 

These are some Celtic words in English that you will probably recognise.

 

  • Basket
    From Brittonic *basc(i)-etto-n, meaning “little wicker thing”
  • Brave
    from Gaulish bragos.
  • Bog
    From Irish bogach meaning “marsh/peatland”) a wetland
  • Boycott
    An Irish word which means abstaining from using/ buying/dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest.
  • Clock
    From Old Irish clocc meaning “bell”
  • Car
    From Norman French carre, from Latin carrum, carrus meaning a “two-wheeled Celtic war chariot,” from Gaulish karros
  • Crumpet
    Welsh crempog Cornish or Breton Krampoez; ‘little hearth cakes’
  • Corgi
    from Welsh, cor, “dwarf” plus gi “dog”.
  • Galore
    from Irish go leor meaning “til plenty”
  • Gob
    Might be from Brittonic gobbo-s, meaning “mouth, lump, mouthful”.
  • Hog
    Cornish Hogh
  • Lawn
    from Welsh Llan or Cornish Lan
  • Leprechaun
    From leipreachán or leath bhrogán
  • Paw
    Cornish – paw, claw
  • Penguin
    Possibly from pen gwyn, “white head”, originally applied to the great auk, which had white spots in front of its eyes. Pen gwyn is identical in Cornish and in Breton.
  • Whiskey
    From Irish uisce beatha meaning “water of life”
Written by Tom Rowsell