Every once in a while I come across a word in Welsh – sometimes one I’ve come across before a number of times, sometimes one wholly new to me – and I have a sudden “aha!” moment where I realize (or suspect, and then check in the GPC) how it’s actually connected with words in English or other European languages.
Sort of apology for posting
For me, that little ‘click’ is, I’ll admit, partly a crossword-clue-like feeling of cleverness/satisfaction, but it’s also a little ‘hook’ to hang the Welsh word on, making it more likely that I’ll actually remember it in the future. Sometimes these are purely native Celtic words, but often they turn out to be early Latin borrowings that have been transformed by subsequent sound changes into something much more impenetrably Welsh-looking.
So, given that getting to grips with and expanding our vocabulary is one of the things that I think a lot of us struggle with, I’ve sometimes wondered about posting some of these ‘aha’ moments somewhere. I’d do it on LiveJournal, except that I don’t actually post there any more (who does?) and nobody would read it, so it makes more sense to do it here, where other people might want to chip in, too.
I’ll admit it makes me feel a bit unsure about how to pitch it – I don’t want it to come across as an “Oh look at me, aren’t I clever” sort of exercise, and equally some part of me is self-conscious about maybe picking up on something only to find that everybody knows all about that already… But hopefully, if other people do feel like chipping in, we can between us avoid either of those risks – with any luck it should be a sort of combination of sharing the pleasure of figuring out how random bits of Welsh fit together with maybe making some things easier to remember.
So with that caveat, here goes. The one that struck me the other day was stumbling across a berf annherfynol or annherfynedig (translated as an ‘infinitive verb’) when I was looking for something else in the GPC. And I wondered how on earth you could get annherfynedig to mean ‘infinitive’ – and then I clicked…
an- is just the Welsh equivalent of ‘un/in’ as in anffodus or anghofio
So nherfyn must be a nasal mutation of some word terfyn, which turns out to be a perfectly good Welsh word for a boundary, limit, or end – borrowed from Latin terminus as in, well, ‘terminus’, ‘terminal’, ‘terminator’, you name it. The -m- in the middle has changed to an -f-, but we can cope with that, because it’s just like a soft mutation; and the ending’s been lost, but that’s pretty much all.
Another Latin word for an end or boundary was finis, so a lot of the English words that correspond to terfyn words turn out to have fini in them – like ‘infinitive’, or the one I could never remember when so many SSiWers got through to the rownd derfynol (final round) of Dysgwr y Blwyddyn – terfynydd ‘finalist’. I think I’m going to remember that one, now.
And then, as I was writing this, another one hit me: what about penderfynu? And yes, according to the GPC, there’s a verb terfynu that means ‘to terminate, finish, determine’ – and so penderfynu ‘decide’ is really just ‘determining your head’