SSi Forum

Welsh Etymology (Word Origins)


All the stuff about whiskey, water, salmon, rivers and so forth is dealt with in entertaining fashion by George Borrow -‘Wild Wales’ during his passage through the southern part of Gwent. His footnotes to the book have a great long comparative vocabulary of ‘Cymric’ and ‘Sanskrit’ and other ruminations on the origins of our language.


History is a hobby of mine and I made sure to watch that programme. I don’t think it told me anything I did not know, but I do know that most schools don’t teach any of it!! I am interested in the way languages change and relate to each other because it clearly relates to movements of people and much of what we are discussing relates to times before we have any reliable written record. Actually most history is almost as bad as pre-history in that respect, as the records were written generations later, or at the best, by people with strong axes to grind!!!
from Jackie


I don’t suppose you could start a new thread on this could you? I have always been suspicious of the distance between Edinburgh and Catterick, but was in no position to challenge the accepted wisdom!! If you can find evidence, not just for that, but for any other places mentioned in Y Gododdin, the locations of which are merely ‘presumed’… well, I should be interested!! If no one else is interested, use ‘private communication’ to let me know how you get on!!! from Jackie


Stuart, you’ve obviously looked into this a lot deeper than I have!
But with my minimal reading about the matter I’ve been under the impression that the identification of Catterick with “Catraeth” is, in the ‘reputable’, ‘scholarly’ stuff I’ve read always put forward as a putative thing, based on the place name “cataractonium” which is what would have given “Catraeth” in Modern Welsh.

As “maledictus” became “melltith”
and “benedictus” became “bendith”

so the common sound changes could have given “Catraeth” .

[Whether it is taken from a Latin name, or whether the Latin name represents how the Romans wrote a Celtic name, the sound changes would have been similar.]

Sometimes, unfortunately, that’s all there is to go on!
It may usually be stated in a lot of places that “Catraeth=Catterick”, but in the small amount of reputable stuff that I have read it doesn’t seem to be written in stone. (But as I say, I have read only a tiny amount on the subject!)

As I say, I have done minimal reading on it, but it seems reputable scholars have been dubious themselves about the identification, have put forward other possibilities, and have also said things such as -
Y Gododdin was actually written in the eleventh century
It was a battle between rival Britons rather than Britons and Anglo Saxons
And, of course, how far the poem actually represents historical events is completely up for grabs!

So if you do have any reason for thinking it happened in Galashiels, I think it would be welcomed by all parties! I for one would be most interested, and like henddraig I would be really interested to hear your research and thoughts on this matter.

I for one never trust everything I read simply because it comes from the “great and the good”, and it is always interesting to hear the thoughts of people who have researched into things such as this!


Well, depends if there’s a mountain or a hill there!
The differences can be arguable from place to place, time to time and language to language…

I think “pen” just means “summit” though, doesn’t it? Amongst many, many other things.

I think “pen-y-gwig” (“head/end of the wood/grove”) could be an alternate derivation. Most place names have alternate possible derivations…

Either, or any, way, a great example as you say.


Yes I’m quite comfortable with pen as a hill/mountain name - Pen Y Fan in the Brecons, Ben Nevis, soft mutation hasn’t done Scottish mountains any harm. And nice to hear that Esk and Usk have the same root.


Shwmae phawb…On the previous format of the Forum I had started a tentative thread concerning Y Gododdin and its geography. I have a physical interest in that I live on the York Road out of Leeds in what was the Brythonic ‘Elfed’ the eastern boundary of us Cymros -if you like. There is a very old church in the tiny village of Ledsham which existed way back then and was probably the base for an attached monastic settlement. It is, today, an incredibly atmospheric area, just a few miles from the mayhem of the old A1 and associated roads. As a result of time spent in the archives of West Yorkshire Archaeology Service and the wonderful Leeds Central Library, I am convinced, as said before, that there is not a single shred of hard evidence linking ‘Catraeth’ with ‘Catterick’, everything points to the middle Tweed Valley as being the more likely location. My most convincing source is ‘Historical Maps of England during the first Thirteen Centuries’ published by G. Bell & Sons, 1883; authored by Charles H. Pearson M.A Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. This document contains an enormous directory of place names along with attributed sources, including, ‘Katraeth (Aneurin) Perhaps near the Gala R. about Gala Shiels, or near Kelso and not far from the Kale’. The author discusses ‘Catraeth’ at length in the tome. Hwyl!


I would also be very interested in hearing about this as and when you have some news. Did you see see the episode of Time Team a while back where Robinson (Baldrick) put it to us that the Battle of Hastings did not take place where people think it did (and still hold re-enactments on the site). Instead he suggested that it took place further away on what is now the site of a mini-roundabout. I guess one benefit of everyone else looking in the wrong place is that, if you can pinpoint an alternative location, you could visit the site with a metal detector and find artefacts.


That’s exactly what I did, and I found this exciting artefact.


History is written by the victors…



John Davies, Hanes Cymru?


Whoever told you you’d find artefacts there was clearly talking bollards.


Hi Louis,

You are perhaps referring to the first part of Caesar’s “Gallic Wars”, which begins in English (Penguin Classics edition):

" 1. Repulse of the Helvetii (58 B.C.)

Gaul comprises three areas, inhabited respectively by the Belgae, the Aquitani, and a people who call themselves Celts, though we call them Gauls. All of these have different languages, customs and laws. The Celts are separated from the Aquitani by the river Garonne, from the Belgae by the Marne and the Seine. The Belgae are the bravest of the three peoples, being farthest removed from the highly developed civilization of the Roman Province, least often visited by merchants with ennervating luxuries for sale, and nearest to the Germans across the Rhine, with whom they are continually at war. For the same reason the Helvetii are braver than the rest of the Celts; they are in almost daily conflict with the Germans, either trying to keep them out of Switzerland or themselves invading Germany. The region occupied by the Celts, which has one frontier facing north, is bounded by the Rhône, the Garonne, the Atlantic Ocean, and the country of the Belgae; the part of it occupied by the Sequani and the Helvetii also touches the Rhine. The Belgic territory, facing north and east, runs from the northern frontier of the Celts to the lower Rhine. Aquitania is bounded by the Garonne, the Pyrenees, and the part of the Atlantic coast nearest Spain; it faces north-west".

(I recently read the whole of that book - in English - and it’s quite a good read. He was a good writer, although I believe one can’t take it all as gospel, as he had some political axes to grind, and a lot of it was meant to show him in a good light for home consumption).


I agree entirely in spite of it being a set book in our school Latin classes. As my Latin improved I started to read Caesar’s accounts as excellent, even gripping, campaign reporting. “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres” is still burned into my consciousness.

My six years of school Latin has been an excellent grounding for learning other Romance languages (even Welsh) and I wish it could be reinstated in the core curriculum.


Were lessons like this?



“No, four parts - for one small village of indomitable Gauls still held out against the Roman invaders.” :wink:


How could I have forgotten - Obelix is my role model :blush:


Not exactly but we did add our own phrases including
“Caesar adsum iam forte. Brutus adorat” (Caesar had some jam for tea - Brutus had a rat) and “Amavi heri mane” (I’m a wee hairy manny - must be spoken in Aberdonian dialect) I hope this explains why I found Latin such fun :wink:


I can’t say I really enjoyed my school Latin, but one teacher did tell us the “jam forte” gag. And Wikipedia has reminded me of:

“Caesar sic in omnibus
Brutus sic in at”

(“Caesar sick in omnibus
Brutus sick in 'at”

I like this as well:

““Ave bossa nova, similis bossa seneca” is Sir Terry Pratchett’s Latatian version of “Hail to the new boss, same as the old boss” and is a trilingual pun besides.”