Fun Etymology Tuesday – Welsh

Good evening, loyal friends!
It’s Tuesday and, as regular as clockwork, our new Fun Etymology is out!
In our ongoing series about country/language names we’re going to explore another one of the constituents of the United Kingdom: Wales!

We wanted to do Scotland first but sadly nobody knows where the word Scotland (or better, Scot, the name of the
Celtic tribe giving its name to the land) comes from! That would have been a very short Fun Etymology indeed.

The word “Welsh”, by contrast, has a very rich and curious history.
It comes from the Old English word “wielisc” or “wælisc”, meaning “foreigner”.
This word comes from the Proto-Germanic word *walkhiskaz, which was used to signify any non-Germanic foreigner. The result of this is that there have been many “Welshes” along the ages: to the Vikings, the “Valir” were the French, to the old High Germans, the “Walh” were the Romans.
The Proto-Germanic word comes from the name of a Celtic tribe which lived in the Alps in northern Italy, known in Latin as the “Volcae”.

So, the name of a Celtic tribe came to mean “foreigner” in proto-Germanic, and then Old English extended this meaning to become the name of another Celtic tribe only remotely related to the one which originated the word in the first place!

Such is the way of the world.

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