Waulking and Walking

My Gaelic Song course is going well and I’m really enjoying it. There are thirteen of us in the class – most are from Scotland or of Scottish origin, and there are also a few from other countries like the USA and Germany. Some speak Gaelic well, others know a bit, and those without any Gaelic are finding the pronunciation somewhat tricky.

One type of song we’ve learnt is the waulking song. The word waulking refers to the practise of fulling or milling tweed cloth, or pounding the cloth against a board with the hands or trampling it with the feet in order to shrink it and make it water proof. In Scotland, and among Scottish settlers in Nova Scotia, waulking was accompanied by rhythmic songs known as waulking songs (òrain luaidh) which helped people to coordinate their work. Traditionally it was women who did this work – men also did it in Nova Scotia – and one person would sing verses, and everybody who sing the vocables – nonsense syllables that fit the tune. The verses were often improvised.

There are some examples of waulking songs in the songs section of Omniglot.

The word waulking comes from the Old English word wealcan (to roll, toss); from the Proto-Germanic *walkaną (to twist, turn, move); from the Proto-Indo-European *wolg- < *wel- (to bend, twist, run, roll), which is also the root of walk, and of the Latin word valgus (bent, bow-legged).

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language, Latin, Proto-Indo-European, Scottish Gaelic, Words and phrases.

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