How many roads?

How many roads?

Last week I learned that there are quite a few words for roads in Irish. These include:

bóthar [ˈbˠoːhəɾˠ] = road; way, manner. From the Proto-Celtic *bow-itros (cow path).

Related words in other Celtic languages:

– bóthar [boː.ər] = alley, lane (Scottish Gaelic)
– bayr [bajr] = avenue, drive, lane, pad, roadway (Manx)
– beidr [beidɪr] = lane, track (Welsh)
– bownder [‘bɔʊndɛr] = lane (Cornish)

bóithrín = country lane, boreen (diminutive of bóthar)

bealach [ˈbʲalˠəx] = way, road track; pass. From the Old Irish belach (gap, pass, road, path).

Related words in other Celtic languages:

– bealach [bjal̪ˠəx] = pass; access; detour; breach, gap, opening; inlet (Scottish Gaelic)
– bollagh = channel, course, curving uphill road, gap, gorge, lane, passage, route, thoroughfare (Manx)

ród [rˠoːdˠ] = road, highway. From the Old Irish rót (road, highway).

Related words in other Celtic languages:

– rathad [] = road, way, route (Scottish Gaelic)
– raad [reːd̪, raːd̪] = avenue, drive, lane, pad, roadway (Manx)
– rhawd [r̥aud] = course, career (Welsh)
– roud = route, trace (Breton)

slí [ʃliː] = way, road, track, route, passage. From the Old Irish slige (gap, pass, road, path).

Related words in other Celtic languages:

– slighe [ʃl̪ʲi.ə] = path, track, trail, way; course, passage, route (Scottish Gaelic)

cosán = path; footway, track; way, passage; direction. From the Old Irish casán (path, footpath), from cás (foot).

Related words in other Celtic languages:

– casan [kasan] = path; supporting beam; treadle; wattle (Scottish Gaelic)
– cassan [keːzən] = passage, path, pathway, sidewalk, thoroughfare; walk, footpath; trajectory (Manx)

cabhsa = causeway; path, lane

sráid [sˠɾˠɑːdʲ] = street; level (surfaced) ground around house; village. From the Old Irish sráit (street, road, path, way), from the Old Norse stræti (street), from Late Latin strāta (a paved road).

Related words in other Celtic languages:

– sràid [sdraːdʲ] = street (Scottish Gaelic)
– straid = street; farmyard; thoroughfare (Manx)
– stryd [striːd] = street (Welsh)
– stret [strɛ:t] = street (Cornish)
– straed = alley, lane (Breton)

Incidentally, the English word road comes from the Middle English rode/rade, from the Old English rād (riding, hostile incursion), from the Proto-Germanic *raidō (a ride), from the Proto-Indo-European *reydʰ- (to ride).

Sources:, Wiktionary, Fockleyreen, Am Faclair Beag, Dictionnaire Favereau breton, cornish dictionary / gerlyver kernewek

This entry was posted in Breton, Cornish, English, Etymology, Irish, Language, Latin, Manx, Old Norse, Proto-Indo-European, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to How many roads?

  1. Charlie says:

    The “cow path” one on top of the list reminds me of the Chinese 馬路~马路 mǎlù “road; street”, originally and literally “horse road”. The so-called Proto-Indo-Europeans of the Pontic steppe [Yamna(ya) culture] adored horses as well, yet I can’t remember having encountered a “horse…” word for “way/road/street/path” in an I.E. language. I would be interested if anyone else here remembers they have.

  2. David Eger says:

    Bealach looks similar to Welsh bwlch (gap, pass)? Is there a connection or is this a chance convergence?

    Alternatively, is there a connection between Irish bealach and béal (mouth)? If this were the case, then the former would seem less likely, since Wiktionary gives gwefl as the Welsh cognate of béal.

  3. Simon says:

    Bealach and bwlch are connected, according to MacBain’s Dictionary, which also says that bealach is related to bile (edge, lip).

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