Word of the day – gwrthryfel

The Welsh word gwrthryfel means rebellion or mutiny. I heard it while listening to a programme on Radio Cyrmru about the The Chartists. I worked out what it meant from its roots: gwrth (against) and rhyfel (war), and this got me thinking about how Welsh words like this are easier to understand than their English equivalents as they’re made up of Welsh roots rather than borrowing from Latin, Greek or other languages.

Then I thought that maybe the English word rebel has the same structure as the Welsh word -I knew that the bel part had something to do with war in Latin and guessed that re meant against. I checked this and found that it comes from the Latin rebellare, to rebel, wage war against, which is made up of re (opposite, against), and bellare (to wage war), which comes from from bellum (war).

Knowing Latin certainly can help you understand the etymology of many English words, and knowing Welsh can also be useful in unexpected ways.

This entry was posted in English, Etymology, Language, Latin, Welsh, Words and phrases.

9 Responses to Word of the day – gwrthryfel

  1. Seumas says:

    Scottish Gaelic:

    Cogadh – war
    Blar – battle

    Thanks for the etymology – I guess ‘blar’ must come from ‘bellare’ as well. Inntinneach gu dearbh!

    The Gaelic name Murchadh (commonly translated as Murdo/Murdoch/Murdock in English) comes from the words for ‘sea battle’ (muir + cogadh).


  2. Simon says:

    According to MacBain’s Dictionary, blàr, battle (which also means field and peat-moss), comes from blàr, having a white face, or white spot on the face (of an animal), which comes from the Indo-European bhale, shine.

    Words that share the same root include the Dutch blaar, a white spot on the forehead, the French blaireau, badger, and the Welsh blawr, grey, iron-grey.

  3. Dennis King says:

    Vendryes (LEIA) rejects the derivation of “blár = field of battle” from “blár = white blaze” (which appears in Irish only as the poetic name of a horse), which does seem rather far fetched, and suggests instead that it may be derived from “blá = meadow, field, place”.

  4. Hi Simon! Welsh is a little bit “scary” when you see only a vowel in a word that size! Hehehehehe…

    My mother tongue is Portuguese, so we practically have a vowel per syllabe. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing sir!

  5. Tommy says:

    I have a couple comments/questions about this.

    1. Does “gwrthryfel” carry similar connotations to “rebellion” in English? In English, “rebellion” retains that concept from L. rebellare of waging war against something, as I’m sure it does in other derivations. What about in other languages?

    2. I have learning a lot about words and the etymological building blocks of words through Japanese. I sometimes wonder about the possibility of building compound words (2 or more characters) I have never actually seen or heard before, using another etymological model or concept (like Latin or English).

    But when you think about “rebellion” in Japanese, you may assume “against” + “war”, but in fact this is not the case:

    反戦 (han sen)”against + war” –> anti-war, like a demonstration
    反乱 (han ran) “against + chaos” –> rebellion
    反逆 (han gyaku) “against + reverse” –> rebellion, revolt

  6. Simon says:

    Gleydson – Welsh isn’t so scary if you know that w and y are vowels. Gwrthryfel actually contains three vowels – w, y and e.

    Tommy – one of the connotations of gwrthryfel is waging war against somebody or something. As well as rebellion and mutiny, it can also be translated as revolt or rising.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    That is very interesting, “chopping words” to get the real meaning, as one of my students once said! Thanks for this angle.
    However, when mentioning words in a foreign language, an audio version of the word would be great to get the proper sound for those who are outsiders to that language. Languages are first spoken and lose part of their sense without the sound!

  8. Simon says:

    Elizabeth – I’ve added a recording of gwrthryfel to the post.

  9. Hey Simon! Yes, I took them as vowel sounds… Hehehehehe… I was just with “a e i o u” in my head. 😉

%d bloggers like this: