Jumpers and sea pigs

Llamhidydd / Porpoise / Mereswine

Llamhidydd, (n/m) [pl. llamhidyddion] – porpoise, dancer, acrobat, jumper

Today’s word appears in a book I’m reading at the moment and is a new one to me. I’m not sure about the etymology of the hid part, but llam means jump, and the suffix -ydd indicates a person or agent.

As well as jump, llam also means fate, leap, bound, stride, step, and is found in such words as llamddelw – puppet (jump + image/idol); llamu and llamsach – to jump; llawsachus – capering, prancing, and llamwr – leaper. Llam most likely comes from the same root as the Irish léim, Scottish Gaelic leum, Manx lheim, Cornish lamma and Breton lam. More common Welsh words for jump and to jump are naid and neidio.

Other Welsh words for porpoise include môr-fochyn (sea pig) and morhwch (sea sow), which is also applied to dolphins. The Irish for porpose is muc mhara (sea pig).

The English word porpoise comes from the French pourpois, which is from Medieval Latin porcopiscus, which is a compound of porcus (pig) and piscus (fish).

Another English word for porpoise is apparently mereswine, the roots of which can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic *mariswīnaz (dolphin, porpoise), from *mari/*mariz (sea) and *swīnaz/*swīnan (swine, pig), via the Middle English mereswin and the Old English mereswīn.

This entry was posted in Breton, Cornish, English, Etymology, Irish, Language, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Words and phrases.

21 Responses to Jumpers and sea pigs

  1. prase says:

    In Czech, porpoise is sviňucha. I had to look it up in the dictionary, since I didn’t know what porpoise is, and the Czech term didn’t help me too much. Still I would’t probably recognise it from other versions of dolphin. Sviňucha is from svině = sow; the -ucha part is a rare feminine augmentative suffix used sometimes in biological nomenclature: there are also letucha = colugo and poletucha = flying squirell.

    The Welsh term reminds me of morfuwch, which was one of the first Welsh words I have learned. I am not sure about the exact category morfuwch refers to. Either it can be the genus Trichechus, which is probably called in English a manatee (in Czech, we have kapustňák, derived from kapusta = cabbage, not sure why), or the whole “sea cow” family Sirenia (they are officialy called ochechule in Czech; non-biologists (rarely) use the word as a semi-humorous slur, speaking about a woman).

    By the way, I love these biological-nomenclature posts.

  2. Lau says:

    The Danish name is marsvin. Interestingly Guinea pigs (animals, not test subjects) are also called marsvin.

  3. Macsen says:

    … but most people tend to write and say ‘dolffin’ in Welsh now. :-S

    My favourite Welsh word for an animal is ‘bochdew’ (hamster) literally, ‘fat cheeck’.

  4. Yenlit says:

    I think the plural of llamhidydd is llamidyddion (not llamhidyddion) and maybe the ‘-hid-‘ part is connected to the notion of ‘flying’ compare hedydd (or ehedydd) meaning both ‘lark’ (bird) and ‘flyer’ also ehedeg, hedfan ‘to fly’.

  5. Andrew says:


    And I thought you were going to say it meant “sea pig” (mereSWINE) or some such thing 😀


  6. Petréa Mitchell says:

    The Japanese word for porpoise is 鼠海豚 nezumi-iruka, literally “mouse-dolphin”. The word for dolphin is written with characters meaning “sea” (海) and “pork/pig” (豚).

  7. michael farris says:

    In Polish dolphin is borrowed (delfin) but porpoise is morświn (sea-pig compound noun). Guinea pig is świnka morska (little sea pig, but as a noun + adjective phrase).

    In the Muskoghean languges I know something of dolphin (and whale) are water-blowers (okepofke, uepofkv in Mikasuki and Creek) Manatee (sea cow) is ‘water cow’ (okewaake, uewaakv). One Creek grammer give uesukhv (water pig) for hippopotamus

  8. formiko says:

    In Esperanto porpoise is also sea pig : marporko

  9. @Petréa – Yeah, in Chinese it’s the same (with the one exception that 豚 is actually the character for a suckling/small pig).

    So what’s with all these languages connecting porpoise linguistically to pigs? They don’t look especially piggish to me.

  10. Tommy says:

    @Zachary Overline – that’s a good question, but my guess is that the curious idea of “sea pig” originated in one place, was dispersed via exchange of ideas and goods, and was catchy enough to stick. I do not think that people in all these places independently observed some piggish about these sea creatures.

    The good question, then, is where the idea originated and who dispersed it in this form. The other aspect question is how is a language built to accept foreign ideas and loan words? In other words, what is a language’s foreign language policy? In general, modern Japanese and Chinese are at opposite extremes when dealing with loan words. Japanese molds the word to the Japanese pronunciation and then labels it with a special syllabary (Katakana), so you can know basically where it came from; Chinese looks at the concept, gives it a somewhat original ideogram (Hanzi) which minimal consideration for the sound of the word (which is then sometimes exported to the other Asian countries).

    According to this model, I would say that the sea pig made it Japan via China. Even so, modern Japanese still say ポーパス (poopasu; “porpoise”) and ドルフィン (dorufin; “dolfin”).

  11. @Tommy – It is likely that the idea originated in one place and spread from there, but that overlooks the notion that, in places with native porpoise populations, you’d think that they would already have an indigenous nomenclature for referring to these swimmin’ piggies.

    Naturally, in keeping with the Japanese example that you gave, it’s possible that the loan-word eventually gained prominence over the original word, and that the indigenous term just died out over time. But I think that the very ubiquitousness of the reference to pigs is somewhat unlikely in a time before the internet and phones, etc.

    I just can’t imagine a Japanese sea merchant chillin’ with a Viking and a tribesman from South America, sayin’, “You know what they call porpoise over in China?! They call ’em sea pigs, dude. Isn’t that crazy?” At which point everyone’s eyes glaze over as they realize, Hey, that ain’t a bad idea. Ain’t a bad idea at all….

  12. Jayarava says:

    Can’t say anything about porpoise, but ‘dolphin’ is also interesting. From my book on Buddhist Sanskrit names: PIE *√gwelbh ‘womb’ gives rise to cognates in Sanskrit: garbha, Pāli: gabbha ‘cavity, interior; womb, embryo’; Greek delphis ‘womb’, adelphos ‘womb mate, brother’; L. delphinus ‘dolphin’ though literally ‘womb shaped’; Gothic: *gelt, German: kind, English: child.

  13. prase says:

    @Zachary: Perhaps there were no indigenous terms. Primitive societies don’t usually have extensive vocabulary describing animals, except for those animals that have some practical importance.

  14. Petréa Mitchell says:


    The Japanese word for dolphin, iruka, isn’t related in any way to the Japanese words for “sea” or “pig”. This is one of the many cases where Japanese borrowed the characters from Chinese but not the underlying Chinese word. (Which is how you get these situations where a character has a whole bunch of different “readings” in Japanese; it’s because it’s a foreign logographic system bolted onto a vocabulary with an etymology that doesn’t always match.)

  15. Sean Hsu says:

    In Japanese newspapers and as well as in other formal writing situations, イルカ( iruka ; indigenous word ) is still used very often. But in casual conversation, I think iruka and dorufin are interchangeable. Even though Japanese adopted quite a lot “international words” in their language, it is common that there are native alternatives. For some specific terms, they mainly use foreign ones: デザイン( dezain ; “design”). But many original words are still preferable: 芸術 ( geijutsu ; “art” )

    And as mentioned above, most Japanese indigenous words are written in their Chinese equivalents, regardless the original pronunciation of the Characters. Thus, イルカ can also be written as “海豚”, despite these two characters 海&豚 don’t indicate the Japanese pronunciation or meaning at all.

    For the origin of “iruka”, try to google “イルカの語源・由来” (etymology ). The explanation is quite interesting, too.

  16. Yenlit says:

    I like the word ‘grampus’ for the large porpoise (Grampus griseus) much better than its other name Risso’s dolphin. Grampus is a name that conjures up medieval superstition and folklore like the fearsome Kraken. It’s ‘perkyn vooar’ (large porpoise) in Manx and either dolffin Risso or dolffin llwyd (grey/brown dolphin) in Welsh.

  17. Imbecilica says:

    Unsurprisingly, a porpoise is known as cá heo (pig fish) and a dolphin is cá mỏ heo (a fish that resembles a pig’s snout [lol]) in Vietnamese. It is very common to coin terms in Vietnamese taking the Chinese meaning, but using indigenous morphemes.

  18. Imbecilica says:

    ^typo…cá heo mỏ.

    Either way, I hate dolphins, they are scary!

  19. Adam Jones says:

    I would normaly say Môr-fochyn for porpoise Llamhidydd sounds most iregular to me as a native Welsh speaker. I do however use morhwch for Dolphin and also Dolffin. Very intresting finding out the root for Porpoise in all the other languages however.

  20. Yenlit says:

    I’ve also seen in Welsh odd words for porpoise/dolphin like ‘sambedyddiwr’ and ‘llambedyddiol’ to add to irregular looking llamhidydd?

  21. ViKo says:

    In Ukrainian “Sea – pig” (Морська свинка) means simply – rodent “Guinea-pig” (there is not a dolphin).

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