Blue stones

An interesting Breton word I came across today is mein-glas, or slates (literally, ‘blue stones’). The French equivalent is ardoises, which I had to look up as it’s not a word that crops up every day, unless you’re a roofer or builder.

The Breton word is made up of mein (stones – singular maen) and glas (blue/green), and the French word is of uncertain, possibly Gaulish origin – the ard part might come from the Gaulish word *ard(u) (high), as in the Ardennes [source]. The ard element is also found in the Gaelic languages meaning high, tall, elevated.

Ardoise (slate) appears in such terms as:
- ardoise électronique = notepad computer
- bleu/gris ardoise = blue/grey slate
- toit en ardoise = slate roof
- carrière d’ardoise = slate quarry

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This entry was posted in Breton, English, French, Language.

12 Responses to Blue stones

  1. Yenlit says:

    It is present in some other languages as well:

    Italian ardesia
    French ardoise
    Albanian ardezë
    Breton maen-sklent; maen-glas
    Esperanto ardezo
    Portuguese ardósia
    Turkish arduvaz

  2. phanmo says:

    Ardoise comes up more often than you’d think… It also means bar tab.

  3. David Eger says:

    The Welsh traditional song ‘Ar Lan y Mor’ (‘On the Seashore’, or thereabouts) features ‘cerrig gleision’ – blue rocks (using an old plural form of ‘glas’). I’ve never been given a satisfactory explanation of what is meant by this, but perhaps it is referring to slate – or some other stone of bluish hue?

    Colour terms are, in Welsh, quite versatile, ‘glas’ being used to mean ‘blue’, ‘grey’ and ‘green’ (perhaps the rocks in the song are covered with algae), and ‘coch’ for a spectrum of colours from poppy red to dead bracken.

  4. David Eger says:

    …The usual Welsh word for slate is ‘llech’.

  5. David Eger says:

    …interestingly, one Spanish word for slate is ‘laja’.

  6. Yenlit says:

    In Welsh ‘maen glas’ which has also the same literal meaning as Breton ‘maen-glas’ ie. ‘blue stone’ is Welsh for turquoise (the stone) which is ‘maen-turkez’ in Breton.
    Welsh also has for ‘turquoise’: glasfaen; glaswyrdd & gwyrddlas.

    As David has commented above and has been a blog topic on Omniglot in the past, Welsh colours terms are quite versatile; your ‘cerrig gleision’ could also be ‘silver stones’ alluding to ‘arian gleision’ = silver coins, coins the colour of silver. In North Wales ‘glas’ is also an intensifier in certain expressions and denotes extremity : eg extreme lateness, uncontrolled anger, best effort etc.

    The ‘ard’ element also found in the Gaelic meaning high, tall, elevated used to be present in Welsh but the word is obsolete now: *ardd, (hill; high) but it is still current in Cornish: ardh n.m height; high place.

    Would ‘ard’ be connected with the English word ‘arduous’ – “hard to accomplish, difficult to do,” from Latin arduus “high, steep,” also figuratively, “difficult,”?

  7. Simon says:

    Yenlit – ard might come from the same ultimate root as arduous and arduus: the Proto-Indo-European root *eredh- (to grow, high), which is also the root of ortho- [source]. I don’t know if the Celtic languages got it directly from PIE or via Latin or Greek (from ὀρθός [orthos] – straight, true, correct, regular)

  8. David Eger says:

    I had connected Gaelic ‘ard’ with Welsh ‘allt’ (=hill, hillside) and hence with Latin ‘altus’ (=high). There again, the Welsh word also exists as ‘gallt’, which suggests that ‘allt’ was originally only a mutated form (…or perhaps it happened the other way round). A connection with Latin ‘arduus’ would be much more convenient.

  9. Yenlit says:

    In MacBain’s Dictionary: allt – a stream, Irish ‘alt’ height , (topographically) glen-side or cliff, Old Irish ‘alt’ shore, cliff, Old Welsh ‘allt’ cliff, Cornish ‘als’, Breton ‘aot’ shore; all allied to Latin altus. The Gaelic form and meaning are are possibly of Pictish origin.

    gallt, gelltydd (feminine noun)
    1 (North Wales) hill
    yr allt = the hill
    allt (standard Welsh) > gallt (f) (dialectal) (North Wales; = hill)
    (allt = hill) which has acquired a prosothetic g-, perhaps because the base form allt was misunderstood to be a soft-mutated form of a base form gallt

    Other words in Welsh that have acquired an initial g:

    (South Wales) allt (= hill) > gallt

    (South Wales) iâr (= hen) > giâr

    (North Wales) addo (= to promise) > gaddo

  10. macsen says:

    David – ‘cerrig gleision( in Ar Lan y Môr’ means ‘mussles’.

    I’m presuming ‘alt’ appears in Welsh in words beginning in Welsh with ‘ar’ denoting power: Arglwydd (lord), Arlywydd (president) and then to signify over view or stress importance: ‘aruchel’ (ar + uchel; ar +high = supreme), arolwg (ar + golwg, ar + view = overview), arbennig (ar + pennig, not sure what pennig would mean = special).

  11. Yenlit says:

    The Welsh prepostion “ar” comes from two distinct prepositions:
    1. ar = in front of
    2. gwar = on
    “gwar” is related to English ‘over’ from Proto-Indo-European *upér- (“over, above”) whose cognates include:
    Latin – super
    Greek – ὑπέρ (hiper, hyper)
    Sanskrit – upari
    Gaulish – ver-
    Old Irish – for
    Most senses in Welsh “ar” derive from “gwar” (on, over) rather than “ar” (in front of) and in common with other Welsh prepositions, “gwar” became soft-mutated initially
    gwar > ghwar
    Initial ‘gh-’ in Welsh has disappeared in every case hence ghwar > war
    Later “war” (on) became “ar” through confusion with “ar” (in front of) but in Cornish and Breton “war” (on) is still the regular form:
    Cornish: war prp on; upon: penn war = superior to.

  12. David Eger says:

    “(allt = hill) which has acquired a prosothetic g-, perhaps because the base form allt was misunderstood to be a soft-mutated form of a base form gallt”

    Thanks, Yenlit – as I suspected

    “David – ‘cerrig gleision( in Ar Lan y Môr’ means ‘mussels’.”

    Thanks Macsen – that’s cleared up a mystery.