The subject of snails came up this week at the polyglot conversation group and I discovered that the Cornish word for snail is bulhorn /ˈbʊl.hɔɾn/ (pl. bulhornes), which I particularly like, and which conjures up images of bullhorn (megaphone) wielding snails.

We were also talking about slugs and didn’t know the Cornish or Welsh words for them. I suggested malwoden heb dŷ (“a snail without a house”) or malwoden digatref (“a homeless snail”) in Welsh, and bulhorn heb chy (“snail without a house”) was suggested for the Cornish version. I now know that a Welsh slug is a gwlithen or a malwen ddu (“black snail”) and that a Cornish slug is a gluthvelhwenn or a melhwenn. The gwlith and gluth in these words, which mean dew.

I later discovered that the German word for snail is Schnecke – isn’t that a great sound? Definitely a cellar door word for me. A German slug is a Nacktschnecke or “naked snail”.

This entry was posted in Cornish, English, German, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases.

17 Responses to Bulhorn

  1. Olof says:

    In Swedish, a slug is properly snigel whereas snail is a snäcka, but I don’t think many people make the distinction. I for one say ”snigel” about all snails and slugs.

  2. David Eger says:

    Of course, I’m conditioned by my anglophonicity, but ‘slug’ seems a very appropiate name for that creature.

    The Latvian word for snail is ‘gliemezis’. I remember trying to find out, when I was in Latvia, what they called a slug, and not getting a satisfactory answer. However, an online translator gives me the very similar ‘gliemis’.

    It raised a smile when I discovered that, in Denmark, the spiral, cinammon-flavoured pastry that we might call a ‘cinnamon Danish’ in the UK, is known as ‘kanelsnegl’ (cinnamon snail).

    It is interesting that the German word for snail, ‘schnecke’, would appear to be cognate with English ‘snake’. I’m not aware of an English cognate for ‘schlange’.

  3. CuConnacht says:

    Those cinnamon spirals are Schnecken in German.

  4. Jerry says:

    In Dutch, close to German, it’s “slak” for “snail” and “naaktslak” for “slug”. A lot of people say “slak” when the subject is in fact a “naaktslak”, but since the words are so close (the “naakt” means “naked”), it is almost like you’re only leaving a further specification to a general species’ name and not making an error.

  5. Jerry says:

    In almost unrelated news, I know a favourite piece of pastry in Denmark (we love it and cannot spend a day in Denmark without eating at least one, but considering the amounts bakeries have in store of this I can only assume it’s a favourite in all of the country) is called “snegl”, called so because of it is shaped like a snail shell. (Cochlea? Damn, had to look that up…)

  6. Jerry says:

    Sorry David, you beat me to it. Please note, CuConnacht, that in Holland there also is something like it, but the Danish ones are different and absolutely the best! 😉

  7. Laurits says:

    Talking of cognates, in Swedish ‘orm’ (cognate with worm) means snake and ‘slang’ (cognate with German ‘Schlange’) means hose.

    Also, in Danish snail and slug are both called ‘snegl’ [snɑɪ̯ˀl]

  8. Darryl Shpak says:

    So, there’s an obvious superficial similarity between German “Schnecke” and English “snake”. A little quick research at etymonline.com gives the etymologies:

    Proto-Germanic “*snagilas” -> OE “snægl” -> E “snail”
    Proto-Germanic “*snakon” -> OE “snaca” -> E “snake”

    Wiktionary gives the etymology:

    Old High German “snecco” -> G “Schnecke”

    But Wiktionary also says that OHG “snecco” is “akin to Old English snaca”, and etymonline.com says, in its etymology of “snail” that “The word essentially is a diminutive form of Old English snaca”. But I’m not sure which word it’s referring to (possibly OE ‘snægl’) and that doesn’t seem to jive with the listing of two different PG roots.

    This is bugging me now. I don’t have any better reference works at hand; my Dictionary of Indo-European Roots is at home and I don’t have a subscription to the OED or anything similar. The etymologies hint at a common root but I’ve got no evidence of one. Can anyone determine if this a false cognate, or if there is a real connection?

    If there is a connection, likely candidates seem to be from PG “*snakon” to OHG “snecco”, or an earlier (PIE?) root that PG “*snakon” and “*snagilas” derived from…

  9. Darryl Shpak says:

    Wiktionary also gives etymologies:

    PIE “*snag-” / “*sneg-” -> PG “*snakô” -> OE “snaca” -> ME “snāke” -> E “snake”
    PG “*snigilaz” -> OE “snægel” -> ME “snegge” -> E “snail”

    …which suggests E “snake” and E “snail” may share a root, but if they do, it’s very long ago.

    Since Wiktionary tells me that PG “*snakô” meant “a crawling/creeping thing”, my guess is that OHG “snecco” derived from that just as OE “snaca” did, and the resulting words (E “snake” and G “Schencke”) ended up with different, but logical, meanings. But that’s pure speculation on my part, and it would please me if someone could confirm or disprove this.

    Or quite possibly nobody but me is interested 🙂

  10. prase says:

    According to my Czech etymological dictionary entry for “šnek” (colloquial for snail), German Schnecke is “apparently” related to Old High German “snahhan” (to crawl) and English “snake”. No further details are given.

    Literary Czech word for snail, “hlemýžď”, is, according to the same source, unclear, without parallels in other Slavic languages, but it mentions Latvian “gliemezis”, although with incorrect spelling “*glēmezis”.

    Slug in Czech is “slimák”, reportedly related to Latin “limax” and probably also to English “slime”.

  11. Yenlit says:

    Just been discussing this over at Magnus’ blog

    There’s quite a few ‘naked snails’ out-n’-about in the linguistic garden as well as in the Welsh one:
    Greek: γυμνοσάλιαγκας (gymnosáliagkas)
    Hungarian: meztelen csiga
    Dutch: naaktslak
    German: Nacktschnecke
    Bulgarian: гол охлюв (gol óhljuv)
    Czeh: Nazí plži

  12. prase says:

    @Yenlit: “Nazí plži” – I have never heard that phrase. It undeniably exists, as the number of Google hits testifies, but it’s kind of weird to learn one’s native language vocabulary from a stranger.

    However, I knew the term “nahožábří plži” – nudibranchs.

  13. Yenlit says:

    @prase – Let “Nazí plži” be my gift to all the Czechs out there! 😉

  14. Rauli says:

    In Finnish, snail is “kotilo” (derived from koti, ‘home’), and slug is “etana” (no idea of it’s origin), but people tend to use the latter word for all of them. Personally, I hate it when in a crossword puzzle there is a picture of a snail, and the solution is “etana”.

    By the way, in Latin there is a word for snail, “domiporta”, which literally means “home carrier”.

  15. David Eger says:

    The welsh word for ‘caterpillar’ is ‘lindys’. The suggested Anglo-Saxon derivation of the name ‘Rosalind’ (my mother’s name, incidentally) is ‘hros – lind’, meaning ‘horse – serpent’. A possible connection there?

    My mother prefers the Spanish derivation, ‘rosa linda’ (‘pretty rose’). I can’t think why.

  16. Yenlit says:

    There’s a reference to “malwoden dawdd” (pl. malwod tawdd) “snail/slug which melteth” in the Bible (Beibl):

    Salmau 58:8 (y rhai annuwiol) Aed ymaith fel malwen dawdd, neu erthyl gwraig; fel na welont yr haul

    Psalm 58:8 (the wicked) As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun

    (malwen + soft mutation + tawdd melted, root and past participle of toddi = to melt)
    The reference is supposed to refer to a belief that the snail/slug slime trail (“llys malwen” slime of slug/snail.) is in fact from the gastropod’s body melting, dissolving?

    There’s also the turn of phrase for “sleeping rough”:
    cysgu yn llety’r falwen (“sleep in the lodging-house of the snail”)

    In Cornish ‘tortoise’ is:
    (n.m) kroban (pl. krobanes) );
    (m) kronek ervys (pl. kronogow ervys)
    or seemingly ‘melhwessenn’ (snail) related word for tortoise
    (f) melhwioges (pl. melhwiogesow)

    Breton has “baot” (pl. baoted) for ‘tortoise’ (Fr. tortue) which I think is derived from Breton: baotañ (Fr. voûter; être voûté; bomber; être bombé) vaulted; swelled; domed etc.)

  17. pittmirg says:

    In Polish the word [i]ślimak[/i] covers both slugs and snails, you could resort to a locution such as “ślimaki nagie” (naked [i]ślimaki[/i]) or “ślimaki bezskorupowe/bezmuszlowe” (shell-less [i]ślimaki[/i]*) if you wished to talk specifically about slugs but it doesn’t sound natural if it’s clear from the context or unimportant.

    *In fact slugs may have a reduced shell remnant only it’s invisible from outside…

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