Da mad math

In Welsh and Cornish the usual word for good is da [daː], while in the other Celtic languages words for good are: Breton – mat [maːt˺], Irish – maith [mˠa(ɪ)(h)], Manx – mie [maɪ], and Scottish Gaelic – math [ma]. I’ve wondered for a while whether there were cognates in Welsh and Cornish for these words.

Last week I found that there are: mad in Welsh and mas in Cornish. The Welsh word, which means good, seemly, lucky, appears in the phrase: a wnêl mad, mad a ddyly (one good turn deserves another), but isn’t otherwise used, as far as I can discover. The Cornish word doesn’t appear in the Cornish dictionaries I’ve checked so I think it is probably not used any more.

These words all come from the Proto-Celtic *matis (measure), possibly from the Indo-European (measure, consider) [source], which is also the root of the Irish word meas (judgement, opinion, respect) [source], and possibly of the Welsh meddwl (to think), and the English mete (measure).

11 thoughts on “Da mad math

  1. What a fascinating revelation! The similarities of the words don’t surprise me as much, after having seen your insights from other shared root terms. That they all root from the term ‘matis’, was.

  2. What about Welsh maith?

    amser maith yn ol = ‘a long time ago’

    http://www.geiriadur.net translates it as ‘long’ or ‘tedious’, which fits with the above idiomatic usage, but could there be any connection with Irish maith? It is tempting to think so, given that it looks identical, but perhaps this is misleading – especially since Welsh already has a cognate with an obviously related meaning.

  3. Tel is right, ‘mad’ appears in the Welsh national anthem. ‘gwladgarwyr tra mad’ would translate as ‘very good patriots’ (sounds a bit naff in translation!).

    The vast majority of Welsh speakers don’t know the meaning of ‘mad’ as it’s never used in contemporary Welsh. It was probably an archaic word used only for poetry when James James composed the anthem in 1856.

  4. David – I don’t know if there’s any connection between the Welsh maith and the Irish one.

    The word da in Welsh and Cornish comes from the Proto-Celtic *dagos (good) , which is also the root of the Irish dea- (good, well) and deas [dʲasˠ] (south, right, pretty, nice, pretty, honest) [source], via the Old Irish deg/dag (good) [source]. In Scottish Gaelic the equivalent is deas [dʲes] (south, right, ready), and it’s jiass (south) in Manx. The word da existed in Breton, but is no longer used [source].

  5. Just thinking, would the Welsh word ‘maeth’ (nourishment) come from the same root as mad/math/mat?

    Likewise, ‘tâd/mam/rhieni maeth’ (surrogate or adopting father, mother, parents also be related?

  6. @Macsen: That seems very likely to me – that might have been the word I was looking for. I wonder whether mael and masnach (see recent post) are also related. cf. English goods.

  7. David – on ‘mael’ … is it in anyway related to the English ‘mall’ as in shopping mall … or is that a pure coincidence?!

  8. David – the Welsh word maith comes from the Proto-Celtic *magtio, from the PIE *meg- (big, much, great, major, mega-), which is also the root of such English words as much, major, mayor, master and mister [source].

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