Frowning nosey nostrils!

Frowny face

What is the connection between frown, nose and nostrils?

The English word frown comes from the Middle English frounen (to frown as an expression of disapproval, displeasure, shame, fear, or jealousy), from the Old French frognier (to frown or scowl), from Gaulish *frognā (nostril), from the Proto-Celtic *srognā, from the Proto-Indo-European *sregʰ- (snore) [source].

The Proto-Celtic word *srognā is the root of the following words in the modern Celtic languages:

  • Irish (Gaeilge): srón [sˠɾˠoːnˠ] = nose; sense of smell; prow, projection
  • Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig): sròn [sdrɔːn] = nose, snout, trunk; promontory; snout (of a glacier); toe (of a shoe)
  • Manx (Gaelg): stroin [strɛin] = nose, promontory, headland, ness, naze, nose-piece
  • Welsh (Cymraeg): ffroen = nostril; muzzle of a gun, mouth of a cannon, nozzle of a pair of bellows; hole, entrance, opening (of a pipe), spout
  • Cornish (Kernewek): frig [fri:g] = nostril
  • Breton (Brezhoneg): froen = nostril, fri = nose

I’m not sure if the Cornish word frig comes from the same root, but it seems likely.

The French word renfrogner (to scowl), the Galician word enfurruñar (to frown, to get angry), the Spanish word enfurruñarse (to get angry, get cross, to sulk, to cloud over) also come from the same root.

Sources: Wiktionary, Am Faclair Beag, Online Manx Dictionary,, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Gerlyver Kernewek, Dictionnaire Favereau, Reverso

This is one of the connections I found recently while working on the Celtiadur, my collection of Celtic cognates.

4 thoughts on “Frowning nosey nostrils!

  1. In Gaelg (Manx Gaelic), snore is strinnoogh, which, I suspect, also comes from the Proto-Celtic root that you quote.

  2. The name Cameron, incidentally, comes from the Scottish Gaelic words cam + sròn (crooked nose), with the compounding causing lenition of the /s/ to /h/.

  3. joe mock:

    I don’t know about the HOW, but the change from
    sp-, sr-, and sw- in IE to
    ff-, ffr-, and chw- in Welsh
    is a regular feature.

    See also
    ffêr (ankle) from IE *sperH (compare Middle Irish seir)
    ffrwd (stream) from IE *srew- (compare Irish sruth)
    chwaer (sister) from IE *swésо̄r (compare Irish siúr — a religious sister)

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