Rotten Fragrance

Today we’re looking at the words for rotten and related things in Celtic languages.

Rotten wood

Proto-Celtic *bragnos = rotten
Gaulish brennos = rotten
Old Irish (Gaoidhealg) brén [bʲrʲeːn] = foul, putrid, rotten, stinking
Irish (Gaeilge) bréan [bʲɾʲiːa̯nˠ / bʲɾʲeːnˠ] = foul, putrid, rotten; to pollute, putrefy
bréanlach = filthy place, cesspool
bréanóg = refuse heap
bréantachán = stinker
bréantas = rottenness, stench, filth
Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) breun [brʲeːn] = foetid, putrid, disgusting, filthy, nasty, stinking
breunlach = sinking bog
breunachd = corruption, rottenness
breunan = dunghill, dirty person, dirty/smelly object, crabbit/grumpy person, grouch
breunad = degree of foetidness/putridness, degree of disgustingness/filthiness/nastiness, degree of stink
breuntas = stench, stink, putrefaction, putridness
Manx (Gaelg) breinn = foetid, loathsome, malodorous, nasty, offensive, pestilential, putrid, rancid, rotten, smelly, stinking
breinnaghey = to become smelly, putrefy, taint, stink
Proto-Brythonic *braɨn = foul, stinking putrid
Middle Welsh (Kymraec) brean = rotten
Welsh (Cymraeg) braen [braːɨ̯n / brai̯n] = rotten, putrid, corrupt, mouldy, withered, fragile; rot, putrefaction, corruption, decay
braen(i)ad = rotting, decomposition, rottenness, putridness
braenu = to rot, putrefy, make/become corrupt, become mouldy
braenedig = rotten, putrefied, corrupt, festering, gangrenous, mouldy, wounded
Cornish (Kernewek) breyn = putrid, rotten
breyna = to decay, rot
breynans = decay
breynder = rot
Middle Breton brein = rotten
Breton (Brezhoneg) brein [ˈbrɛ̃jn] = rotten, uncultivated (land)
breinadur = corruption
breinañ, breiniñ = to rot, decay
breinidigezh = putrefaction

Etymology: from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰreHg- (to smell, have a strong odour) [source]. Words from the same PIE root include flair, fragrant, and bray in English, and брезгать (to be fastidious/squeamish, to disdain) in Russian [source].

The Gaulish word brennos was borrowed into Vulgar Latin and ended up as berner (to trick, fool, hoodwink) in French, via the Old French bren (bran, filth, excrement). The English word bran comes from the same Gaulish root, via the Middle English bran(ne) / bren and the Old French bren [source].

The Galician word braña (mire, bog, marsh, moorland) and the Asturian word braña (pasture, meadowland) are thought to come from the Proto-Celtic *bragnos, possibly via Celtiberian [source].

Words marked with a * are reconstructions.

Sources: Wiktionary, Am Faclair Beag, Online Manx Dictionary,, eDIL – Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language, In Dúil Bélrai English – Old Irish glossary, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Gerlyver Kernewek, Gerlyvyr Cernewec, Dictionaire Favereau, TermOfis, Le dictionnaire diachronique du breton, Geriafurch, English – ProtoCeltic WordList (PDF), Etymological Dictionary Of Proto Celtic

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