Celtic Pathways – Hollow

In this episode we’re delving into Celtic words for hollow and related things.


The Proto-Celtic word *tullos means pierced, perforated or hole, and comes from Proto-Indo-European *tewk- (to push, press, beat, pierce, perforate), from *(s)tew- (to push, hit) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • toll [t̪ˠoːl̪ˠ] = hole, hollow, posterior, piereced, empty in Irish.
  • toll [tɔul̪ˠ] = hole, penetration, hole, hold (of a ship) in Scottish Gaelic
  • towl = aperture, bore, cavity, crater, hole, hollow in Manx
  • twll [tʊɬ] = hole, aperture, dimple, hollow, pit, cave, burrow, den, orifice in Welsh.
  • toll = burrow, hollow, hole, opening, orifice in Cornish
  • toull [ˈtulː] = holed, pierced, hole, entrance in Breton

Words from the same Proto-Celtic root in other languages include tollo (hole in the ground where hunters hide, puddle) in Spanish, toll (pool, puddle) in Catalan, and tol (ditch, dam) in Galician [source].

Words from the same PIE root possibly include tkát (to weave) in Czech, тъка [tɐˈkɤ] (to spin, plait, entwine, weave) in Bulgarian and tkać (to weave, stick, tuck) in Polish [source]. Also stoke in English, stoken (to poke, stoke, light a fire, stir up) in Dutch, and estoquer (to impale) in French [source]

You can find more details of words for hollows, holes, caves and related things on the Celtiadur blog. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

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Celtic Pathways – Surface and Skin

In this episode we’re looking into words for surface, skin and related things in Celtic languages.

Hippo very close

The Proto-Celtic *tondā means surface or skin and comes from the Proto-Indo-European *tend- (to cut off) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic language include:

  • tonn [t̪ˠɑun̪ˠ] = surface or skin in Irish.
  • tonn [tɔun̪ˠ] = skin or hide in Scottish Gaelic
  • ton [tɔn] = rind, crust, peel, turf, unploughed land or lawn in Welsh
  • ton = grass in Cornish
  • ton [tɔn] = rind or surface in Breton

There doesn’t appear to be a cognate in Manx.

The English word tonne/ton comes from the same Proto-Celtic root, via French, Latin and Gaulish [source]. Other words from the same Proto-Celtic root include tonne (tonne/ton) in French, tona (tun – a type of cask, ton/tonne) and tonya (a type of sweet bun) in Catalan, tona (surface, skin, bark) and tonel (barrel, tun) in Galician, and tonel (barrel) in Spanish [source].

Incidentally, the English word tun (a large cask, fermenting vat) probably comes from the same roots, via Middle English, Old English, Proto-Germanic, Latin and Gaulish, as does the German word Tonne (barrel, vat, tun, drum), the Dutch word ton (barrel, ton, large amount), and the Irish word tunna (cask), which was borrowed from Latin [source].
(A bit of bonus content that’s not included in the recording.)

You can find more details of these words on the Celtiadur blog. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

Adventures in Etymology – Salt

Today we’re looking into the origins of the word salt.

Sea Salt

Salt [sɒlt / sɔlt / sɑlt] is:

  • a white powder or colourless crystalline solid, consisting mainly of sodium chloride and used for seasoning and preserving food

It comes from the Middle English salt(e) / se(a)lt [salt/sɛlt] (salt), from the Old English sealta [sæ͜ɑɫt] (salt, salty, salted), from the Proto-West-Germaic *salt (salty), from the Proto-Germanic *saltaz [ˈsɑl.tɑz] (salty), from *saltaną [ˈsɑl.tɑ.nɑ̃] (to salt, pickle) from the PIE *seh₂l- (salt) [source].

In most modern Indo-European languages, words for salt begin with an s and contain an l, including sel in French, sal in Catalan, Spanish, Galician, Portuguese and Spanish, sollan in Manx, and sól [sul] in Polish. [source].

Exceptions include sare [ˈsa.re] in Romanian, zout [zɑu̯t] in Dutch, αλάτι [aˈlati] in Greek, աղ [ɑʁ] in Armenian, halen in Welsh, and holen in Cornish and Breton [source].

The word salary, comes from the same PIE root, via Middle English salarie, Old French salaire and the Latin salārium (salary), from salārius (related to salt), from sal (salt). It is thought that salārium was an abbreviation of salārium argentum (salt money), as Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt. However, there is no evidence for this [source].

Other English words from the same PIE root include salad, salami, saline, salsa, sauce, sausage, silt and halogen [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

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