Adventures in Etymology – Quay

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Today we are unloading the origins of the word quay.

A quay [kiː/keɪ] is:

  • a stone or concrete structure on navigable water used for loading and unloading vessels; a wharf.

It comes from the Middle English key(e) [ˈkɛi̯(ə)] (quay), from the Old French kay / cail (quay, wharf), from the Gaulish *kagyum / *cagiíum (enclosure), from the Proto-Celtic *kagyom (pen, enclosure), from the Proto-Indo-European *kagʰyóm (enclosure, hedge) [source].

The spelling quay was adopted in the 1690s to emulate the French spelling quai. In Middle English it was spelled kay, kaye, key or keye.

Other words from the Proto-Celtic root *kagyom include cae [kaːɨ̯/kai̯] (hedge, fence, field, enclosure) in Welsh, ke (fence, hedge) in Cornish, kae (hedge, quay) in Breton, quai (quay, wharf, platform) in French, and cais (quay, wharf, pier) in Portuguese [source].

Words for quay in the Celtic languages come from the same Proto-Celtic root, via Middle English / Anglo-Norman and Gaulish. They include cidhe [kʲi.ə] in Scottish Gaelic, in Irish, and cei [kei̯] in Welsh [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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