Celtic Pathways – Crooked and Twisted

In this episode we’re looking at some crooked and twisted words.

Spiral staircase in Conwy / Grisiau troellog yng Nghonwy

In Proto-Celtic, the word *kambos meant twisted, crooked or bent. It comes from the Proto-Indo-European word *kh₂em- (to arch, bend, curve), from *(s)ḱh₂embos (crooked) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • cam [kaumˠ] = bend, bent, crooked, crookedness, fraud; to bend, crook, distort in Irish
  • cam [kaum] = bent, crooked, awry, not straight, squinty, wry, one-eyed; bend, curve, trick in Scottish Gaelic
  • cam = bent, crooked, deceitful, intricate, knotty, perverse, rakish, wry, wrong in Manx
  • cam [kam] = crooked, bent, hunch-backed, distorted, wry, bowed, curved, looped, winding in Welsh
  • kamm = bent, crooked, erroneous, error, wrong in Cornish
  • kamm = angled, bent, bend in Breton

The Proto-Celtic word *kambos is the root of the Galician words camba (doorjamb of an oven, handmill), cambar (to bend), cambiar (to change) [source]. The word cambiar (to change) in Spanish and Portuguese, and the word change in English come from the same Celtic roots [source].

*kambos is possibly also the root of the French word as camus [ka.my] (flat-nosed, snub-nosed) [source], which was borrowed into English as camous/camoys (flat, depressed, crooked nose – used until the 19th century) [source].

The English word kam (crooked, awry) was borrowed from the Welsh word cam, but is no longer used [source].

The name Campbell comes from the Scottish Gaelic Caimbeul, from cam (crooked) and beul (mouth) [source], while Cameron comes from Camshròn, from cam (crooked) and sròn (nose) [source].

More details of crooked words in Celtic languages can be found on the Celtiadur, a blog where I explore connections between Celtic languages in more depth. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

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