Celtic Pathways – Javelin

In this episode we’re getting to grips with the word javelin.


A javelin is a light spear thrown with the hand and used as a weapon, or a metal-tipped spear thrown for distance in an athletic field event. It comes from the Old French javelline (javelin), a diminutive of javelot (javelin), from the Vulgar Latin *gabalottus (spear), from the Gaulish *gabalos (fork), from the Proto-Celtic gablā- (fork, forked branch), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰabʰlos (fork, branch of tree) [source].

Related words in modern Celtic language include:

  • gabhal [ɡoːəl̪ˠ] = bifurcation, fork, crotch, junction in Irish
  • gobhal [ɡoːəl̪ˠ] = bifurcation, fork, crotch, junction in Scottish Gaelic
  • goal = fork, branch, crotch, crutch, junction, perineum in Manx
  • gafl [gafl] = fork, stride, lap, inner part of the thigh, groin, angle, nook in Welsh
  • gowl = crotch, fork in Cornish
  • goal = fork in Breton

The English word gable comes from the same Gaulish root, via the Old French gable [source]. The English word gaffle (a lever used to bend a crossbow) possibly comes from the same Gaulish root, via Middle English gaffolle, the Middle Dutch gaf(f)el (fork) and the Proto-West Germanic *gabulu (fork) [source].

Words in other languages from the same Gaulish root include Gaffel (gaff) in German, gaffel (fork) in Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and kahveli (gaff, fork) in Finnish [source].

More details of fork-related 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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