Celtic Pathways – Spears and Sceptres

In this episode we find out what links the words spear and beam in Celtic languages with words for sceptre and arrow in other languages.

Romano British spearmen

The Proto-Celtic word *gaisos means spear. It comes from Proto-Germanic *gaizaz [ˈɣɑi̯.zɑz] (spear, pike, javelin), from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰoysós (throwing spear), from *ǵʰey- (to throw, impel) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • ga [ɡa]= spear, dart, sting, ray (of light), radius, suppository or (fishing) gaff in Irish.
  • gath [gah] = dart, beam, ray (of light), sting, barb or shooting pain in Scottish Gaelic
  • goull = beam, dart or ray in Manx
  • gwayw [ɡweɨ̯.ʊ] = lance, spear, javelin, shooting pain, stab, stitch or pang in Welsh
  • guw = spear in Cornish
  • goaf = spear, pike, javelin or stamen in Breton

Words from the same Proto-Celtic root in other languages include gezi [ɡe̞.s̻i] (arrow) in Basque (via Latin and Gaulish), գայիսոն [ɡɑjiˈsɔn/kʰɑjiˈsɔn] (sceptre) in Armenian (via Ancient Greek), gaesum (a Gaulish javelin) in Latin, and γαῖσος [ɡâi̯.sos] (a Gaulish javelin) in Ancient Greek [source].

Words from the same Proto-Germanic root include garfish (any fish of the needlefish family Belonidae) in English [source], geer (spear) in Dutch, Ger (spear) in German, and keihäs (spear, javelin, pike) in Finnish, [source].

Incidentally, my surname, Ager, possibly comes from the same Proto-Germanic root as well, via the Old English name Ēadgār, from ēad (happiness, prosperity), and gār (spear) [source].

You can find more details of words for spears, javelins 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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