Celtic Pathways – Gobs and Beaks

In this episode we look into the Celtic roots of English words like gob and beak.


The Proto-Celtic word *gobbos means muzzle, snout or beak. It comes from PIE *ǵebʰ- (jaw, mouth) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • gob [ɡɔbˠ] = beak, bill, tip, point or projection in Irish.
  • gob [ɡob] = beak, bill, gob, pointed/sharp end or corner in Scottish Gaelic
  • gob = apex, headland, hook, jet, point, promontory, beak, nib, spout, mouth or muzzle in Manx

The English word gob, which is a slang word for mouth in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, was borrowed from Irish or Scottish Gaelic. [source].

It also means a lump of soft or sticky material, saliva, phlegm and various other things, and that version of the word comes from the same Proto-Celtic roots via Middle French go(u)be (lump, mouthful), and Gaulish *gobbos (mouth) [source].

Other words from the same Proto-Celtic roots include gober (to swallow whole) and gobelet (goblet, cup, beaker) in French, and goblet in English [source].

Another Proto-Celtic word for beak or snout is *bekkos. The only descendent in the modern Celtic languages that I can find is beg (beak, mouth, point, mouthpiece, embouchure) in Breton [source].

Words from the same Proto-Celtic root, via the Gaulish *bekkos (beak, snout) and the Latin beccus (beak, bill), include bec (beak, bill, mouth) in French, beco (beak, mouthpiece, burner) in Italian, bico (beak, bill, snout, rostrum) in Portuguese, pico (beak, sharp point, pickaxe, peak, spout) in Spanish, and beak in English [source].

You can find more details of words for beaks, snouts 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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