Celtic Pathways – Hands

In this episode we’re getting to grips with Celtic words for hand and related things.


A Proto-Celtic word for hand (and palm) is *ɸlāmā, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *pl̥h₂meh₂ (palm, hand), from *pleh₂- (flat) [source].

Descendents in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • lámh [l̪ˠɑːvˠ/l̪ˠæːw] = hand, arm, handle or signature in Irish.
  • làmh [l̪ˠaːv] = hand, arm or handle in Scottish Gaelic
  • laue [læu] = hand, handful, foreleg or arm in Manx
  • llaw [ɬaːu̯] = hand; authority, possession, etc in Welsh
  • leuv [lœ:v / le:v] = hand in Cornish
  • lav [lav] = feathered hand in Breton

The usual word for hand in Breton is dorn, which is related to words for fist in the other Celtic languages. Another Breton word for hand is brec’h, which is related to words for arm in the other languages [source].

The Faroese word lámur ((seal’s) flipper, (cat’s) paw, left hand, (big) hand, left-handed person) comes from the same Proto-Celtic root, via the Old Norse lámr (hand, arm) [source].

Words from the same PIE roots include floor, palm, piano, plain and plan in English, piazza (square, plaza, market) in Italian, llano (flat, level, plain) in Spanish, παλάμη (palámi – palm, hand) in Greek, and words for floor and ground in Celtic languages [source]

You can find more details of words for fists, palms, hands and arms 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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