Celtic Pathways – Brooms

In this episode we’re sweeping French floors with Celtic shrubs.


The Proto-Celtic word *banatlo- means broom, as in the shrub Cytisus scoparius (a.k.a. common broom / Scotch broom) or similar plants. It comes from Proto-Indo-European *bʰenH-tlom (way, path) in the sense of “cleared path (in a wood)” [source].

Related words in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • bealaidh [bɛl̪ˠɪ] = broom in Scottish Gaelic
  • banadl [ˈbanadl] = broom in Welsh
  • banadhel = broom in Cornish
  • balan [ˈbɑːlãn] = broom in Breton

They all mean broom, as in the shrub, although the exact species of broom plant they refer to may vary from language to language.

According to An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language by Alexander MacBain (1982), there is a cognate in Irish: beally/i, however it doesn’t appear in any of the Irish dictionaries I’ve checked.

The French word balai (broom, broomstick, brush) ultimately comes from the same Proto-Celtic root, via Old French balain (bundle of broom), Middle Breton balain, balazn, Old Breton balan (broom) and Gaulish *balano- (broom, broom plant), as does bálago (straw, Spanish broom) in Spanish and balea (broom) in Galician, possibly via Celtiberian *bálago-, *bálaco- [source].

Words same PIE roots possibly include bana (course, path, trajectory) in Swedish, baan (road, path, track, job, orbit) in Dutch, and Bahn (route, trail, railway) in German [source].

More about words for Brushes and Broom and related things in Celtic languages.

Incidentally, the tune at the beginning of this episode is one of my own compositions called Apple Blossom / Blodau Afal. Here’s a longer recording of it:

You can find more connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur blog. I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

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