10 Welsh words that will warm up your St David’s Day
Wales is known as the ‘Land of Song’. The Welsh language has an abundance of words which are wonderfully melodic and evocative when spoken, and which very often paint a better picture than their English equivalent.
St David’s Day, on March 1, presents the perfect opportunity to try out some winning words of Welsh. Why not pin a daffodil to your pullover, cook up some leeks and reel off some of the following phrases? Spread the hwyl!
Cwtch (rhymes with ‘butch’) is a word with two meanings in Welsh: the first is a place to store stuff safely, like a cupboard or cubbyhole; and the second is a hug. But the truth is, there is no direct English translation. A cwtch is so much more than just a cuddle: the word evokes warmth, love, affection and – tying in with its other meaning – a safe place in the form of an embrace. Dish out a cwtch this St David’s Day!
Dwt (rhymes with ‘put’) is an appropriately dinky word for a dinky thing. If you are a dwt or dwty you are cute, sweet and small in stature. Friend too tiny to reach the top shelf? Only a little dwt he is.
We’re all familiar with the word ‘craic’, which encapsulates the Irish sense of frivolity. Well the Welsh have their own word to express a sense of fun, energy and enjoyment: hwyl, which is pronounced ‘hoo-eel’. Hwyl means a lot more than just fun: it is used to express a stirring sensation, fervour, emotion, motivation and enthusiasm. It can also mean ‘goodbye’ as a shortened version of ‘hwyl fawr’. Welsh rugby player Michael Owen offered his own definition of the term: ‘One word sums it up - passion.’
If you are looking for a word to sufficiently describe how disgusting, repulsive or gross something is, you’d struggle to find a more affective expression than ych-af-i (pronounced uch-ah-vee). Ditch yuck this St David’s Day and yell out ych-a-fi!
The Welsh have some spectacularly good names for members of the animal kingdom. A ladybird is a ‘buwch goch gota’, which literally translates to ‘little red cow’! But perhaps the most evocative of all is the name given to everyone’s favourite nocturnal bird, the owl. In welsh, an owl is known as a gwdihŵ, pronounced ‘good-ee-hoo’ – perfectly mimicking the owl’s signature hoot.
There is no equivalent word in English able to convey everything that hiraeth does in Welsh. The term (pronounced ‘heer-eyeth’) means more than just homesickness: it encompasses longing, yearning, and wistfulness. It is nostalgia for a place you are not able to return to; that no longer exists or in fact never was. It can also be used to express a grief or sadness for someone or something lost or departed. And it’s used by many Welsh people to voice a desire or longing for the Wales of days gone by.
A wonderful insult that rolls off the tongue, a twmffat is an idiot. How do you pronounce it? ‘Toom-fat’!
8. Wnco mwnco
Need to direct someone to a chap you know on the opposite side of the room? Point at them and announce, ‘wnco mwnco!’ Pronounced ‘oonkaw moonkaw’, it simply means ‘him over there’. (Nothing to do with monkeys, sadly.) Need to say, ‘her over there’? That one is ‘onco fonco’ (pronounced ‘onkaw vonkaw’).
9. Rhoi'r ffidil yn y tô
This expression literally translates as, ‘putting the fiddle in the roof’, and it means ‘to give up’. A suitably musical alternative to ‘throwing in the towel’! Bit of a mouthful, it’s pronounced ‘roy'r fiddil un uh tor.’
10. Ling di long
With this one, it’s a simple case of say what you see! It’s a superbly singsong word that means lackadaisical, and wonderfully encapsulates a sense of aimless wandering, lack of enthusiasm or direction: ‘Let’s stroll ling di long along to the launderette.’
How does Welsh differ from other languages in its use of intonation?
Sound artist John Wynne extracts the melodies from the intonation in the Welsh accent.