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A look at English Words with Scottish Gaelic origin

By C.S. Sharpe

Ah, English, a language which is approximately 80-90% a mish-mash of other languages in
origin. A language where a third of words are French despite the average Englishman being
horrified at the idea of speaking French!

I jest of course but my point is that English is a language that has evolved from many origin
points, and one of these points of origin that I feel is often overlooked is the Scottish Gaelic
language. Over the years, the Highland and Islands brogue has allowed many words to enter
the Anglic lexicon, so today I would like to share a few words with you lovely readers that you
may or may not know comes from the Highlands of Alba (the Gaelic word for Scotland)!

Bard – The word bard first appears in English in 1400s Scotland with the term meaning a
“Vagabond Minstrel or Poet” it comes from the proto-Celtic Bardos which in turn comes from
ancient Greek and Latin influence to do with singing birds.

A bard was a professional poet engaged to compose for his lord in mediaeval Gaelic and
Welsh society. The bard would write a satire if the employer did not pay the required amount.
It became a disparaging name for an itinerant musician in 16th-century Scotland, but it was
later romanticised by Sir Walter Scott and was retroactively used to characterise poets like
William Shakespeare.

In our modern era, the bard has become synonymous with fantasy, and roleplaying games
like Dungeons and Dragons.

Claymore – Keeping with the Dungeons and Dragons theme; those of you who consume
fantasy will be familiar with the claymore, a large two-handed sword. The term claymore is an
anglicisation of the Gaelic claidheamh mór meaning a “big/great sword”. During the 18th
century in Scotland and Northern England, the term claymore was initially used to describe
basket-hilted swords (early modern swords with a basket-shaped guard that protects the
hand). The large Highland claidheamh mór was in use as far back as the 1400s and was the
pride of many a Highland Scot clan.

Pet – A very common English word pet meaning actually comes of Gaelic origin would you
believe it. From peata in Gaelic possibly from the French petit meaning “small”. Peata meant
a domesticated or tamed animal kept as a favourite.”

Slogan – The word slogan defined as a short and striking or memorable phrase used in advertising is
derived from slogorn which was an Anglicisation of the Scottish Gaelic and Irish sluagh-
ghairm (sluagh “army”, “host” + gairm “cry”). A war cry if you will.

Bog – An area of wet muddy ground that is too soft to support a heavy body is from bog (related to
boglach swamp), from Old Irish bocc in the 14th century.

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