List of English words of Brittonic origin

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The number of English words known to be derived from the Brittonic language is remarkably small. In fact, as far as can be ascertained it is lower than the number of words of Gaulish origin found in the English language, which arrived through Norman French. However, this is to be expected, given the socio-historical relationship between Old English and Brittonic; the influence of the Brittonic language on English has been extremely limited. However, it is possible that many British words have been obscured by their close similarity to Germanic words which are perceived to offer a more likely etymology (e.g. "belly": considered to be from OE bylg, but could easily be from AB *belgā), and also that some of them have been misidentified as Gaulish via French, which are simply unattested until after the Norman invasion.

Other sources of Celtic words in English[edit]

This list does not include words of Celtic origin borrowed into English from other languages, namely:

  • Later Brythonic: Welsh (e.g. "coracle, flannel"), Cornish (e.g. "wrasse", possibly "gull"), Breton (e.g. "dolmen, menhir"), or others unknown ("gull" ?).
  • Gaelic (e.g. "keening, bog, bother, hubbub, glen, clan", possibly gob)
  • Gaulish (via Norman French or Latin: "ambassador, bound, car, carpenter, piece," etc. and possibly "beak, bran, flannel, gallon," etc.)
  • Gaulish or similar Indo-European via early Germanic (e.g. "down"[1]), or Gaulish or Gallo-Latin via early Germanic ("bin"[2])

unless there is room for doubt.


This list is neither exhaustive nor definitive. Please note that several of the entries are doubtful or have alternative explanations; they are included where a Brittonic explanation is useful and plausible.

apparently from Brittonic *basc(i)-etto-n, meaning "little wicker thing".[3]
possibly from Brittonic *becco-s, meaning "beak"; equally possibly from Gaulish via Latin (beccus) via French (bec).[4]
probably from a Brittonic root meaning "cloak, cloth", cognate with Old Irish bratt. In Old English, bratt meant "cloak", but later came to mean "ragged garment", then "beggar's garment", and then "beggar's child", whence it attained its current meaning of "unruly child".[5][6] "Brat" is still used in parts of Northern England to refer to a rough working apron.[7]
from Brittonic *brocco-s, meaning "badger".
from Brittonic *cumbos-/ā-, meaning "valley".
dad, daddy 
from Brittonic *tatV-, meaning "dad". Equally possibly an independent innovation, although well-attested in Celtic and other Indo-European languages,[8] including German[9]
possibly from Brittonic *damā-, meaning "female sheep or deer"; alternatively from French dame, "lady, woman".[10]
possibly from a Brittonic root *da-,[11] perhaps related to *damā- above.
from Brittonic *dunn-āco-s, *dunn-occo-s, meaning "little brown one".
possibly from Brittonic *u̯lan-ello-s, meaning "little woollen thing". Possibly from Gaulish via French (flaine + diminutive suffix), or loaned from Welsh (gwlanen).[12]
possibly from Brittonic gobbo-s, meaning "mouth, lump, mouthful". Equally possibly from Gaelic, or Gaulish via French.[13]
possibly from Brittonic nuccā-, meaning "nook, cranny, small hole"; French niche would be cognate.
yan, tan, tethera etc. 
and variants. from Brittonic *oinā, *deŭai, *tisrīs etc., heavily corrupted by the nature of the survival.


  1. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - down (n.2), retrieved Mar. 1, 2014.
  2. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - bin (n.), retrieved Mar. 1, 2014.
  3. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - basket (n.), retrieved Mar. 1, 2014.
  4. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - beak (n.), retrieved Mar. 1, 2014.
  5. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - brat (n.), retrieved Nov. 16, 2016.
  6. ^ "Episode 30: The Celtic Legacy". History of English Podcast (Podcast). September 6, 2015. Retrieved November 17, 2016. 
  7. ^ Issue no 48, October 1999, British Archaeology. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  8. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - dad (n.), retrieved Mar. 1, 2014.
  9. ^ Grimm's Wörterbuch - entry deite
  10. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - dam (n.2), retrieved Mar. 1, 2014.
  11. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - doe (n.), retrieved Mar. 1, 2014.
  12. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - flannel (n.), retrieved Mar. 1, 2014.
  13. ^ Douglas Harper, "Online Etymology Dictionary" - gob (n.), retrieved Mar. 1, 2014.

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