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Indulging some idle curiosity about Cornish mining I noticed that many of the mines are named wheal: Wheal Kitty, Wheal Jane and East Wheal Rose, among others.

But the only dictionary definition I can dig up explains wheal as:-

  1. a small, burning or itching swelling on the skin, as from a mosquito bite or from hives.
  2. a wale or welt.

This doesn't appear to be what is meant. There is also a mention in passing here, but no clue as to the actual meaning. So, what is a wheal, in the mining sense of the word?

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en.wiktionary.org/wiki/wheal "Etymology 2" –  d'alar'cop Feb 2 at 12:17
    
Wheal \Wheal\, n. [Cornish hwel.] (Mining) A mine. [1913 Webster] wheal.askdefine.com –  Kris Feb 2 at 12:38
    
"By Tre, Pol and Pen you will know the Cornishmen" intocornwall.com/features/cornish_language.asp –  Kris Feb 2 at 12:43

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

OED has

wheal n.3
Etymology: < Cornish huel.
local.

A mine.

1830 Eng. & For. Mining Gloss.

Wheal is an Anglicisation of the Cornish word.

It's interesting that Wiktionary's earliest citation appears to predate OED:

1829, Thomas Moore, The History of Devonshire, page 528,
The four last-mentioned mines, Wheal Crowndale, Wheal Crebor, East Liscombe, and Wheal Tamar, are on the same lode, which ranges as usual from east to west, and are included in a space of about four miles in length.

although since it contains data for 1830, it cannot have been published in 1829. The book contains a better citation in the footnote on page 527:

Wheal (or rather huel) is said to be derived from the Cornish language, and to signify a work or mine.

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It's just the local name for a mine, as tor is for a hill. The OED says it derives from Cornish huel, but I can find no such word in modern Cornish (though admittedly all variants of Cornish now in use were created some time after the mines closed down).

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