So, from a cursory understanding of English history (and I am very happy to say that) I was able to, one might note that the cultural history of those who lived in England might proceed:

  1. Britons who spoke Brythonic
  2. Romans who spoke Latin
  3. Angles, Jutes, Saxons, et. al. (Anglo-saxons) who spoke various Teutonic dialects
  4. Normans (ironically, from the same stock as the former, but trained in French)

My guess (and correct me if I'm wrong) is that the Latin influence in English was more to do with the Church and the Normans than it was to do with the Romans directly, but I was wondering if there are words which may be shown to be direct descendants of the ancient Britons' tounge?

  • 3
    Have you read this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brittonicisms_in_English ?
    – Unreason
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 8:06
  • @Unreason Huh. Well, if you turn that into an answer, I'll definitely give it to you. Don't know how I missed it on Wikipedia. Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 8:09
  • 1
    Also, non-Church Latin survives in place names, etc. For example, the -chester suffix comes directly from the roman castra meaning a military camp or outpost.
    – Robusto
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 10:13
  • @Robusto As does cester Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 12:12
  • @Matt: Of course.
    – Robusto
    Commented Aug 8, 2011 at 12:34

4 Answers 4


In just about any language, place names are the oldest words, and are often taken over from the indigenous people from whom the land was taken. So place names in England are going to be your best bet there.

Here's what wikipedia had to say about it:

The principal legacy left behind in those territories from which the Brythonic languages were displaced is that of toponyms (place names) and hydronyms (river names). There are many Brythonic place names in lowland Scotland and in the parts of England where it is agreed that substantial Brythonic speakers remained (Brythonic names, apart from those of the former Romano-British towns, are scarce over most of England). Names derived (sometimes indirectly) from Brythonic include London, Penicuik, Perth, Aberdeen, York, Dorchester, Dover and Colchester[citation needed]. Brythonic elements found in England include bre- and bal- for hills, and carr for a high rocky place, while some such as combe or coomb(e) for a small deep valley and tor for a hill are examples of Brythonic words that were borrowed into English. Others reflect the presence of Brythons, such as Dumbarton – from the Scottish Gaelic Dùn Breatainn meaning "Fort of the Britons", or Walton (several) meaning a 'tun' or settlement where 'walha' (Welsh/Brythons) still lived.

The number of Celtic river names in England generally increases from east to west, a map showing these being given by Jackson. These names include ones such as Avon, Chew, Frome, Axe, Brue and Exe. Also river names containing the roots " der- / dar- / dur- " and " -went " E.G. " Derwent, Darwen,Dart,Deer, Adur, Dour,Darent, Went ". The Celtic origins seem likely, the meanings more controversial: Some associate " Der- / Dar- " with the Brythonic word for " OAK(S) " ( " derv / dervenn" in Breton, " derow / derowenn " in Cornish " derw / derwen " in Welsh. Possible but there would have been a lot of oaks around; maybe there was. As to " -went " some claim this to be a word for " valley " or associated with the Celtic word " nant " for river ( like in Welsh ). This seems a very unlikely derivation, as there is no known initial consonantal changes from " n- " to " w- ". More likely is that the " Der- / Dar- / Dur- " means " water " [ c.f. " Dour " in Breton, dowr in Cornish, Dŵr in Welsh.] and " -(g)wen(n)(t) " means white / pure.

  • You have a very long comment at english.stackexchange.com/a/436943 which we’re probably going to have to delete because it’s a comment on your answer rather than an answer in its own right.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 17:12
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    @tchrist - Thanks for the head's up, but I'm afraid it only nears in on being interesting, without ever quite getting there. I'm merely reporting what the current scholarly consensus is on the matter. If some internet rando has a beef with how that's currently done, I'm not the person to complain to. There are peer-reviewed journals for this kind of thing.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 16:42

There are many words in modern Welsh that have their roots in the Celtic/Romano common language (something almost equivalent to what we see now with pidgin English). For example:

  • The Welsh for window is ffenest.
  • Day is diwrnod (same Latin root as diurnal).
  • Fish is pysgodyn (same Latin root as pisces and piscatorial) and fishmonger is gwerthwr pysgod.
  • Church is eglwys (from the Latin ecclesia)
  • Bridge is either pont (Latin: pons) or bont depending on the word placed before (linguistic phenomenon called "mutation"). It appears in place names such as Tal-y-bont and Pontardawe.
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    All genuinely interesting, but the question is asking for words in modern English from ancient Brythonic, not modern Welsh words from "the Celtic/Romano common language".
    – Hugo
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 20:52

The Brythonic word U̯entā means favoured/chosen, so I would assume Derwent means "favoured water"

And the welsh for White is gwyn not gwent and is derived from Brythonic U̯īndos which means white.

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    Thanks, Rhys; we have so few Welsh speakers here. I always figure that any English word starting with /gw/ (whether spelt gu- or gw-) stands a good chance of being Welsh(like) in origin; for example, consider how the Guinevere of English legend comes from Welsh Gwenhwyfar. By the way, Wikipedia claims that the name Derwent comes from the Brythonic/Early Welsh word for balls derw, harking back to the time when the Derwent Valley was inhabited by a British-speaking population.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 15:56
  • Sound guys! glad to help. I spend much of my time researching Brythonic and it's nice to see others taking interest in such a lesser know topic. If anyone has any questions about the language or the words let me know. I am by no means an expert, I've only been a major fanatic in the last year or so. I can point you in the direction of much of my source material so you can better understand for yourselves. Also I'm learning Cymraeg at the moment which is very helpful and will be pursuing Brezhoneg, Kernewek and possibly Cumbric eventually. Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 11:06
  • the letters U, U̯, W or V as the initial letter of a Brythonic word became Cymraeg Gw. Examples are: Wiros/U̯iros became Gwr (man), Wer-lo became Gwell (better) and as I have mentioned Windos into Gwyn (White). Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 13:09
  • Here's another Wassos became Gwas (servant/boy) Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 13:13

Bryth (surprisingly) comes from ancient Hebrew. It means "covenant". Combined with -ish or -iysh meaning "man", you get the word Brittish, or originally Brythisyh, meaning "covenant man". This (Bryth) was the birthright nation in very ancient times when the Celtic and Caucasian races moved from the Middle East. Too much info to put it all in here. A lot of words in many Europe nations if you understand the sound shifts you can create from the original every word in many languages.

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    ... That's not how sound change, or languages for that matter, works. Even if Hebrew and the Celtic languages had a common ancestor, that ancestor is far too remote for such a simplistic one-to-one etymology to be plausible. Nevermind that the -isc ending comes to us from Old English, while the Brit (or Prit-) root derives from Celtic. And even setting all that aside, why, if your etymology has anything to it, does this collection of sounds not occur in other Indo-European languages with a similar meaning? Why English (but not Celtic or German)? Also, y is not a vowel in Hebrew. It is B'rit.
    – Wlerin
    Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 20:12

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