Words from Gaelic

Here we present 15 words that passed through Gaelic on their way to English. Some are stereotypically Gaelic, like bog and clan, but others may be a surprise, like words as common as loop or as colorful as curmudgeon. For more words from the Emerald Isle, read the article: Beyond Shamrocks and Leprechauns

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. curmudgeon
    an irascible, cantankerous person full of stubborn ideas
    But rather than grumpily eying them in staff meetings and turning yourself into the office curmudgeon, consider cutting them some slack.
    —US News Aug 4, 2014
    Although the etymology of this word is disputed, one theory derives it from the Gaelic muigean, which means "disagreeable person".
  2. bog
    wet spongy ground of decomposing vegetation
    A rain chain directs water into the frog pond, which overflows down streams, over waterfalls, into ponds and on to the cranberry bog.
    —Seattle Times Jul 23, 2014
    From the Gaelic adjective bog, meaning "soft, moist".
  3. glen
    a narrow secluded valley (in the mountains)
    Slowly,...their lips met like butterflies in a flowery glen, they entwined spiritually and bodily in a long, smooth embrace.
    —The Milagro Beanfield War
    From Gaelic gleann, "mountain valley"
  4. wraith
    a mental representation of some haunting experience
    What’s that pale, veiled wraith I see, gliding through the shadows of a twilit glade as if barely touching the ground?
    —Seattle Times Jun 2, 2014
    A Scottish word of uncertain origin. One theory derives it from Gaelic arrach, "specter, apparition".
  5. whiskey
    a liquor made from fermented mash of grain
    Straight bourbon whiskey ages a minimum of two years, though the average maturity is four years or older.
    —US News Aug 17, 2014
    From Gaelic uisge beatha which literally means " water of life".
  6. spree
    a brief indulgence of your impulses
    During his golf spree, Bengali also estimates he lifted 27 tons of golf clubs, calculating an average of 2 pounds per club per swing.
    —Los Angeles Times Aug 13, 2014
    Ultimately from Gaelic sprédh "cattle, wealth" from what would be plundered on a spree.
  7. bob
    a hair style for women and children
    She is a bob stalwart – a wavy number, sometimes plus comedy barrettes, has seen her through three series of Girls – but this is a departure.
    –The Guardian Aug 18, 2014
    From Gaelic babag "cluster".
  8. trouser
    (usually in the plural) a garment extending from the waist to the knee or ankle, covering each leg separately
    At school, flouting hostile opinion, she wore trousers, played football and got involved in fights.
    —The Guardian Aug 5, 2014
    Gaelic triubhas , "close-fitting shorts".
  9. loop
    anything with a round or oval shape
    It is tied with double loops of twine in virtually the same way that fishermen tie together their reed boats today.
    —New York Times Aug 7, 2014
    From Gaelic lub "bend".
  10. glom
    seize upon or latch onto something
    Has anyone ever glommed on to her or taken advantage of her because of her famous family?
    —Time Jul 25, 2012
    From Gaelic glam "handle awkwardly, grab voraciously, devour".
  11. forsythia
    any of various early blooming oleaceous shrubs of the genus Forsythia; native to eastern Asia and southern Europe but widely cultivated for their branches of bright yellow bell-shaped flowers
    The capital city sprawled below the trail, which was lined with azaleas, forsythia and magnolia in bloom.
    —New York Times May 2, 2012
    The flower is named for William Forsyth, who brought the flower back from China. His last name, from fearsithe, means "man of peace".
  12. spunky
    willing to face danger
    They described their mother as a boisterous, spunky woman with an uncommon knack for engaging with other people and making them feel comfortable.
    —New York Times Aug 17, 2014
    From Gaelic spong, "tinder, pith, sponge".
  13. curd
    coagulated milk; used to make cheese
    Case in point: a buffalo milk curd, spread creamily onto crisp toasts that are topped with Iberico ham and served with a rich onion broth.
    —Time May 10, 2014
    Originally crud in 15th Century English, from Gaelic gruth meaning " to press or coagulate"
  14. clan
    group of people related by blood or marriage
    The target of the government’s disarmament campaign is the feared and powerful clan warlords.
    —Time Aug 15, 2014
    From Gaelic clann "family, stock, offspring".
  15. inglenook
    a corner by a fireplace
    Inside, a brick fireplace and inglenook speak to the era and define the home’s core.
    —New York Times Jan 20, 2011
    The ingle part of inglenook is from a Gaelic word for fire, aingeal.

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