Monday, October 17, 2005

Apple #116: Welsh vs. Welch

A while back, Fork Stealer wanted to know, does one "welsh" or "welch" on a bet when one does not pay what is owed? And if one spelling is preferred, why that particular spelling?

First of all, I'm going to note that this expression is an ethnically pejorative phrase. It has its roots in England, whose citizens considered the Welsh to be a substandard people for reasons that are unclear to me. I don't care to unearth those so-called "reasons." Let's just say the English didn't like their next-door-neighbors the Welsh and leave it at that.

The primary reason I'm answering this question is in the hope that once people know what it refers to, they will stop using the expression.

To address Fork Stealer's question as accurately as possible, I consulted my Oxford English Dictionary. I found no entry for "welch." Under the entry for the verb, "to welsh," it offers "welch" as a variant, whose origin is unknown.

According to this same dictionary, a Welsher is "A bookmaker at a race-meeting, who takes money for a bet, and absconds or refuses to pay if he loses." Further down, an additional definition of Welsher is simply "a Welshman." In other words, once upon a time, people pretty much equated any man from Wales and cheaters. I don't know if the English vs. Welsh antipathy continues today, but I say, let's stop the name-calling, please?

Like Fork Stealer, I thought the phrase was to "welch" on a deal. I know that I thought this because somewhere in my childhood brain, I connected Welch's grape juice with the concept of not paying one's bets. If you did not pay up, this meant that not only were you a cheat, you also had the same kind of puckery mouth that you would have if you drank Welch's grape juice. While I now know that this is not the case, I think I prefer these connotations to the original.

Oxford University Press, The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1988.

I love the OED. I don't mean the Concise one, I mean the big honking 24-volume set (also available in micrographically reproduced form, in two thick but far more usable volumes). An online version is available, but as far as I'm concerned there's no substitute for the printed, bound, browse-through-it version. If you ever have the chance to buy a copy, do it.


  1. Fork Stealer10/21/2005 1:14 PM

    Thanks. Here in the States, I don't think people are going to give much thought to stopping its use, particularly since the version heard most often is "welch" and most people here think of the people there as "welsh."

    Whatever on thinks of hate crime laws or speech codes, this illustrates that people over there take this topic seriously, at least in that particular expression.

  2. I'm from Wales and I hadn't thought of it before until an American I met brought it up. He told me that the name for my nationality 'Welsh' was the same as the word 'to welsh', to cheat by avoiding a debt, and that it was therefore a racist slur that we still called ourselves by. I was unsure and dumbly responded by saying, 'I thought that was 'to welch' not 'to welsh'?' He said no it wasn't and I felt very embarrassed!

    I've had a look on the internet and apparently it's a different racist slur that we are still called by! When the Anglo-Saxon's invaded Britain they called the Celtic inhabitants 'foreigners', 'Waelisc':

    'The English name Wales originates from the Germanic words Walh (singular) and Walha (plural), meaning "foreigner" or "stranger". The Ænglisc-speaking Anglo-Saxons used the term Waelisc when referring to the Celtic Britons, and Wēalas when referring to their lands.'
    (...but this is from Wikipedia, so...)

    Somewhere else I read that the word 'welch' came later:

    'welch: 1857, racing slang, "to refuse or avoid payment of money laid as a bet," probably a disparaging use of the national name Welsh.'

    So it looks like either way we're the butt of the joke! It makes me think I should make an effort to say I'm from Cymru which, according to ole wikipedia is:

    'Welsh for "Land of the Cymry". The etymological origin of Cymry is from the (reconstructed) Brythonic word combrogi, meaning "compatriots", in the sense of "fellow countrymen".'

    This sounds much nicer!

  3. Thanks for your input and elaboration, Anonymous. Cymru does seem to be a better choice, though it's probably hard to break an old habit.

  4. Several Welsh counties had their historical names 'reconstructed' into Welsh. My mother was proud of being born in Monmouthshire. Gwent meaningless. That's the Welsh for you 'making' Welsh out of a language regardless of the origins of place names.

  5. 'several welsh counties had their historical names reconstructed into Welsh'. What an ignorant arrogant statement. Monmouthshire was /is the imposed English medieval name for the area of the ancient Welsh/ British kingdom of Gwent which dates back to the 5th century. Typical bloody English who are so up their own hubristic arseholes. The British language is Welsh and as the English didn't show up in these isles until at least a 1000 years after the Welsh. show some respect and if you can't manage that then get an education. tup sais

  6. it certainly is a term of derision. I'm welsh (well actually i'm a Cymro or in English a Welshman), which is basically calling me a foreigner in my own country. The Welsh are the original inhabitants of the main land of Britain. Genetic studies trace us back to the original hunter gatherers of Europe along with the Basques.
    When the English mercenaries originally came to britain in the 5th century, the British king of Kent, Gwytherin or vortigorn as he known in English, married the daughter of one of their leaders (Hengist or horsa, can't remember which one) and during the wedding feast which in British culture was the height of hospitality and no one could carry weapons, the british Kings and leaders came in good faith, but the Saxons (SAESNEG or english) broke that good faith by bringing in their weapons and killed the British leaders. It is known as the night of the long knives and hitler repeated a similar act (must be a German thing) in the 1930's. Ironic isn't it. To welsh means to cheat and welsh means foreigner a term which fit the English best of all in historic light of their acts and origins.

  7. There is a lot of "welching" going on these days in particular tightwads who put things up for auction on internet websites with no reserve and then welch on the deal if the item doesn't make the figure they wanted. In a recent case I won a boat and initially the seller was happy. The boatyard owner then got wind of the sale and offered more money - the deal was then off! Boats - who'd have em? they just seem to cause a lot of grief and hassle. Oh by the way the dodgy duo are from Essex not Wales. There's not much ethics in Essex.

  8. I think you've got it wrong - it is NOT a derisive term against the Welsh but rather against the English! The expression "to Welsh on a deal" is believed to originate from when King Edward I of England refused to honour the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267, signed by his father (Henry III) with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.

    Therefore the term does not disparage the Welsh but rather the English!

  9. Well, but we don't call it "Englishing" on a deal, do we?

  10. True but when one says "he Welshed on a deal" one is actually disparaging the English (who broke the deal) and not the Welsh (who were trustworthy).

  11. To quote from the above entry, which quotes from the Oxford English Dictionary:

    According to this same dictionary, a Welsher is "A bookmaker at a race-meeting, who takes money for a bet, and absconds or refuses to pay if he loses." Further down, an additional definition of Welsher is simply "a Welshman."

    Not an Englishman.

  12. One further point, in the twelfth century Gerald of Wales described the Irish as "a filthy people, wallowing in vice".

    Slurs against foreigners are nothing new, but to tar an entire nation with the same brush is ridiculous. This is why I hate nationalism and nationalists in particular whether they be welsh, irish, english, american, south african white supremacists or whoever, it creates a sense of "us" and "them". "We" are superior, "they" are inferior. Hitler and Mussolini had the same idea.

  13. All you say is true, from everyone. It seems to be a national pass time of a country made up of people from everywhere. Fr
    For instance, I get a chuckle out of hearing people say "Gerry rigging" something. They have no idea that they are insulting Get mans. Of course, there is a much more racially charged version too. What about the poor Polish people? I have only known two people from Poland and both were highly intelligent and well educated. I agree that nationalism is not what it should be and sooner or later there will be a war and some derogatory sayings will show their ugly heads.

    Like now with the Afghan conflict ending. Cute phrases like "sand rat", "towel heard", "dune coon" and a million other hateful things people can think of to put down others. Also, we are all one race, human.

    Lastly, I too am Welsh and never understood the phrase of my nationality. I have never dodged out on a bet, so it made no sense to me. Please forgive any typos as i sm trying to type on a tablet.

    Thanks for reading. That's all I will say.


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