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.