by Helle Michelsen
This is the forty-eighth contribution to our Welsh Keywords series – inspired by Raymond Williams’ Keywords – which offers perspectives on words in Welsh and how shifting meanings continue to shape our society.
Looking back, I know exactly where and when I first came across the word ‘goleuedig’. I can see myself making tea in an autumnal kitchen in Copenhagen in the seventies while listening to a Dafydd Iwan LP bought that summer in Oriel in Cardiff. ‘Rwy’n Gymro goleuedig’ he sings, ‘ac rwy’n darllen y Western Mail’1 (‘I’m a “goleuedig” Welshman, and I read the Western Mail’). I’d played the song before, but this time I finally got myself together and looked the word up in the dictionary: ‘enlightened’ it said, ‘oplyst’ in Danish. All these words – whether Welsh, English, or Danish – incorporate the word for ‘light’ in their respective language: ‘golau’, ‘light’, ‘lys’. A whole era was named after them in umpteen different languages: the Age of Enlightenment. This phenomenon (a literal translation of a concept into a number of other languages) is called a calque, and you might well be tempted to think that the meaning of such an expression stays the same whatever the language. But you would be wrong. It is no doubt the intention of the people who create such words, but it is not what happens. After a little while the meanings in the various languages begin to part company.Sign in to read more