Horses of Many Colours

Having looked briefly at the various words for horse in my previous post, this naturally led me to thinking about the etymology of the word itself, and thinking about why it seems so different from horse words in neighbouring languages.

Let’s take a look at a few words from other languages. French: cheval, Italian: cavallo, Spanish: caballo, Portuguese: cavalo, Welsh: ceffyl, all from the same family of words.DSC03278

Then we have German: Pferd and Dutch: paard

Greek by itself: Ancient Greek: ίππος (hippos), Modern Greek άλογο (alogo).

This brings us at last to Swedish: häst, Danish: hest, Norwegian: hest, Dutch: ros, German: Ross. And English: horse.

But where did we get it from? Well, it came to us from Old English hors, which in turn came from the Proto-Germanic stem *hursa.

The truth is, we don’t really know anything about it before that, but one theory is that it may be connected with the Proto-Indo-European root *kurs, which we theorise is where Latin currere comes from. This would mean a link with courier, course and current! Not to mention a possible link with Welsh gyrru, to drive!


One thought on “Horses of Many Colours

  1. Not only was it Vulgar Latin caballus that went on to provide the Romance languages with their words for ‘horse’ over the Classic Latin equus but so too did caballus supersede the genuinely Celtic word for ‘horse’ marka in Welsh and the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages although not before possibly giving Germanic the word ‘mare’ German: Mähre Old English: mearh

    Irish/Scots Gaelic: capall (horse; colt) Manx: cabbyl
    Welsh: ceffyl (march = stallion; marchog = rider)
    Breton: marc’h Cornish: margh
    The Celtic languages also have cognates of equus corresponding to Ancient Greek ἵππος
    Irish: ech Scots Gaelic: each Manx: agh (horse)
    Welsh: ebol Cornish: ebol Breton: ebeul (foal; colt)

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