Idle thoughts on "gelding"

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The title and the following observations come from Rebecca Hamilton:

I was reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's Between the Woods and the Water: on Foot to Constantinople, as I convalesce from COVID-19 (I've had a hard time of it), and I stumbled upon an aside he made about the French "hongre," meaning "gelding," as does the German "wallach." He made this comment – without further explication – in the context of a discussion of the ethnographic roots of Hungarians, Wallachians, and Rumanians (in particular, the latter as being descendants of Roman occupation, if not Romans themselves). What all this means, I cannot say. It seemed like a topic you would know something about. Because I am confined to bed for the moment, if you could be so kind as to forward me some reading material, I would be very grateful. Also, anything about "Wales" or "Welsh" sharing etymological roots with "Wallach," and how "wether" fits into all this would be great.

This is a tall, but very interesting and challenging, order, so I hardly know where to begin.  Somewhat arbitrarily, I'll start near the end, with "Wallach", because I know (and know of) people with that surname (most notably Eli Wallach [1915-2014]), and I'm curious to learn how their surname got wrapped up in that enigma.

From Middle Low German wallache, borrowed in Prussia/Baltics from older Russian волох (volox), from Proto-Slavic *volxъ, from Proto-Germanic *walhaz. Compare Polish wałach, which is also a borrowing from East Slavic. The Slavic word means “Romance speaker”, especially one of Romania, i.e. a Wallachian or Vlach. Wallachian herdsmen are credited with having invented a new form of castration.


So the surname "Wallach" really does have something directly related to Rebecca's idle thoughts on "gelding".

Before tackling "wether" and "Wales / Welsh", then moving upward through Rebecca's packed paragraph, perhaps a few words about "gelding", and why it's not an idle topic at all.

From Middle English geldyng, geldynge, from Old Norse geldingr (wether, eunuch), from gelda (to castrate), equivalent to geld (to castrate) +‎ -ing (diminutive suffix).


A gelding is a castrated horse or other equine, such as a donkey or a mule. Castration, as well as the elimination of hormonally driven behavior associated with a stallion, allows a male horse to be calmer and better-behaved, making the animal quieter, gentler and potentially more suitable as an everyday working animal. The gerund and participle "gelding" and the infinitive "to geld" refer to the castration procedure itself.

The verb "to geld" comes from the Old Norse gelda, from the adjective geldr ("barren"). The noun "gelding" is from the Old Norse geldingr.

The Scythians are thought to have been the first people to geld their horses. They valued geldings as war horses because they were quiet, lacked mating urges, were less prone to call out to other horses, were easier to keep in groups, and were less likely to fight with one another.


geld (v.)

"to castrate," c. 1300, from Old Norse gelda "to castrate," said in Watkins to be from Proto-Germanic *galdjan "to castrate," from PIE *ghel- (3) "to cut." Related to other words which, if the derivation is correct, indicate a general sense of "barren." Compare Old Norse geld-fe "barren sheep" and geldr (adj.) "barren, yielding no milk, dry," which yielded Middle English geld "barren" (of women and female animals); also Old High German galt "barren," said of a cow.

Online Etymological Dictionary

Castration of humans and animals may seem like a perverse and cruel form of punishment, depriving a male of the ability to reproduce and to enjoy the pleasures of sex, together with the shame that condition entails.  Indeed, such was the case with Sima Qian (b. circa 145 / 135-d. 86 [after 91] BC), who was castrated for having spoken out in defense of a general who lost a battle against the Xiongnu.  Yet, after having been deprived of his virility, Sima Qian poured all of his talents and energies into the completion of his monumental Records of the Grand Historian / Scribe or Shiji, whereby — through a process of sublimation — he achieved immortal fame as "the father of Chinese historiography".

Another important castrated figure in Chinese history was the famous eunuch admiral, Zheng He (1371-1433).

The earliest records for intentional castration to produce eunuchs are from the Sumerian city of Lagash in the 21st century BC. Over the millennia since, they have performed a wide variety of functions in many different cultures: courtiers or equivalent domestics, treble singers, religious specialists, soldiers, royal guards, government officials, and guardians of women or harem servants.


In China, large numbers of eunuchs were required in the imperial palaces for the maintenance and protection of the harem.

Borrowed from Ottoman Turkish حرم(harem) Turkish harem, from Arabic حَرَم(ḥaram, something prohibited; sanctuary, women); and later also from حَرِيم(ḥarīm) with same meaning, both from حَرُمَ(ḥaruma, be forbidden or unlawful).


Corrupt eunuchs amassed enormous amounts of wealth and power toward the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), which ultimately led to its collapse.

While it is easy to view castration as a gross type of mutilation of the male body, it was often done for specific purposes — to enhance certain desirable traits and to minimize other, undesirable traits.

For example, the name "castrati" is a direct reference to the operation that was performed on these high voiced singers during the pre-pubescent years:

A castrato (Italian, plural: castrati) is a type of classical male singing voice equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto. The voice is produced by castration of the singer before puberty, or it occurs in one who, due to an endocrinological condition, never reaches sexual maturity.

Castration before puberty (or in its early stages) prevents a boy's larynx from being transformed by the normal physiological events of puberty. As a result, the vocal range of prepubescence (shared by both sexes) is largely retained, and the voice develops into adulthood in a unique way. Prepubescent castration for this purpose diminished greatly in the late 18th century and was made illegal in the Papal States, the last to prohibit them, in 1870.


For a similar phenomenon in early China, see the second and following paragraphs, as well as the comments, of this post, "Poetry as 'Word Temple' — NOT" (10/4/13), which shows that there is a connection between the birth of "poet" as a profession in early China and eunuchs who specialized in that capacity (!).

Cockerels can be raised to enormous size by caponizing them.  See "Rooster Caponizing Competition" (1/16/15).  

And so on and so forth — the virtues (economic and cultural significance) of castration!  This is something that human beings discovered already at least by the 3rd millennium BC.

Now, on to Wales.

The names "Wales" and "Welsh" are modern descendants of the Anglo-Saxon word wealh, a descendant of the Proto-Germanic word "Walhaz", which was derived from the name of the Gaulish people known to the Romans as Volcae and which came to refer indiscriminately to inhabitants of the Western Roman Empire. The Old English-speaking Anglo-Saxons came to use the term to refer to the Britons in particular. As the Britons' territories shrank, the term came ultimately to be applied to a smaller group of people, and the plural form of Wealh, Wēalas, evolved into the name for the territory that best maintained cultural continuity with pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain: Wales. The modern names for various Romance-speaking people in Continental Europe (e.g. Wallonia, Wallachia, Valais, Vlachs, and Włochy, the Polish name for Italy) have a similar etymology.


As a child, just as I was tickled by the name "Turkey", which was identical with the name of the oversized fowl that we eat for Thanksgiving, I was intrigued by the country name "Hungary", which I found amusing because it sounded like "hungry", although, even then, I was not naive enough to think that there was any causal relationship between "hungry" and "Hungary".  If I had known the real etymology, that "Hungary" has something to do with gelding, I would have been just as astonished as if it had something to do with "hungry".

It turns out that our English name "Hungary" is related to French "hongre", which means "gelding" (a gelded, castrated male horse), since the practice of gelding originated in Hungary (Fr. Hongrie).  (Source)

c. 1300, from Medieval Latin Hungaria (also source of French Hongrie), probably literally meaning "land of the Huns," who ruled a vast territory from there under Attila in 5c. The people's name for themselves we transliterate as Magyar. Middle English uses the same words for both Attila's people and the Magyars, who appeared in Europe in 9c. and established a kingdom in 1000. From the same source as Medieval Greek Oungroi, German Ungarn, Russian Vengriya, Ukrainian

(Online Etymological Dictionary)

As for "Turkey", it is:

From Middle English Turkye, which is borrowed from French Turquie, Medieval Latin Turcia, from Turcus (Turk), from Byzantine Greek Τοῦρκος (Toûrkos), from Persian ترک(Turk), from Middle Persian [Term?] (twlk' /Turk/), from an Old Turkic autonym, Türk or Türük.


The country name "Turkey" (late 14th c.) derives from the Medieval Latin Turchia, from Turcus:

c. 1300, from French Turc, from Medieval Latin Turcus, from Byzantine Greek Tourkos, Persian turk, a national name, of unknown origin. Said to mean "strength" in Turkish. Compare Chinese tu-kin, recorded from c. 177 B.C.E. as the name of a people living south of the Altai Mountains (identified by some with the Huns). In Persian, turk, in addition to the national name, also could mean "a beautiful youth," "a barbarian," "a robber."

 (Online Etymological Dictionary)

For the ultimate origins of the "Turk" ethnonym, we must search much more deeply:

The first known mention of the term Turk (Old Turkic: Türük or : Kök Türük Chinese: 突厥, Old Tibetan: duruggu/durgu (meaning 'origin'), Pinyin: Tūjué, Middle Chinese (Guangyun): [tʰuot-küot]) applied to a Turkic group was in reference to the Göktürks in the 6th century (in the Khüis Tolgoi inscription, most likely not later than 587 AD). A letter by Ishbara Qaghan to Emperor Wen of Sui in 585 described him as "the Great Turk Khan". The Bugut (584 CE) and Orkhon inscriptions (735 CE) use the terms Türküt, Türk and Türük.

Previous use of similar terms are of unknown significance, although some strongly feel that they are evidence of the historical continuity of the term and the people as a linguistic unit since early times. This includes the Chinese Spring and Autumn Annals, which refer to a neighbouring people as Beidi. During the first century CE, Pomponius Mela refers to the Turcae in the forests north of the Sea of Azov, and Pliny the Elder lists the Tyrcae among the people of the same area. There are references to certain groups in antiquity whose names could be the original form of Tür(ü)k such as Togarma, Turukha/Turuška, Turukku and so on. But the information gap is so substantial that a connect of these ancient people to the modern Turks is not possible. Turkologist Peter B. Golden posits that the term Turk has roots in Old Turkic.

It is generally accepted that the name Türk is ultimately derived from the Old-Turkic migration-term Türük/Törük, which means 'created, born' or 'strong', from the Old Turkic word root *türi-/töri- 'tribal root, (mythic) ancestry; take shape, to be born, be created, arise, spring up' and derived with the Old Turkic suffix (-ik), perhaps from Proto-Turkic *türi-k 'lineage, ancestry', (compare also the Proto-Turkic word root *töre- to be born, originate'). Scholars, including Toru Haneda, Onogawa Hidemi, and Geng Shimin believed that Di, Dili, Dingling, Chile and Tujue all came from the Turkic word Türk, which means means 'powerful' and 'strength', and its plural form is Türküt. Even though Gerhard Doerfer supports the proposal that türk means 'strong' in general, Gerard Clauson points out that "the word türk is never used in the generalized sense of 'strong'" and that türk was originally a noun and meant "'the culminating point of maturity' (of a fruit, human being, etc.), but more often used as an [adjective] meaning (of a fruit) 'just fully ripe'; (of a human being) 'in the prime of life, young, and vigorous'".

The earliest Turkic-speaking peoples identifiable in Chinese sources are the Dingling, Gekun, and Xinli, located in South Siberia. The Chinese Book of Zhou (7th century) presents an etymology of the name Turk as derived from 'helmet', explaining that this name comes from the shape of a mountain where they worked in the Altai Mountains. Hungarian scholar András Róna-Tas (1991) pointed to a Khotanese-Saka word, tturakä 'lid', semantically stretchable to 'helmet', as a possible source for this folk etymology, yet Golden thinks this connection requires more data.

During the Middle Ages, various Turkic peoples of the Eurasian steppe were subsumed under the "umbrella-identity" of the "Scythians". Between 400 CE and the 16th century, Byzantine sources use the name Σκύθαι (Skuthai) in reference to twelve different Turkic peoples.

In the modern Turkish language as used in the Republic of Turkey, a distinction is made between "Turks" and the "Turkic peoples" in loosely speaking: the term Türk corresponds specifically to the "Turkish-speaking" people (in this context, "Turkish-speaking" is considered the same as "Turkic-speaking"), while the term Türki refers generally to the people of modern "Turkic Republics" (Türki Cumhuriyetler or Türk Cumhuriyetleri). However, the proper usage of the term is based on the linguistic classification in order to avoid any political sense. In short, the term Türki can be used for Türk or vice versa.


Some relevant Sinitic etymological and phonological data:

Tūjué / Tújué 突厥

Middle Sinitic    /tʰuət̚  kɨut̚/

Ultimately from a form which also gave rise to the name Türk (cf. Old Turkic (Türk), (Türük)), but the phonetics are difficult to reconcile.

It has been suggested that this is a transcription of Rouran *Türküt, a plural of the Mongolic type, composed of Türk + *-üt (Mongolic plural suffix, compare Khalkha Mongolian -үүд (-üüd)) (Pelliot, 1915). Pulleyblank (1965) proposed that this is a direct transcription of Türk.


Dí 狄 (as in Běidí 北狄 ["Northern Di"])

Middle Sinitic    /dek̚/

Old Sinitic       

(BaxterSagart): /*lˤek/
(Zhengzhang): /*deːɡ/


Speculations on the etymological origins of this ancient ethnonym are so shaky that I hesitate to cite them here.

One thing I am willing to say, however, is that — for at least the last four decades — I have always entertained the possibility that the medieval Tújué 突厥 ethnonym may be a later development of the ancient Dí 狄 ethnonym.  Cf. the histories of these peoples and the Old and Middle Sinitic phonological reconstructions of their names cited just above.

This post has already gone on long enough.  I will conclude it by quoting the response of my colleague, J. P. Mallory, when I asked him the questions raised by Rebecca Hamilton (see the beginning of this post), especially whether he could think of connection between "Wales / Welsh" and "gelding".  As it turns out, Jim's response serendipitously ties together a lot of disparate elements in this rambling (Xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊) essay — à la Zhuang Zi.

Huh???  I don't understand the logical link between Wallachian and castration as it really isn't explained in the examples. Castration of cattle has been around since the Neolithic to make more docile animals for purposes of traction and obviously employed for other purposes when extended to humans. But national names can go almost anywhere (and do), for example, Bulgarus 'Bulgarian' > 'Orthodox church' > 'heretic' > 'sinful practice' >  'sinful sexual practice' > 'bugger' but the fact that the modern word 'bugger' is etymologically derived from the ethnic term for a Bulgar doesn't really tell us anything about the sexual practices of the Turkic tribe that invaded what became known as Bulgaria.

One last note on "wether":

Old English hwæther; related to Old Frisian hweder, Old High German hwedar, Old Norse hvatharr

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014



1. Suffixed form *wet-ru-. wether; bellwether from Old English wether, wether, from Germanic *wethruz, perhaps "yearling"
2. Suffixed form *wet-es-.
a. veteran; inveterate from Latin vetus, old (< "having many years");
b. veterinary from Latin veterīnus, of beasts of burden, of cattle (perhaps chiefly old cattle);
c. etesian from Greek etos, year.
3. Suffixed form *wet-olo-. veal, vitellus from Latin vitulus, calf, yearling.

[Pokorny u̯et- 1175.]

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition (2016)

The things human beings do to animals and each other!  In this post, I've only focused on one extreme type of mutilation of the male body.  To describe the language of such practices as footbinding — and to what end — would require many more equally lengthy posts.


  1. David Marjanović said,

    August 3, 2020 @ 2:39 pm

    The usual story for the origin of Hungary is on ogur, "ten West Turkic [tribes]", who supposedly joined the Magyars in their invasion of the Pannonian basin. The H is an attempt to interpret the Huns into this*; it is not original, as seen from the German form Ungarn (both "Hungary" and "Hungarians", singular Ungar).

    * Happily taken up by Hungarian nationalists since the 19th century in their search for a more and more glorious past. Attila has become a popular name in Hungary; I'm related to someone with that name, and a colleague bears it too.

  2. Elizabeth J W Barber said,

    August 3, 2020 @ 3:34 pm

    Since wethers (neutered male sheep) are of no use except for growing wool (they grow the best and most copious wool), we can determine from Mesopotamian flock accounts that they had large numbers of wethers, hence practiced castration, already in the late FOURTH millennium.
    See Barber, PREHISTORIC TEXTILES (Princeton, 1990), p. 28 for Mesopotamian references, and pp. 26-8 for considerable discussion of the problems of identifying castrated livestock in the archaeological and historical record. Various indicators suggest that both sheep and cattle were being castrated by 3500 BCE.

  3. Alexander Browne said,

    August 3, 2020 @ 4:20 pm

    The bird was named after Turkey the country in way. Here's how Wiktionary puts is:

    16th century, from Turkey. First used of the guinea fowl, native to Africa, which was imported to Europe by Turkey merchants. [A member of the Levant Company or Turkey Company, an English chartered company formed in 1581 to conduct English trade with Turkey and the Levant or its successors, dissolved in 1825.] Slightly later, the word was also used of the larger northern American bird, which was brought to Spain by conquistadors in 1523. This transfer of the name may have occurred because the two birds were considered similar to each other, or because the North American turkey was in part introduced to northern Europe via Ottoman territories, or simply to convey the meaning of “foreign”. Note here the French dinde (from Inde (“India”)) and Arabic دَجّاج رُومِيّ‎ (dajjāj rūmiyy, literally “Greek” or “Christian chicken”).

  4. Victor Mair said,

    August 3, 2020 @ 7:47 pm

    From Sasha Vovin:

    The Khüis Tolgoi inscription could not possibly be from 587 AD or earlier: Niri qaɣan is mentioned in the text, who was not a qaɣan in 587 AD or earlier. Unlike the Bugut inscription, it cannot be exactly dated, but most likely it is from the early 7th c. Incidentally all our publications on Khüis Tolgoi from JA and JEAL can be easily downloaded from — this Wikipedia Article is not quite reliable.

  5. Cirk R. Bejnar said,

    August 3, 2020 @ 8:46 pm

    Also coming full circle. There is the Pensylvania Dutch word 'Welschhinkel' which refers to a turkey as a 'Welsh chicken'. In which the ethnonym has been generalized to the meaning 'foreign'.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    August 3, 2020 @ 9:11 pm

    From Alan Kennedy:

    Very interesting in-depth etymology!

    Quite a few thoroughbred race horses are gelded, usually around 3 years of age. That can sometimes improve the performance of the horse, however they become useless for breeding purposes. Therefore, race horses that are thought to have potential to be excellent on the race track are less likely to be gelded. Gelding does make them more manageable.

    When I was a part-owner of race horses in France, our female horse trainer seemed over eager to geld the horses in her care. When she spoke of such plans, I may have instinctively lowered a hand in the direction of my genitals.

    On the subject of the popularity of the name Attila for Hungarians, Csaba, who was a son of Attila, is also a common given name.

  7. Chris Button said,

    August 3, 2020 @ 9:56 pm

    The Written Burmese word for China "tarut" was earlier written "tarup" and before that as Inscriptional Burmese "taruk" with an anomalous "-uk" rhyme. The rhyme /*wɨk/ had already shifted away from "-up" (*-wɨp) and "-ut" (*-wɨt) under the influence of the velar -k coda). Gordon Luce made the plausible suggestion that it was a transcription of "Turk".

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 3:06 am

    I am now intrigued by the name of the town/commune "Magny-le-Hongre". Was the epynomous "Magny" a famous French gelding, and if so, why can I find no mention of him on the web ? If not, after what/whom was the town named ?

    And to Alan Kennedy — I am also intrigued by your suggestion that "[gelding] can sometimes improve the performance of the horse". Although I have never been a racehorse owner, I am a long-time equestrian and former horse owner, and I always understood that gelding was used to make a stallion more manageable rather than to improve his performance ("Tell a mare, ask a gelding, but discuss it with a stallion"). Can you say more about how gelding can improve a racehorse's performance ?

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 4:15 am

    @Philip Taylor:
    Ideas here but not an answer:

    Other observations:
    Old English Wealas also referred to the British in Cornwall. To the Anglo-Saxons, the British were romanised, and if not Romance-speaking, Welsh had absorbed many Latin words.

    Walnut had the foreign connotation.

    In Portuguese, a turkey is ‘peru’, with a different attributed origin – and peruzinho means cock.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 6:03 am

    Well, that is a very interesting document, Philip, but now the mystery moves on to Jacques le HONGRE. We read, in the document you cited —

    De 1412 à 1415 (sous Charles VI), la terre de Magny appartenait à Jacques le HONGRE, écuyer, général conseiller sur le fait de la justice des aides. C’est lui, très probablement, qui laissa son nom au village appelé par la s/uite, tantôt Magny Sainte Geneviève, tantôt Magny le Hongre.

    so why was poor Jacques so named ? Or did/does "hongre" have a meaning other than "gelding" ?

    There is a later mystery in the cited document, in that it goes on to say —

    L’origine du nom de notre village serait donc à chercher ailleurs que dans le nom de Jacques le Hongre. (Dictionnaire de Seine-et-Marne).

    but one is forced to ask "why ?". I can find nothing in the document to support the latter statement.

  11. DBMG said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 7:29 am

    "Spécialisation de Hongre « Hongrois » (ca 1100, Roland, éd. J. Bédier, 3254)"

  12. Philip Anderson said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 8:53 am

    @Philip Taylor
    More significantly:
    “Le nom du village apparaît dans les textes à partir du VIIIe siècle. Le qualificatif Le Hongre apparaît en 1267 : Menniaco dictite Hungre. Cette appellation réapparaît en 1372, 1392, 1411.”
    So before Jacque’s date. Maybe he was named after the village, rather than the appellation being an occupation or insulting nickname?

    Ses habitants sont appelés les Hongrémaniens.
    Which I have seen on a notice in the town

  13. Bloix said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 9:48 am

    "wethers (neutered male sheep) are of no use except for growing wool"

    Wethers are useful in keeping flocks of ewes together.
    Like other flocking species, sheep tend to form groups of females (typically related to one another) with one or perhaps two males. But if no male is present, ewes will wander off and the flock ceases to move as a unit.

    Unfortunately, rams are aggressive animals, particularly during the rut, and will fight and injure people, themselves, and other rams.

    To solve this problem, shepherds place one or two wethers in a flock. The ewes group around the wether, and the shepherds are able to exploit the flocking behavior without having to deal with the aggressive nature of rams.

    In modern urban society, we don't come across the word wether except in the compound bellwether, which we use metaphorically in reference to the practice of placing a bell around the wether's neck as a way of keeping track of the flock if it wanders over a ridge while grazing. Because the literal meaning is generally unknown, you'll often see it spelled "bellweather."

  14. cameron said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 11:10 am

    The "normalization" of the spelling wether->weather is also found in American surnames. I've never seen names like Weatherby and Weathersby with the original "wether-" spelling. Note that the town of Wetherby, in Yorkshire, from which these names derive, still uses the original spelling.

    I think the Weathersby variant is more common in the US. The Wyoming-based firearms manufacturer Weatherby Inc. is a prominent example of the spelling without the intrusive -s-.

  15. Not a naive speaker said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 2:57 pm

    In German the word galt is still used for cattle not producing milk in the compounds galtvieh or galtalp see Schweizer Idiotikon sub-entry Galt-Vich

  16. Chris Button said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 4:28 pm

    Regarding 狄, the Old Chinese onset was almost certainly a lateral *l- because its 火 component is shown by bronze forms to be a deformation of a phonetic 亦 (腋). It would then have delateralized.

  17. martin schwartz said,

    August 4, 2020 @ 10:01 pm

    If indeed Fermor distinguishes Romanians and Wallachians, then by the latter he must mean the peope which the Greeks call Vlachs (Vlakhs),
    i.e the Aromanians, of the Romance-speaking groups the one which
    tended to migrate. Though famous as shepherds, they became talented and prosperous builders of houses, and moved back and forth between
    Northern Greece and Constantinople. Thessaly was once called Meghali
    Vlachía after these people. The micro-etymological problem is that Vlachía, in the term Moldovlachía "Moldavo-Wallachia", referred to part the Ottoman province of Romania, i.e. Wallachia, and what with the similarity of the Aromanian and Romanian languages, sometimes led/leads to confusion on the part of Greeks. Many Greeks today have some Aromanian ancestry. The association of Vlachs with sheepherding isstrong in Greek folklore, and sometimes Greeks use vláchos for 'bumpkin'.
    The Sanskrit cognate for vitellus 'yearling' is vatsa- 'young lamb'.
    And the German cognate of wether, Witter, = 'ram'.
    As for Attila, the Wikipedia article on him notes an etymology from
    Turkish ATIL, "a possessor of geldlings and a provider of warhorses";
    I don't know and have no horse in that race.
    Martin Schwartz

  18. Pista said,

    August 5, 2020 @ 2:00 am

    I wondered about Johan Galtung's name. Wikipedia says the Galtungs are the oldest surviving Norwegian noble lineage, and they have one and a half boars in their coat of arms. The family name goes back to a 14c Sigurd Gautsson, called «galte». galte < ON gǫltr seems to have lost the "castrated" part and come to mean just "boar". Maybe Sigurd's nickname was a wordplay based on his patronym Gaut (related to ethnonyms Goths and Geats)?

  19. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 5, 2020 @ 2:31 am

    Attila is normally said to be Gothic, meaning "little father".

  20. Anthea Fleming said,

    August 5, 2020 @ 5:05 am

    It has occurred to me that there are other words related to geld and gelding. All suggest a non-productive state.
    1. gilt – young female pig too young for breeding.
    2. yeld – Scots adjective referring to a hind – one which has no calf at foot and is not pregnant. It does not mean barren.
    3. yell – Scots adjective – see Burns' Address to the Devil, or should it be de'il? 'Dawtit twal-pint Hawkie's gane
    As yell's the bill!"
    In other words the pet productive cow has (on this occasion) gone as dry as the bull.
    Incidentally, gilt and yeld are not usually found in dictionaries.
    Diversion – why is a castrated male swine called a barrow? (Another unknown to the Shorter Oxford). Hardy refers to a barrow-hog (in Jude I think) meaning it was a year old. Most people would say hog, but this originally meant a yearling beast, and hogget means a yearling lamb (except in Australia where it is a two-tooth).

  21. Philip Taylor said,

    August 5, 2020 @ 7:40 am

    Barrow (sb.), "castrated boar" —

    barrow, n.2
    Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈbarəʊ/, U.S. /ˈbɛroʊ/
    Forms: OE bearg, bearh, berg, ME baru, ME bareȝ, ME barowe, 15 barrowe, 15– barrow.
    Frequency (in current use):
    Origin: A word inherited from Germanic.
    Etymology: Common Germanic: Old English bearg ( < barg) = Frisian baerg, Middle Dutch barch, Dutch barg, Old High German barug, barh, Middle High German barc (barg-es), German barch, Old Norse börgr < Germanic *bargu-z or bargwo-z; not known beyond Germanic.
    Obsolete exc. dialect.
    a. A castrated boar; a swine. Still dialect.
    c950 Lindisf. Gosp. Matt. vii. 6 Ne sendas ge mere-grotta iurre before berg [Rushw. swinum].
    OE Riddle 40 106 Mara ic eom ond fættra þonne amæsted swin, bearg bellende, þe on bocwuda, won wrotende wynnum lifde.
    a1250 Owl & Nightingale 408 He wile of bore wurchen bareȝ [v.r. bareh].
    1297 R. Gloucester's Chron. 207 [He] hadde an vatte baru ynome.
    ▸ a1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add. 27944) (1975) II. xviii. lxxxvii. 1237 Among þe tame þe males ben ycleped bores and barwes [1495 de Worde Barowes].
    1577 B. Googe tr. C. Heresbach Foure Bks. Husbandry iii. f. 122v Take..of Barrowes grease very olde two powndes.
    1725 R. Bradley Chomel's Dictionaire Œconomique at Mange Anoint them with stale Barrows-Lard.
    1736 Compl. Family-piece iii. 429 Better to keep all Boars and Sows, and no Barrows.
    1864 E. Capern Devon Provincialism Barrow, a castrated boar.

    b. In later times commonly barrow-hog, barrow-pig.
    1547 R. Record Vrinal of Physick f. 61v Tame barrow hogges.
    1599 A. M. tr. O. Gaebelkhover Bk. Physicke 252/2 Take the greace of a little redde Barrowe Pigge.
    1693 W. Robertson Phraseologia Generalis (new ed.) 732 A barrow-hog, porcus castratus.
    1885 N.E.D. at Barrow Mod. Kent. Dial., I bought two open sows and one barrow pig. In most of the dialect glossaries.

    From the OED.

  22. vadati said,

    August 6, 2020 @ 7:38 pm

    Further along the etymological thread intricately woven above…although it was hinted at in the post, I thought I might point out that the original name of the Volcae also gave us Latin 'Gallia', whence, through French, 'Gaul'.

    Although 'Welsh' comes from the Germanic instantiation of the Volcae's name, the latter would have spoken a Celtic language too, a continental cousin of the language spoken in pre-Anglo Saxon Britain. It therefore seems likely that Germanic speakers would have used 'walhaz' because they understood the speakers of Brittonic (a Celtic branch) to be culturally or linguistically similar to the Volcae, or other continental Celtic-speaking cultures which inhabited northern Europe in the 5th cenutry AD.

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