[Spellyans] 'to make the bed' in Cornish

Ken MacKinnon ken at ferintosh.org
Tue Apr 8 11:18:36 BST 2014

This is most  interesting, Nicholas, and brings to mind an event which
occurred to me whilst ‘making the bed’ / ‘ow-kewera an gwely’:


During the war I was a London evacuee in St Ives, billeted in a seamen’s
billet downlong in Academy Place.   (St Ives at that time was a small muster
port for transatlantic convoys.)   The landlady was a Miss Perkins, a single
local lady with a strong West Penwith accent and turn of speech.   One of
our merchant seamen, a Canadian whom we called Vancouver, had a disturbed
night, and the following morning I was making the beds with Miss Perkins,
and it was clear to me that Vancouver had been sick in the bed.   Miss
Perkins however declared that, “Vancouver do have shet the bed!”   I
attempted to correct this and said, “No, no, Vancouver was sick in the
night.”      However, Miss Perkins announced, “I do knaw shet when I do see
‘un, I do knaw.”  This was said with such vehemence that I have remembered
it ever since.


I once  related this at a Eurolinguistics meeting (Douglas, IoM, Sep 1988)
when the late Martyn Wakelin gave a paper which denied that the sound system
(particularly short-i as short-e), and syntax of late Cornish had had any
influence on West Penwith dialect and speech.    I gave my anecdote with
some reluctance, as I realised I was the only person present with any
experience of West Penwith speech.  It occasioned some general amusement, as
what I was really saying was, “And I do knaw shet when I do hear ‘un.”    So
I trust my memory was not playing me false.


I wonder how I could best ‘retranslate’ this dialogue back into Cornish? –
an ken Ken



From: Spellyans [mailto:spellyans-bounces at kernowek.net] On Behalf Of
Nicholas Williams
Sent: 07 April 2014 13:20
To: Standard Cornish discussion list
Subject: [Spellyans] 'to make the bed' in Cornish


I may have mentioned this matter before. If so, I apologise. It is just that
I am translating a text in which beds are made.

'To make the bed' in English means to get the bed ready to sleep in, to
straighten the sheets and blankets, or whatever.

In Welsh 'to make the bed' is cyweirio y gwely. In Irish one says an leaba a
chóiriú. Leaba 'bed' replaces an earlier folige which is identical in origin
with gwely < *wolige-

The Welsh cyweirio and the Irish cóiriú are etymologically related, being
based on an adjective *ko(m)-wari- 'correct, tidy, accurate'.

This adjective occurs once in Cornish in the expression bum pur gewar
desezys 'a blow very accurately placed' PA 138b. The derived verb would

be *kewera 'to fit, to arrange', which is not attested, though Nance
includes it in his 1938 dictionary;  keweras 'fulfilment' is attested at PA


My late mother-in-law from County Armagh never said 'make the bed' but
always 'straighten the bed' and this would seem

to reflect the expression used in the Irish of her recent ancestors.


I think it is very likely that the Insular Celtic peoples, when getting beds
ready for sleeping, used a phrase like

*kom-war- sindo- wolige-.


I would suggest, therefore, that for making the bed in Cornish we say kewera
an gwely, e.g. res yw dhybm kewera an gweliow lebmyn.







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