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Cornish Language and Place Names in Cornwall

"By Tre, Pol and Pen you will know the Cornishmen"

Cornwall's place names are very different from those in other places around the UK, though if you have visited Wales you will notice certain similarities with place names there.

Cornwall is a Celtic land and its language is one of the Brythonic group of languages to which Welsh and Breton also belong. The language is also more distantly related to Scots Gaelic, Irish Gaelic and Manx.

Up until the mid sixteenth century Cornish was the main language spoken across Cornwall, but pressure from English caused Cornish to decline and retreat to the far west of the Duchy.

While the Cornish language is believed in some traditions to have originally stopped being spoken in the late 1700s, when Dolly Pentreath of Mousehole died, there are other suggestions made by William Bodinar in the same time period that there were still a number of Cornish speakers in Mousehole after the death of Dolly Pentreath including himself.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century Cornish had all but died out as a community language, but in 1904 Henry Jenner (1848 - 1934), a Celtic scholar and cultural activist, published a Handbook of the Cornish Language which kick started the revival of Cornish as a living, spoken language. The Cornish Language has undergone a number of revivals since that time. Henry Jenner is buried at St Uny Church, Lelant, near St Ives.

Another important figure in the Cornish Language movement was Robert Morton Nance (1873-1959), a student of Jenner. He wrote many books and leaflets in Cornish including a Cornish - English Dictionary. Robert Morton Nance or Mordon, using his Bardic name, was a co-founder of the Gorseth Kernow.

These two important cultural figures jointly founded the first Old Cornwall Society at St Ives.

Since then the number of people learning and using the language has escalated, with Cornish receiving official recognition as a minority language in 2002 under the Council of Europe’s Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Today Cornish is one of the fastest growing languages in the world, and this is set to accelerate with more schools than ever choosing to teach Cornish. In 2010 a bilingual pre-school opened in Pool, and there are many other pre-schools and playgroups, as well as an increasing number of primary and secondary schools, that now offer children the opportunity to learn Cornish.

An example of written Cornish language

English Translation of above Cornish example

Businesses are also embracing the use of Cornish. Local enterprises such as Polgoon Vineyard have made a point of choosing Cornish branding as a mark of local origin and several of their products are named in Cornish. Meanwhile national companies such as JD Wetherspoon have a policy of putting up bilingual signage in their Cornish pubs, as well as giving them names in Cornish such as the “Try Dowr” (Three Rivers) in Truro and “Chapel an Gansblydhen” (Centenary Chapel) in Bodmin.

In 2009 Cornwall Council adopted a policy on the use of Cornish which encourages all departments of the Council to consider the use of Cornish. The most visible outcome of this policy is the bilingual street signage which is now appearing across Cornwall, and which costs the Council not a penny more than it would have done previously as the bilingual signs are only put up where new or replacement signs are needed.

Cornish is all around us in the community too, with Scouts and Guides learning their motto and promise in Cornish, gig rowers naming their gigs in Cornish and films being made in Cornish to be shown at Cornwall Film Festival.

For further information about Cornish culture, including Gorsedh Kernow and the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, see our Culture and Tradition page.

By understanding just a few of the most often used Cornish words you can get a better idea of where you are and enjoy exploring Cornwall even more.

  • Tre as in Trebetherick, Trelissick, Tregony and many more Cornish place names means a homestead and its nearby buildings, literally a town.
  • Pol in Polbathic, Poldhu, Polzeath, Polruan, Polkerris, Polperro means a pool
  • Pen in Pendennis, Penryn, Penrose, Pentire, Penberth, Penzance means an end of something, a headland or head.
  • Wheal in Wheal Jane, Wheal Kitty, East Wheal Rose means a mine.
  • Bal in Baldhu is another word meaning a mine working.
  • Porth (Port) in Perranporth, Porthtowan, Porthleven, Porth (near Newquay), Portreath means a bay, port or harbour.
  • Towan in Porthtowan meaning sand dunes.
  • Perran as in Perranporth, Perranarworthal, Perranzabuloe, Perranuthnoe - named after St Piran/St Perran, the Patron Saint of Tinners. He is generally regarded as the national saint of Cornwall.
  • Hayle as in the town of Hayle means an estuary.
  • Cos in Cosgarne, Coswarth means a forest, a wood or group of trees.
  • Venton/Fenton in Ventongimps, Ventongollan, Ventonleague meaning a spring or fountain.
  • Lan in Lanhydrock, Lanteglos, Landewednack meaning a sacred enclosure such as a church, monastery etc.
  • Bos/Bod in Bodmin, Bosigran, Boscawen meaning home or dwelling.
  • Ros in Roseland, Roskear meaning a moor, heath, or common.


Place Name of the Month March: 'Polzeath'

There’s a fair bit of celebrating to do in mis Meurth because March 1st is St David’s Day, March 5th is St Piran’s Day and March 17th is St Patrick’s Day.  Now places to avoid during this time of drinking toasts to Celtic saints are…

Polzeath (St Minver) the famous surf beach but from poll ‘pool’ and sygh ‘dry’.
Down Truro way there’s a Ventonzeth (Kenwyn) from fenten ‘spring’ + sygh, and up to Clay Country a stream or gover has run dry at Goverseath (St Stephen in Brannel).

Down Resrudh - Redruth way a whole valley is dry, Pensignance (Gwennap) from penn ‘end, head’ + sygh ‘dry’ + nans ‘valley’.  The same at Sithnoe (Breage) sygh + tnow which means ‘valley-bottom.’

Now to get ‘dry’ and religious we have Lanzion (Egloskerry) with nans ‘valley’, Polzion (Pelynt) with poll ‘pool’ and Bozion (Egloshayle) with bos ‘dwelling’.  This sounds more Jewish than Methodist – but dry never the less.

But seeing as St Piran was renowned for his love of the odd drink or two, I’m sure he’d forgive even people living in these dry places from raising a glass (perhaps of Polgoon Aval?) to him, St David or St Patrick in March.

Pol Hodge


Some words & phrases in Cornish:

Onan hag Oll - One and All
Kernow Bys Vykken - Cornwall forever

Dydh da! - Hello!
Ha sos! - 'Right mate!
Myttin da! - Good morning!
Dohajydh da! - Good afternoon!
Gorthuher da! - Good evening!
Fatla genes? - How are you?
Pur dha, meur ras. - Very well, thanks.
Da lowr, meur ras. - Ok, thanks.
Pur dha - Very well
Yn poynt da - In good spirits
Da lowr - OK
Ha ty? - And you?
Oiw os ta? - Who are you?
...ov vy - I'm ...
Ple'th os ta trigys? - Where do you live?
Trigys ov vy yn... - I live in...
Kernow - Cornwall
Pow Sows - England
Awstrali - Australia
Kembra - Wales
Traveller - Tremenyas

Dha weles! - See you! (to one person)
Agas gweles! - See you! (to more than one person)
Duw genes! - Goodbye! (to one person)
Duw genowgh hwi! - Goodbye! (to more than one person)
Nos da! - Good night!

Mar pleg - Please
Meur ras - Thank you
Gav dhymm - Excuse me
Mynnav - Yes please
Na vynnav - No thanks

...hweg - Dear
Sira hweg - Dear Sir
Benvas hweg - Dear Madam
(Man's name) ker - Dear (man's name)
(Woman's name) ger - Dear (woman's name)
Yn lel - Yours sincerely
Gorhemynadow a’n gwella - Best regards
Gans gorhemynadow a'n gwella - With best wishes
Oll an gwella - All the best

Penn bloodh Lowen! - Happy Birthday!
Nadelik Lowen! - Merry Christmas!
Bledhen Nowyth Da! - Happy New Year!
Dy'gol Pyran Lowen! - Happy St Piran's Day!
Pask Lowen! - Happy Easter!
Dy'gol Mammow Lowen! - Happy Mothers' Day!
Penn-bloodh Demedhyans Lowen! - Happy Wedding Anniversary!
Keslowena! - Congratulations!
Chons da! - Good Luck!
Bydh Gwell yn Skon! - Get Well Soon!
Keskalar Gwir - Sincere Condolence
Gans Kerensa - With Love

Gwrys yn Kernow - Made in Cornwall
... a'gas Dynnergh - Welcome to ...
Jynn amontya - Computer
Negys - Business
Kesrosweyth - Internet
Ygor - Open
Deges - Closed
Privedhyow - Toilets
Gwer - Gents
Benenes - Ladies

Onan - One
Dew - Two
Tri - Three
Peswar - Four
Pymp - Five
Hwegh - Six
Seyth - Seven
Eth - Eight
Naw - Nine
Deg - Ten

Gwynn - White
Du - Black
Rudh - Red
Glas - Blue
Gwyrdh - Green
Melyn - Yellow
Gell - Brown
Rudhvelyn - Orange
Gwynnrudh - Pink
Purpur - Purple

aval - apple
karetysen - carrot
kowlen - cabbage
kegisen hweg - celery
keresen - cherry
kestenen - chestnut
knowen goko - coconut
kowlvleujen - cauliflower
turnypen - turnip
aval kerensa - tomato
tanjerin - tangerine
routabaga - swede
sodonesen - sultana
sevien - strawberry
kowlennik - Brussels sprout
spinach - spinach
eyrinen - sloe
salad - salad
beler lowarth - rocket
trenkles - rhubarb

Sportow - Sports
Pel droos - Football
Rugbi - Rugby
Krycket - Cricket
Tennis - Tennis
Pelganstel - Basketball
Gwari pelyow - Bowling
Pel dhorn - Handball
Pel vas - Baseball
Mordardha - Surfing
Astelwolya - Windsurfing
Diwrosa ha Menydh-diwrosa - Cycling and Mountain biking
Golya - Sailing
Kayaka - Kayakking
Astel sarf-neyja - Kitesurfing
Golya uskis - Speedsailing
Krambla - Climbing
Marhogeth - Horse riding
Pyskessa - Fishing
Resek gyg - Gig racing
Rostella - Skateboarding



Topical phrases of the month March: 'Pirantide'

St Piran
Synt Peran

Happy St Piran’s Day!
Gool Peran Lowen!

St Piran’s Flag  
Baner Synt Peran


Saffron cake
Tesen safron

Yeast bun
Tesen vurm

Hevva cake
Tesen hevva

Patron saint 
Sans tasek 



Made in Cornwall
Gwrys yn Kernow

I love Cornwall
My a gar Kernow

I speak Cornish
My a gows Kernewek

I’m a Cornish man
Kernow ov vy

I’m a Cornish woman
Kernowes ov vy

Cornish dialect

Cornish dialect is still spoken although it is not heard as often as it was 20 years ago.
Here are a few words:

avee? - Have you?
dreckley - soon, but with no great urgency
airy mouse - a bat (literally an air mouse)
stank - to walk heavily
bulhorns - snails
cloam - crockery, pottery, etc.
scat - to break or hit
grammersow - woodlouse
Wozzon? - What is on?  or  What is happening?
Gezzon! - You must be joking!
Madder Do Er? - Does it matter?
Wozza Madder Withee? - What is wrong with you?

The following list has been contributed by Glyn Nicholas, who remembers these phrases being used in the 1920s and 1930s when he was growing up in Camborne.

Clemmed, or steeved with the cold. ‘Frozen’, very cold.
Where ‘ee goin'-to, en? Where are you going? Rude reply: Up Mike’s.
Thee’rt a g'eat bussa. You’re a fool, or stupid. A bussa was a large earthenware jug used for fetching waster from the well or pump.
‘E’s some ‘arden! Disobedient, stubborn.
Greener’n kewny. Greener than oxidised copper.
‘E’s some turk! Naughty, mischievous, disobedient.
I’ll smack th’ol’ chacks o’ thee! I’ll smack your face.
‘E’s some cute! Said of a person or child: very smart, (acute).
Deeper’n Dolcoath. A cunning or unfathomable adult.
Awright art’e? Are you o.k.?
Some ol’ comfloption! A big fuss or event
Eff theess cussn’t schemey, theess mus’ louster. If you can’t plan, or aren’t smart, you’ll have to labour.
Scat to riddicks, or lerrups! Broken up, dismantled, destroyed.
Gone scat. Bankrupt.
Lowss to ‘n! Hit it (hard)!
Glazin’ like a chad! Staring like a chad, or shad; a kind of fish.
Black as a tinker! Dirty (from working).
Tough as old ‘emp. Said of someone resistant to hardship and hard work.
Grey as a badger. Of hair.
Too slaw catch cold! Describes a slow doer.
My ‘ands are some clibby. Very damp or clammy.
Took t’ Bodmin. Taken to Bodmin jail.
Put t’ Bodmin. Put into the Asylum at Bodmin
Feet like pasties. Big feet.
“E’d like a job wheelin’ away smoke en a wire-nettin’ wheelbarra. A lazy man.
I’d as soon not go as stay ‘ome! Reluctant to go somewhere.
Rainin’ like a tide. Heavy rain.
‘E edn much cop. Said of a person of poor character.
Thee’rt some teasy! You’re very bad-tempered.
Deaf as a’ adder. Very deaf.
Where’ee goin’ to? Evasive reply: Tolskitty ‘arbour.
Pisky layd’n. Led by piskies; said jokingly of absent-minded behaviour.

A little jingle:
   Down St Just
   The boiler bust,
   And two poor men were killed.
   Their bodies went up in the air
   And their bones came down in a field!

Flam new Brand new. (cf. Fr. flambant neuf.)
Horse-adder. A dragonfly
Geek. Le’ss ‘ave a geek. Let’s see!
Jailin’ along Hard walking, hurrying.
Fat as a pudd’n Derogatory.
Screech like a whitnick To scream like a whiteneck. (Unknown animal or bird).
Like Darby and Joan Said of an admirable married couple.
Tatty ‘eel A large hole in the heel of a sock.
Poor as church mice. Self-explanatory.
Emmett. An ant. In those day, "upcountry" folk were "furriners".
Nuddick Head. Mind your nuddick! Be careful of your head.
In Barncoose. She/he’s in the local workhouse just outside Redruth.
Pushy. Very forward or demanding.
Put in with the bread, took out with the buns. One brick short of a full load.
Pitygree. So-and-so with ‘er ol’ pitygree; woes, complaints. (Cf. Fr. Petits griefs)
‘ot as a kill. Hot as a kiln. (Old pronunciation)
Clunky. To swallow.
Clidgy. A boiled sugar sweetmeat.
‘obby stankers. Hob-nailed boots.
Choo-choo. Child’s name for steam locomotive.
Piss-a-bed. Dandelion. (Cf. Fr. Pissenlit.)
Pally’ass, A thin type of mattress. (Fr. Paillasse.)
Timber ‘ill. Goin’ up timber ‘ill. Upstairs to bed.
Gookoo (like cuckoo). A bluebell.
Thee’rt a great gookoo! Said jokingly, ‘You’re a big fool!’
Dearer’n saffern. Very expensive.
Grammersow. Wood louse.
Daddy-long-legs. Harvestman.
Jin Jorn. Snail.
Scads. A great deal. Scads o’ money.
Slathered. Slathered in mud. Lagged, covered.
Aiglet. A haw. (Hawthorn berry.)
Planchion. An open ceiling revealing the beams and upstairs flooring.
Talfat. A loft. Often a platform covering part of the space under a pitched roof.

Place name of the Month and This Month's Topical Phrases are published in conjunction with MAGA, the Cornish Language Partnership. To find out more about the Cornish language visit the MAGA website www.magakernow.org.uk

We will be adding new words and phrases to this page regularly so please visit us again soon.




More Cornish Language Books

Cornish Language Books


Useful Links

Agan Tavas - Our Language

Cussel an Tavaz Kernuak - Cornish Language Council

Cornish Language Partnership

Kesva an Taves Kernewek - Cornish Language Board

Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek Warlinenn - Cornish Language Fellowship online

Radyo an Gernewegva

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