Mead Lover’s Digest #114 Wed 14 April 1993

Forum for Discussion of Mead Brewing and Consuming
John Dilley, Digest Coordinator


re: Welsh mead (Dick Dunn)
about Welsh and mead (Jane Beckman)

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Date: 13 Apr 93 08:32:42 MDT (Tue) 
From: (Dick Dunn)
Subject: re: Welsh mead

Dennis B. Lewis <> writes about mead and the Welsh
language. Interesting stuff! A question and a few comments…

> ‘dd’ is a voiced "th" like "the"…

Is this (or did this become) a separate letter? I’m thinking of the letter
"eth", which looks roughly like a "d" with a bar on the upward stroke–and
thus a parallel between d shape and th sound. (but that’s off-topic)

> A "meddyg" is a doctor. I used to think it meant "medic" but now I think it
> probably means "a mead-maker".

But it could mean both, because…

> "meddyglyn" means medicine or drug. Metheglin is the English name–mead with
> herbs and spices.

It was common practice to put medicinal herbs in wine or mead…this goes
back as far into ancient civilizations as I’ve ever been able to find out.
(E.g., "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s
sake"? [1 Timothy], and you can find notes from Pliny, and much further
back, including scraps about what herbs were used.) So, the doctor (medic)
might well also have been a mead-maker who made mead with medicinal herbs
added to it (metheglin), to give to his patients.

…[other interesting examples]…
> Now this is my kind of language!!!

I’ll go along there, or I might take a different tack: through most of
recorded history, fermented beverages have been held to have beneficial
and even sacred properties, and have also been the vehicle for administer-
ing various medications. Similarly it’s been long known that a little may
be good but a lot is surely bad for you. It seems peculiar to our culture
this century that we only see the bad side of fermented beverages, ignore
the difference between a little and a lot, and try to hide that many medi-
cines even today use alcohol as a carrier. Only a few years ago it was
considered radical to suggest that a bit of wine might be beneficial…
even though the belief had been held for millenia before that. (So I’ll
agree that Dennis has some interesting connections among words but I’ll
also say that in a sense we live in dark times.:-)

Dick Dunn -or- raven!rcd Boulder, Colorado USA

…Simpler is better.

Date: Tue, 13 Apr 93 11:18:12 PDT 
From: (Jane Beckman)
Subject: about Welsh and mead

I can see my Cornish/Welsh husband cringing. If they taught you that
Welsh was based on Latin, they taught you wrong. The current theory is
that both Welsh and Latin (which originated on different trees) originated
at about the same time (2500 years ago), Welsh being derived from the
Brythonic language, and Latin from the Latino-Faliscan. There were several
precursors before that, and it is believed that both came from Old Indo-
European about 12,000 years ago. However, since most European languages
(and most Sanscrit-based languages, as well) came from this root, it is
hardly significant. This theory has been pretty well accepted for 40 years
that I know of.

Your comments made sense if one takes into account Indo-European protolanguage
theory, and the northern European trees. (Yes, I’ve studied this.) You
will notice that the words you cite have Germanic roots (English and the
Scandanavian languages all have a Germanic base), which is why they seem
familiar. There are bleedover Latin words in English from the Norman invasion,
but they are the exception. I also suspect that some of the words you cite
are bleedover words from the waves of Germanic tribes who invaded England
in successive waves, and were later backed into places like Wales by the
later-invading Romans. Compare to Germanic "medu" and Old English "meodu."
Both can mean either honey or mead. On the other hand, there are Latin
bases that were probably absorbed into Welsh at the same time the Romans
invaded. "meddyg" is probbly one of these, which has a Latin base of "mederi"
which is Latin for "to look after or heal" and gives us words such as medic,
medical, and "remedy." Interestingly, "metheglyn" actually derives from
Latin, and the related "mederi/methan" base, which means a potion
based on (grape) wine. (Metheglyn is a combined-base, one Latin, one Celtic
(Irish), meaning "healing liquor (-lynn)." This is probably because of the
herbal components in it.) Probably, both "methe" and "medu" originally
descended from a common base in Indo-European, meaning simply a fermented
beverage, and changed meaning with the customs and ingredients of various
diverse peoples. (Notice that the base is grape in the Mediterranian, and
honey in the north. It would be interesting to see if there are related
words in areas with a heavy beer culture, referring to a grain base! One
might wonder also if bragget, a honey-based beer, has any relationship to
Bragi, the Norse god of poetry! Such drinks could make braggerts and poets
of us all, says one who has had some of this brew!)

The derivation of these words is much more complicated than set foreward.
(And, of course, some of us have personal theories that don’t always match
the accepted party line, concerning very early root word meanings. 😉
Tolkien based some of his derived "Middle Earth" languages on his personal
theories of roots and meanings and their derivations.)

People who are interested might want to check on references on Indo-European
Protolanguage theory, which traces the descendency of words from earliest
roots and usage to the present day, through various languages both living
and dead. The American Heritage Dictionary (High School Edition) has a
good overview, including a language tree, for those who are interested.

Jilara []

End of Mead Lover’s Digest