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Etymology of Thanet, Ruoihm


Nowadays it is hard to see that the Isle of Thanet used to be a real island, separated from Kent by the Wantsum Channel, through which ships heading to and from London would sail in order to avoid the difficult rounding of the end of Thanet. A map of the ancient Thanet area based on the work of Cunliffe (2005) and others is reproduced by Even (2008).
Much of the Kent coast is surrounded by ever-shifting sandbanks and the Wantsum Channel seems to have silted up as much from seaward as down the Stour river from Canterbury. No one appears to have claimed a Celtic root for Wantsum, but it has obvious cognates in Germanic languages, so that a likely proto-English form was something like wants um, meaning literally winds itself around.

This clearly Germanic description of the channel announces a Germanic meaning for the island itself.

is said to be named from Celtic tan-arth, bright island or beacon, for which there is no archaeological evidence. Rivet and Smith (1979) discuss possible etymologies via Roman spellings, e.g. Tanatis. Thanet has long been confused with the river Tanat in North Wales.

Around 833 AD, the historian Nennius wrote that its British name was actually Ruoihm. Variant spellings exist, such as Ruoichim. It is unlikely that Nennius meant that the Welsh had given a specific name to a region which is completely on their opposite side of Britain. Compare 'uo' in Ruoihm with Hruotland (=great land, in Dutch that would be Grootland, with a soft 'g'), the real name of Roland, Charlemagne's paladin. Ruoi means red, burned or cleared land ('rooi' is a common variation of 'rood', red in modern Dutch - the Dutch verb 'rooien' means to clear land) and hm is ham, home, place, village. All this is very Germanic. Which implies that Nennius meant proto-English speaking people with 'British' and that the 'certified' equation (old) British = Celtic is wrong.

We believe that Thanet is a nautinym and Ruoichim an endonym. Ruoihm resembles strongly the Belgian village of Rooigem (soft 'g'), today a quarter of the city of Gent. Rooigem = Rooiham = Ruoichim = cleared homeland.

It is very likely that the modern city of RAMsgate is the old Ruoichim. Ruoihm > Ruoiham > Ro-ham > Raham > Ram, and later 'gate' was added, so Ramsgate.

Thanet is very easy to explain as proto-English. Or it is something like modern Dutch ten ende, t'end, at the end, land's end or its root is proto-Germanic *tan, 'needle, what sticks out' ( the sea - compare German: Tannenbaum = pine, spruce, coniferous tree).


Analog to exonym (name given by foreigners), endonym (name given by the locals themselves), hydronym (lake, river name), toponym (literally: place-name), a nautinym is a name given by sailors. Sailors gave names to landmarks on the coast. This helped them to know where they were. We think that young apprentice sailors had to memorize many such nautinym lists. Examples of nautinyms are Dover, Calvados, Calais, Schelde, Wight and many more. Compare it with a list of cities you have to travel through on a voyage over land. The ancient analogy of a place-name list is for instance the Ravenna Cosmography. The Antonine Itinerary is another.

Etymology of Cotswolds

Stephen Yeates wrote a whole book about the Hwicce: "A dreaming for the witches". Here is summarised his key idea (see Catu- article):-

However, once one starts thinking about pots and kettles, it is interesting to look at the large bowl of flat land surrounded by hills in which Gloucester sits.
Yeates (2008) wrote:

“ the land of the Dobunni there was a widespread cult worshipping a goddess with a cauldron, tub, or sacred vessel, whose temples can be detected in both major and minor settlements. That the cult of this goddess was carried out in the pre-Roman period is evident in the high status burial practices of the elite that it continued afterwards is evident in the tribal name. That the centre of this tribal cult was a large natural circular valley is apparent from the location of the elite Iron Age burials who fed symbolically from the cult vessel. ... The cauldron, in all mythical interpretations, is considered to be the place of creation and knowledge, and of life and death.”
Yeates (2006, 2008, 2009) arrived at this conclusion while trying to reconstruct the long-lost religion of the Dobunni from a range of archaeological, historical and geographical information. He suggested that a tradition of the sacred cauldron lingered on after the coming of Christianity in various forms. Hwicce, the name of the people who inherited Dobunnic territory, was Old English for a container like the Ark of the Covenant in the Bible. A wicce witch knew the sacred vessel, as in Shakespeare's three witches in Macbeth. Maybe also relevant was the Holy Grail. He also put a name to a pre-Christian local divinity – *Cuda – that allegedly still survives in place and river names in that region, such as Cotswolds, Cutsdean, and Codswell.

I strongly doubt about *Cuda = goddess of the cauldron.

Cotswolds means 'forested hills'.

I quote the Germanic words kodde (Du.: club, heavy stick), kossem (Du.: dewlap) , koder (Du.: mumps), kusma (No.: mumps), all meaning something like 'swelling'. The Middle English word is cothe, today (dialect) coath, a disease (perhaps mumps..).

If I am right then Cotswolds refers to forests (= wolds) on 'swellings' (cothes) in the landscape, for it are wooded hills. Cutsdean and Cotswell are then derived from Cotswolds.

I have once again the impression that Celticists who cannot cope with place-names which are meaningless in Brythonic, use then a cheap trick such as pointing to some deity. Besides, has Yeates ever said what *Cuda means or is it again just-a-name?

Etymology of Brit, Briton, Britannia

Warning: this is a conjecture.

The official explanation:

This is the official explanation of Britain as found on Wikipedia "Britain (place-name)":

"Britain" is most like Welsh Ynys Prydein, "the island of Britain", which is a P-Celtic cognate of Q-Celtic (Modern Irish Cruithne (Old Irish Cruthin), also found in Modern Irish Cruithen-tuath, "land of the Picts." The base word is Scottish/Irish (Gaelic) cruth, Welsh pryd, "form." The British were the "people of forms", referring to their practice of tattooing or warpainting. The Roman word Picti, "the Picts", means "painted."

Of course, this etymology fits the official hypothesis that all of Britain was Celtic and thus Brythonic speaking. It sounds good at first sight, but has some problems.

First : the British painted themselves, yes, but not with woad, as generally thought, but with a toxic cocktail of metal sulphates, mixed with other stuff such as gall-apple juice for the tannin. Woad is not soluble in water and should have been mixed with some sort of body lotion or fat if one wanted to apply it on the skin. But at the slightest sweating (fighting!), it would have melted away. On textiles, it produces only a faint blue. The effect on the skin would be too faint to make an impression. Woad is called pastel in France. (we submitted a paper about this subject and it was accepted)
Thing is that only some British painted themselves when they went to war. The mixture as described above burns the skin and lasts for one week or so. The skin painting was certainly not comparable with modern tattoos. Wars were always the exception, so the painting was an exceptional thing too. Allergic reactions to the ferro/copper suphate are and were common place.

Second: who gave the name? If all British warriors painted themselves, then was a painted skin still a mark of distinction? - "Our painting is darker blue than yours?" - The explanation looks very much like an exonym. The name 'forms' must have been given by non-British, people who did not painted themselves. But who? Pytheas of Massalia was the first to write the name down. Where did he hear the name? Not in Britain itself, I presume. The inhabitants of the island will not say: "We are the ones with forms on our skins.", when there is no war at hand and nobody is painted.

"Who is painted here?" - "Nobody for the moment, but, you'll see!" - "When there is a war?" - "Yes"

So, the name must have come from the Continent. But, the continental side of the English Channel was kept by Germanic speaking Morini, and 'Prydein" is supposed to be Brythonic. Further south, on the coast, a recent study demonstrated that Normandy too was proto-Germanic speaking during the Roman Empire and before. So, it must have been the people of (Gaul) Brittany who gave the name "forms-people" to the warriors they had encountered. Were the British looting the coasts of Brittany, sparing the lowland coast where people spoke Germanic?

More: would they paint themselves in order to leave a clear message: "Hey, it's us, you know.." ? Then they risked a serious retaliation. Not very smart indeed... for the stains last days.

One could argue that if one tribe painted themselves, then that would be enough. The whole island would be named after that tribe. One can suppose that the Cantii (Kent) as described by Caesar, painted themselves and the most other British tribes did not. Is such a thing possible? Would other tribes such as the Eceni also call themselves painted ( = British)? Would they then not associate themselves too much with these *@%!#ยง* Cantii, they regularly have a raw with? Apparently, the British tribes fought sufficiently with each other to dismiss such an idea.
Would the 'tin' tribes in Cornwall not say: "Prydein? That is not us, continue sailing to the east. - but hey, there is no tin there." Yet, when Pytheas the Greek visited Britain, the name was more than likely already well known and accepted by the British.

And about the Picti: the word is late-Roman and was hardly used during the Roman Empire (AD 297). The word was used for a population now call Scots. The Scottish people are grateful if you do not confuse them with their southern neighbours.

The probable etymology:
The word Briton is derived from the Latin word Britto, itself probably a Latinized version of the Germanic word 'brett' which was given to the inhabitants of northeast Britain (Humber region). Brett is the modern German word for plank. The word brett did not change since it was written for the first time. The Dutch equivalent is 'brits', a bed made with light and flexible planks on a boat. The following makes clear that 'brett' or 'britt' simply meant ship or boat around 2000 BC.

Brit comes from Middle English brytten, brutten, from Old English brittian, bryttian (“to divide, dispense, distribute, rule over, possess, enjoy the use of”),from Proto- Germanic *brutjanan (“to break, divide”), from Proto-Indo-European *bhreud- (“to break”). Cognate with Icelandic brytja (“to chop up, break in pieces, slaughter”), Swedish bryta (“to break, fracture, cut off”), Danish bryde (“to break”). Related to Old English brytta (“dispenser, giver, author, governor, prince”), Old English breotan (“to break in pieces, hew down, demolish, destroy, kill”).

The semantic relation with 'a cut off a trunk' is clear. The conclusion is that the word 'brett/britt' meant 'plank'. The German word brett is proving it.

Compare with the etymology of ship:

Middle English, from Old English scip, from Proto-Germanic *skipan (compare West Frisian skip, Dutch schip, German Schiff, Danish skib), from Proto-Indo-European *skēi-b-, *ski-b- (compare Lithuanian skiẽbti to rip up, Latvian škibît to cut, lop). (Wiktionary)

And the etymology of boat:

From Middle English boot, bot, boet, boyt, from Old English bāt (“boat”), from Proto-Germanic *baitaz, *baitan (“boat, small ship”), from Proto-Indo-European *bheid- (“to break, split”). Cognate with Old Norse beit (“boat”). (Wiktionary)

Boat, Ship and Britt have to break, cut, split as basic meaning.

The Dover bronze age boat has a lot to do with it. Britain must have been among the first regions in this part of Europe where people no longer used dugout canoes but used the new bronze axes to makes plank-sewn boats. This made bigger boats possible and gave more stability at sea. The ship builders named their floating thing 'brett/britt' in a similar way other Germanic speaking people named their floating devices 'ship' or 'boat'. So, 'brett' was just a synonym for boat. Coastal sailing became very much, not only possible, but lucrative. The most valuable transported products were probably the same bronze axes. Britain is the land of copper and tin and the alloy of both is called bronze (10% tin). This bronze was transported to the Continent, just on the other side of Dover.

The technology and wealth must have impressed people on the southern shores of the English Channel. The whole region of Calais (actually: Kales, meaning 'bald rocks') was populated by Germanic speaking Morini in those days and in close contact with 'the other side'. The word 'brett' was a common word for them. The people who landed the brett-boats there became known as Brett-folks, initially meaning 'boat-people'. The sewn boat set them apart. At that same time, the northern part of the island became the land of the Bretten, Britannia. The -en plural is Kentish and Low-Land Germanic in origin. Because sewn boats were used for at least 500 years in the region, the name stuck. Note that this name must have been felt as an honorific name for the British as it referred to their advanced technology.

It is possible that the people of around Calais knew that these 'Bretten' were from a coastal region much north of Dover, so these 'Bretten' were not confused with the closer dugout-boat people from the Kentish area. One reason could have been that the language of Kent and the language of the Calais region (the language of the Morini) were very close. It were the Morini who introduced the first coins in Britain. Hearing that the language of the Brett-folks was not familiar, even weird, the Morini knew that these Bretts must have come from the northeast. Actually, the Bretts would have gladly confirmed their origin .

What we cannot be sure of is whether the Bretts were Parisii, Corieltauvi, Brigantes or even Eceni, tribes known around 46 AD which bordered the North Sea.

The Dover bronze age boat was abandoned in Dover at around 1500 BC. The crew must have drown at sea and the wreck ended up in Dover. The thick wood made the boat itself probably unsinkable and the boat ended up on the beach of Dover. If local people had the technology to repair the boat, they certainly would have done so. After all, such a boat is a serious investment and a useful tool. Broken, damaged planks could have been replaced. The sawing technique made repairs relatively easy. The simple fact that it was left to rot points to the fact that local people were unable to repair it or that they were unaware of its presence. Like the Humber bronze age boat, the Dover boat was probably made in the northeast, so the origin of the word 'brit' is to be searched there.

The Dover boat is obviously to be compared to the boats found at South Ferriby in the mud of the River Humber in 1939 and again in 1946 by Ted Wright. Both are sewn boats, that is boats where the planks were fastened together by withies in a form of sewing. However, though the techniques were similar, the style of architecture was different. The Ferriby boats consisted essentially of three planks which formed the bottom of the boat, a long central keel plank and two outer bottom planks (2000 BC). By contrast, the Dover boat is about 500 years younger than the Ferriby boats. Compare both ages and you know that such brett-boats were used for at least 500 years, which is more than enough for a name to settle.

Feeriby boat
With thanks to Roger Waites

The origin of the word Brit would refer to the crew of such a bronze age Ferriby-type ship. Brett-people would consequently use the northern Scandi-proto-English 'are'-form of the verb 'to be', contrasting with the southern, Kentish 'sindt'-form.
(for more about 'are' see :

In about AD 98, Tacitus (Germania 45) wrote that a people called the Aestii, living beside the Baltic Sea, resembled their Germanic Suebi neighbours but had a language that was "more like the British". He went on that they were "the only people who gather amber, which they call glaesum".

So when Tacitus wrote that the language of the Aestii resembled that of the Britons, then he must have referred to the use of 'are' by the Aestii. The nearby Suebi used the mainland Germanic 'sindt'-form of to be. This points to a Scandinavian origin of the Aestii. It is known that later a lot of Goths crossed the Baltic sea and settled for a while in the neighbourhood of the estuary of the Vistula. That place was known for its amber. They probably found a local colony of people there who spoke a language close to Scandinavian Germanic. They must have been surrounded by people who spoke or Baltic or Slavonic. Tacitus' father-in-law governed Britain for some time and it is well known that Tacitus knew the Britons sufficiently well to be able to make the dialectal distinction between the Southeast and the Northeast & Midlands. This supports the idea that two distinct variants of Germanic were spoken in Britain: proto-English in the southeast and Scandi-proto-English in the northeast and Midlands. This linguistic fact is known from the Old English period, but my point is that it must have existed way before.

Conclusion: the word Brit referred to sailors on Ferriby sewn boats (brett) people who inhabited of the northeastern part of the island, the region of the Humber and Yorkshire. The word would be issued from the shipping world and thus a nautinym. The word 'brit' as a northern proto-English word for 'ship' did not survive the last three millennia. The meaning changed toward the inhabitants. Britons are plankies.

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