Inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks I’m starting a regularly series of posts that will, rather like the Quote of the Week posts, celebrate the power of language, but in the case of the word hoard will focus on strong, single words with the ability to shape our sense of self and our sense of place.
Macfarlane argues that words can act as topograms – tiny poems that conjure scenes in a single word. ‘Language is fossil poetry,’ wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844.
‘Without a name made in our mouths, an animal or a place struggles to find purchase in our minds or our hearts.’ writes Tim Dee
I’d go further and argue that our essential sense of self is undone if we lack the language to articulate, express and animate it.
These posts will record the making of a small personal lexicon. If every journey starts with the first step then this word hoard needs inevitably to begin with a first word, and it’s hwyl…
Literally the word for a boat sail, hwyl is a wonderfully onomatopoeic Welsh word (pronounced who-eel) that means exuberance or excitement as if clipping along on a gust of wind. Used to describe flashes of inspiration, a singer’s gusto or raised spirits. The Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (the big dictionary of Welsh recently published by the University of Wales) lays out its ramifications like this:
A healthy physical or mental condition, good form, one’s right senses, wits; tune (of a musical instrument); temper, mood, frame of mind; nature, disposition; degree of success achieved in the execution of a particular task &c; fervour (esp religious), ecstasy, unction, gusto, zest; characteristic musical intonation or sing-song cadence formerly much in vogue in the perorations of the Welsh pulpit.
hwyl is also the word for goodbye: hwyl fawr – go with the wind in your sails
Text based on ‘The Book of Human Emotions’ by Tiffany Watt Smith