welsh/welch on a bet

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welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Shelley » Tue May 31, 2005 7:31 pm

Was there a particular event that resulted in this expression? Why are the Welsh slandered in this way? I've searched WW, and have found dictionary definitions, but no cause for the phrase. I ask this at the risk of offending a certain senior member of the club -- please forgive me for bringing it up. (Some of my best ancestors are Welsh . . .)

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Jun 01, 2005 8:36 am

Strangely enough, most of my ancestors are Welsh as well!

I have absolutely no written proof of this explanation of the term “To welsh on a bet”, but it certainly gets my vote.

English bookmakers to avoid paying out on large bets sometimes ran over the border into Wales, and consequently were said to have gone Welsh.

By the way, the only example of the spelling WELCH, meaning Welsh of which I am actually aware is the Welch Regiment, and I believe that to have been a spelling error by someone in England that has been carried on down the centuries.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Jun 01, 2005 9:05 pm

Shelley, From what I can gather Bob has hit the nail right on the head. Many dictionaries prefer to say ‘origin unknown,’ but many sources give Bob’s explanation without reservation, which I would tend to go along with.

I have always heard WELCHED (or at least thought that was what I heard) in the U.S., but most dictionaries seem to give WELSHED as their first choice.

WELSH or WELCH: 1) To swindle a person by not paying a debt or wager. <The rat welshed on a daily-double payoff>“ 2) To avoid dishonorably the fulfillment of an promise or obligation. <“They welshed on their contract and left us in a fine mess.”>

This expression, which casts the Welsh as being natural thieves, seems to be rooted in the time-honored tradition of racist stereotyping and many other groups including the Irish, Scotch, French, Jew/Hebrew, Dutch, Chinese, Greek, etc. have received similar treatment by becoming pejorative prefixes as Jonathon Green in 'Ask the Wordwizard' points out:
<“'Welshing / welching' (and thus its verb 'to welsh or welch') is one of those nasty little terms that stems from racial stereotyping, in this case of the Welsh as being natural thieves. This is best (worst) summed up in the 'nursery' rhyme 'Taffy was a Welshman | Taffy was a thief | Taffy came to my house | And stole a side of beef.' As well as the stereotype one should also note the earlier use of Welsh (and such synonyms as 'Greek' or 'Hebrew') to mean an alien and even criminal language. Thus in German one finds the 16th century 'rotwelsh': beggar's patter or criminal cant.”>
The cheating sense (see quotes below) arose in the mid-19th century in sporting circles, particularly at racetracks, where bookmakers who took bets and then absconded were known as WELSHERS or WELCHERS. Presumably some of them having too many winners against them, fled over the border to Wales (were said to have ‘gone Welsh,’ as Bob tells us above) and perhaps some were even from Wales. Wales was long regarded by the English as the home of thieves as noted in the above poem Taffy was a Welshman, which is said to already have been old in the 17th century. TAFFY is a generic name for a Welshman, a corruption of ‘David’ the patron saint of Wales, and is said not to be found objectionable by Welshmen. However, the second line ‘Taffy was a thief’ and the later meaning of reneging on a bet or promise is said by some with Welsh blood to be an outrage and a slander.
<1857 “He got his living by ‘WELCHING’ and taking in the ‘flats’ [[gullible people, dupes]]”—‘Morning Chronicle,’ 8 June, page 8/3>

<1867 “Money which people have been ‘WELSHED’ out of.”—‘Sporting Life,’ 21 September>

<1868 “Some two or three of the prolific ‘WELSHING’ fraternity did manage to carry on their nefarious operations.”—‘Morning Star,’ 26 March>

<1887 “He will receive his winnings and run no risk of being ‘WELSHED.’”—‘Daily Telegraph,’ 12 March, page 5/2>

<1894 “He . . . had a narrow escape of being lynched by the crowd for WELSHING.”—“Dorothy’s Double,” I. page 57>

<1902 “In France . . . betting . . . had increased . .. because people were not now afraid of being WELSHED.”—‘Times,’ 8 March, page 14/3>
The sense of breaking all sorts of promises has been used at least since the 1930s.
<1932 “I really can't WELSH on Eyler Simpson (who is equally responsible, since he signed the lease with me).”—‘Letters’ (1965) of H. Crane, January, page 395>

<1971 “The real shadow on this couple was that Commander Henry thought Rhoda had WELSHED on their courtship understanding.”—‘Winds of War’ by Herman Wouk, i. page 4>

<1974 “When the brothers were captured on a bank raid, the British government WELCHED on them, dropped them like a hot penny.”—‘Socialist Worker,’ 2 November, page 5/1>

<1978 “Very few people WELSH on paying their taxi fare.”—‘Lancashire Life,’ April, page 73/4>

<1982 “Across his desk . . . had crossed copies of angry SS memoranda addressed to army officials and complaining that the army was WELCHING on its arrangement.”—“Schindler’s Ark” by T. Keneally, v. page 72>
Some other examples of the pejorative use of Welsh are:

WELSH AMBASSADOR [1607]: A cuckoo or an owl, two birds with loud, monotonous calls.

WELSH BAIT [1603]: A foodless, drinkless, rest given a horse at the top of a hill, where ‘bait’ here means food.

WELSH COMB [1796]: The thumb and four fingers used to smooth one’s hair. Also known as a ‘German comb.’

WELSH CRICKET [16th to early 17th century]: A louse, also a tailor.

WELSH DIAMOND [1884]: A rock crystal used by jewelers. Also know as an ‘Irish diamond.’

WELSH EJECTMENT [1811]: To unroof the house, a method practiced by landlords in Wales to eject a bad tenant.

WELSH FIDDLE [circa 1700]: The itch

WELSH GOAT [mid-18th century]: nickname for a Welshman

WELSH MILE [1652]: Long and tedious

WELSH MORTGAGE: A pledge of land in which no day is fixed for redemption

WELSH PARSLEY [circa 1635]: A hangman’s noose

WELSH RABBIT [1725]/RAREBIT [1785]: Toasted bread and cheese where cheese is possibly used as a substitute for the ‘real thing.’

WELSHMAN’S HOSE with LIKE A, MAKE A, TURN LIKE [circa 1520-1600]: To suit the meaning of (a word, etc.) to one’s purpose.

(Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Wicked Words by Rawson, A Dictionary of Slang by Partridge, Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, A Dictionary of the Underworld by Partridge, Merriam Webster’s and Random House Unabridged Dictionaries, American Heritage Dictionary, Oxford English Dictionary)

Ken G – June 1, 2005

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Jun 02, 2005 8:32 am

Ken, you will never know how pleased I am that we agree on the origin. I was not aware of the use of welsh to mean a language, although it is widely known here that “Welsh” does mean “foreigner” in one or more of the early Anglo Saxon languages. To the extent that some people now refuse to use it, preferring to use instead the Welsh language versions. Cymru – Wales, Cymraeg – Welsh Language, Cymro – Welshman, Cymraes – Welshwoman, in righteous belief that the question “How can we be foreigners when we were here first?” seems reasonable to ask.

The “Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief” dilemma is a bit different. In the first place, you are correct, being called Taffy, or Taff is not a problem. There are circumstances in which we would use it amongst ourselves, although rarely inside Wales I grant you. The rhyme almost certainly dates from a time when my ancestors were under the impression that their English neighbours over the border bred cattle and sheep purely to feed the Welsh, so would every now and again cross over to help themselves. The English were not very keen on this arrangement. But those days passed an awfully long time ago, and there is a vague resentment of the song. In any event, Taffy was only one bloke not the entire nation.

By the way, Welsh Rabbit is not simply toasted cheese on toast. Toast the bread on both sides. Melt cheese in a small saucepan (sospan fach), mix in mustard and a dash of beer. Pour over the toast and put it back under the grill.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Phil White » Thu Jun 02, 2005 6:58 pm

The German term "Rotwelsch" Ken mentioned in his quote from Jonathon Green (which is older than the 16th century suggested) is rather complex in etymology. The "rot" part of it is simple enough, meaning "red" and probably in context "red-haired". The "welsch" part exists in modern German both on its own and in several combinations. On its own, it is a word used (primarily in Switzerland) to mean "of the French-speaking part of Switzerland". In Germany, it is pretty well obsolete on its own, but carries/carried the derogatory meaning "foreign", particularly "southern". The word is extremely old and derives ultimately from the name of the Celtic tribe of the Volcae, the neighbours of the Germanic tribes, gradually over the years being applied to anyone foreign, particularly to the south or west.

Thus, Bob is spot on with his statement that "Welsh" originally meant "foreigner" in Anglo-Saxon.

The most common surviving term in modern German is "Kauderwelsch", which approximates to "gibberish" or, interestingly, "double Dutch".

Bob, isn't "Welsh Rabbit" more commonly spelt "Welsh rarebit"?
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Yorkie57 » Thu Jun 02, 2005 9:02 pm

More commonly perhaps, but incorrectly, spelt "rarebit"

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Bobinwales » Fri Jun 03, 2005 7:36 am

Allan is right, "rarebit" is the commonly used name, but Welsh rabbit is the dish. I have no idea how the name changed, possibly it was simply to avoid confusion on a menu.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Shelley » Fri Jun 03, 2005 11:00 pm

And I'm only hazarding a guess when I say this, but it seems obvious to me that “vicious cycle” is to
“vicious circle” what “Welsh rarebit” is to “Welsh rabbit”: It rivals the original only because it SEEMS
more likely than the original.

-- Bill
BILL WALSH, Washington, D.C. / The Slot: A Spot for Copy Editors
The above is from a WW discussion, and a person named Fowler is referenced therein as well. Here's what Fowler had to say about Welsh rarebit:
Welsh rabbit is amusing and right, and Welsh rarebit stupid and wrong. -- From Modern English Usage, H.W. Fowler, 1926.
This quote by Fowler is in Word Detective, by Evan Morris and in A Book About a Thousand Things, by George Stimpson. Both say that "rarebit" was probably a humorless adjustment by someone who just couldn't believe a dish without rabbit would be called Welsh Rabbit. They also agree that the name probably had something to do with the Welsh generally being too poor to afford rabbit and therefore enjoyed melted cheese on toast. Stimpson says the earliest record of "rarebit" is in 1785, and puts "rabbit" at a much earlier 1725. Finally, Stimpson writes that "toasted cheese and butter are alluded to as a favorite dish of the Welsh in Shakespeare's 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'".

Bobinwales, the recipe sounds great! Thanks, all, for answering my question and then some.

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by haro » Fri Jun 03, 2005 11:32 pm

Phil, I may add that 'Kauderwelsch' comes from 'Churerwelsch,' the Rhaeto-Romance language spoken in Chur, the capital of the Canton of the Grisons in south-eastern Switzerland, just about 25 miles from here. Rhaeto-Romance is a minority language in Switzerland (less than 1 % native speakers) yet one of its four national languages. It is spoken in some areas of north-eastern Italy too. It was pretty unintelligible to German tribes, hence 'Welsch.'

Walenstadt, the little town where I live, was 'Vualastade' in Middle High German, i.e. the 'Welsh shore' of the Walensee (= 'Welsh Lake'), because it belonged to the Rhaeto-Romance part of Switzerland in the Middle Ages, whereas the other end of the lake was part of the German / Allemannic speaking part of the country. Walenstadt and Chur now are in the German speaking part of Switzerland, i.e. not 'Welsch' any more, but most place names still are Rhaeto-Romance.

By the way, there also is a direct connection of the word 'walnut' to 'Welsh.' It seems that hasn't been mentioned yet.
Signature: Hans Joerg Rothenberger

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Sat Jun 04, 2005 9:14 am

The odds are high against "Owing Glendower" being the name given to the first of the above-mentioned bookie-runners.

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Bobinwales » Sat Jun 04, 2005 8:43 pm

Do you mean OWAIN GLYNDWR Edwin? It was a bloke called Shakespeare who spelled him Owen Glendower, and he had trouble spelling his own name as I recall!

Actually, we have a comedian here called Owen Money, which means that as a signature tune he can use “The best things in life are free. But you can keep them for the birds and the bees. I want money…”

One last thing on Taffy by the way. Our Patron Saint is indeed David, but like “Owen”, that is Anglicised, the good saint would have been called Dafydd, “ which makes the change to "Taffy" a little easier to understand. To make life a bit more complicated, the river that runs through Cardiff, the capital city, is the Taff, but just where that fits into the equation beats me.

What's this about walnuts Hans Joerg? You can't just drop that into the conversation and walk away.

I hereby promise that except to answer a direct question I will not say anything more about Wales! For a while...
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

welsh/welch on a bet

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Jun 04, 2005 8:59 pm

Bob, would I be right to infer that the female equivalent of Taffy would be 'Taffeta' (or 'Dafydda' in Welsh)?
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