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Welsh Keywords: Cyfraith ('Law')

From Planet 215

Catrin Fflur Huws writes the twelfth contribution to our Welsh Keywords series – inspired by Raymond Williams’ Keywords – which offers contemporary perspectives on contested meanings of words in Welsh and how these shifting meanings continue to shape our society.

It was 1997. Hong Kong was handed back to China. The Labour Government won a landslide majority while D:Ream reminded us that Things Could Only Get Better. The Princess of Wales died in a Paris underpass. The Welsh were asked ‘Do you agree that there should be a Welsh Assembly as proposed by the Government?’ The Welsh said yes. On September 19th, Ejusdem Generis, the librarian, who believed, as his name suggested, that a word is known by the company it keeps, took an old word out of its box, and wiped the dust off it. The word was tangled in some very old wrapping: Hywel Dda and the Statute of Rhuddlan and the Laws in Wales Acts. Ejusdem Generis folded the wrappings and kept them safe. They were important, but they were mired in too much dust. Ejusdem Generis then fetched a cloth and wiped the word down. Some of the wrapping still clung to it. Ejusdem Generis did not mind. It might even help. Ejusdem Generis then held the word up to the light and examined it. It was called ‘Cyfraith’.

‘So what is it?’ said the Welsh, assembling for the first time.

‘Well it’s Law – obviously,’ said the Mother of Parliaments. ‘It looks like Law.’

The Welsh agreed. Cyfraith did indeed look like Law. It had the same sort of names as Law. Acts and Regulations and Orders. Cyfraith had to have Royal Assent just like Law. Cyfraith could be made by a legislature and it could be interpreted in the courts just like Law. Like Law, it could tell people what to do and what not to do. It fitted in with ideas such as jurisdiction and authority just like Law, so it seemed that Cyfraith was just like Law, and indeed, if you just looked at them, you could easily think that one was the other. The Mother of Parliaments sat back in her rocking chair and sipped her tea. Nothing had changed. Nothing had changed…



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