This is the fifteenth 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.

Cymdeithasiaeth, the Welsh word for Socialism, is almost as elusive as the Co-operative Commonwealth that generations of socialists have dreamt of creating. Its English equivalent, broadly denoting an anti-capitalist ideology based around the common ownership of land and property, emerged in the early 19th century. A response to the increasingly intense exploitation of man by man under industrialisation, the word became associated in Britain with the communitarian ideas of Robert Owen. It wasn’t until the last decades of the 19th century, though, that a Welsh word was created to describe what was by then an increasingly influential ideology. Even then cymdeithasiaeth struggled to find general usage in the Welsh language. Despite the efforts of propagandists to popularise the term in the 1890s and early 1900s, by the time Socialism had become a true power in the world its Welsh-speaking advocates and detractors alike most often used the imported term sosialaeth.

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