This is the sixteenth 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.

‘But that’s just stupid... you must know who your father was!’ These words, fired from my indignant ten–year-old tongue exposed my mam-gu’s cywilydd mercilessly. To further advertise the depth of her discomfort, a crimson glow, like a Swansea Bay sunrise, crawled up her neck and across her face. Replaying the scene to myself now, I am tortured by that same writhing cywilydd as I reproach my youthful naïvety and crassness.

Cywilydd means shame and the word made its first appearance in written form as gewilid in the book of Aneirin in the 13th century. However, the sentiment, as the book of Genesis would have us believe, has been with us since the dawn of humanity. Curiously, from the somewhat schizoid perspective of my bilingual brain, the word cywilydd seems far more shameful than its English counterpart. It would appear that this is not necessarily a bizarre personal quirk. Research has shown that people who speak more than one language can find emotionally charged words and ideas more difficult or even painful to express in one language than another.

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