by Mihangel Morgan
This is the thirtieth 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.
I cannot imagine how I would have got through life without the word ‘ych‐a‐fi’ (pronounced, in case some may never have heard it, ‘uch-a-vee’). I may be accused of cheating by using the hyphens or told that it is really three words, but I will go ahead and treat it as one word anyway. If you consult Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (The University of Wales Dictionary) you will be directed to ‘ach’ which is defined as an exclamation expressing disgust and revulsion, ‘yuck, ugh’; alternative spellings are given as ‘och’ and ‘ych’. The earliest example of ‘ach’ is J. Owen 1732-3 ‘Ond beth a ydyw efe ... i’w ddodi cyn belled o flaen a thu hwnt i bawb o’r Gweinidogion eraill ... Ach rhag Cywilydd!’ (‘But what is he ... to be put so far in front and beyond the other Ministers ... Ach for Shame!’ [my translation].) The dictionary then gives ‘ach’ as spoken, ‘interjection implying disgust Ach (y) boch chi!’ From this, I suppose, ych‐a‐fi developed. The date of 1732 is rather late, but if ‘och’ (‘woe!’, ‘alas!’, ‘O!’) is a precursor then that dates back to the writings of Giraldus Cambrensis, and there is an example from Llywarch Hen which takes it right back to some of the earliest Welsh texts which originated in the seventh century. But the dictionary is not very helpful. I have never heard anyone say ‘och’ or ‘ach’, which I take to be rather old-fashioned literary forms, and ‘ych’ alone is not the same as ‘ych‐a‐fi’ since the thing has to be said all together as one word to give it the meaning/s and moreover the feeling/s it embodies; separated, the parts, when each is explained and defined in turn, do not make much sense; ‘ugh and me’? No, it has to be said all together, as a single unit, a single word, three syllables conjoined – ych‐a‐fi.Sign in to read more