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Wales (wālz)
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A principality of the United Kingdom west of England on the island of Great Britain. Incorporated with England since the Act of Union (1536), Wales has maintained its own distinct culture and a strong nationalist sentiment. Cardiff is the capital and the largest city.

Word History: Although Celtic-speaking peoples were living in Britain long before the arrival of the invaders from Friesland and Jutland whose languages would eventually develop into English, it was the Celts and not the invaders who came to be called "strangers" in Old English. The English words for the descendants of one of these Celtic peoples, Welsh, and for their homeland, Wales, come from the Old English word wealh, meaning "foreigner, stranger, Celt." Its plural wealas is the direct ancestor of Wales, literally "foreigners, Celts." An Old English adjective derived from wealh, wælisc or welisc, is the source of our Welsh. The Germanic form for the root from which wealh descended was *walh-, "foreign." A form of *walh- can also be seen in a word attested once in the surviving manuscripts of Old English, the compound walhhnutu found in a document from around 1050. This word eventually became Middle English walnotte and Modern English walnut, which is thus literally the "foreign nut." The English walnut is native to Asia (and perhaps also to some parts of Eastern Europe), and the cultivation of the tree is a relatively new practice in Europe. The Roman author Pliny the Elder, for example, says that the ancient Greeks received their first walnut trees from the Persians. Eventually, the walnut came to be cultivated extensively in western Europe by the Romans and Gauls, and the ancient Germanic peoples knew walnuts primarily as a product of Roman Gaul and later medieval France. In the Germanic languages, the walnut eventually came to be named with words made up of the reflex of Germanic *walh-, "foreigner, Celt" added to the Germanic word for "nut,"as in Old Norse valhnot, Middle Dutch walnote, and Old English walhhnutu.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

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