Lord Morris cites folk etymology in specious ‘welching’ complaint

Dragon at Henllys, July 2008, Harvey Jones

Youngsters will be aware there is quite an industry in going out of your way to be offended, guaranteeing media coverage and sympathy from the flimsier thinkers in the commentariat.

What is rarer is when the elderly get in on the act, a fact that would make the intervention of Aberavon baron John Morris in a recent Westminster debate baffling were it not that is resurrected an old grievance of his Welsh homeland.

The dispute began during a speech by Susan Williams, baroness of Trafford and parliamentary undersecretary of state for local government, who accused rogue landlords of “welching” on their obligations in a debate about the private renting of houses.

At this Morris jumped up. “If I heard the term correctly, the minister used the inappropriate term welching,” he said. “Would she define it please?”

As the former Welsh secretary and former MP for Aberavon undoubtedly knows, the term “welch” or “welsh” is synonymous with renege, though less French sounding. As the Oxford English Dictionary has it, it is particularly associated with dodging payments owed in a bet, but is more widely used to describe any dereliction of duty.

Morris clearly believes that it derives from an uncharitable stereotype of the Welsh, a view both popular, intuitive and widely cited on the Internet. But there is no official source to back it up, and as such it is more folk etymology than established fact.

The non-complaint matches one three years ago from teachers’ favourite and current justice secretary Michael Gove, who told the Commons that he had “welshed” on a visit to Staffordshire. Luckily for Gove he came armed with the “some of my best friends are Welsh” argument, commenting that his wife Sarah Vine, now a columnist for the Mail, is from the country.

Header Image – Dragon at Henllys, July 2008 by Harvey Jones

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