Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Welsh secret weapons

With this year's World Cup taking place in the Land of the Long White Cloud, it would be a brave rugby fan who bets on anyone but the All Blacks to lift the Webb Ellis trophy.

Apart from having the home advantage, New Zealand's national team can rely on the haka. The power of this war dance to discompose opponents has long been noted, with the All Blacks occasionally being asked to perform it in the dressing room, such is the power of this display to persuade opponents that the outcome of the forthcoming match is a foregone conclusion.

What was slightly less impressive was the All Blacks' reaction to the Welsh team's decision to respond to the haka by standing their ground and staring the All Blacks down. Unfortunately the latter's petulant outburst, that the nasty boys in red weren't playing fair, didn't exactly match their fearsome reputation as rugby's hard men.

Still, the Welsh boys can relax; let the Kiwis do their little dance unopposed, for we have a weapon far more terrifying than a Maori dance. What can it be, this thing that strikes fear into foreigners from around the world? Yes - it's Welsh names!

When at university in South Africa, one of my acquaintances mentioned that her maternal grandmother hailed from somewhere in Wales. In response to my questions she admitted that not only was she unable to pronounce the place name, the terror of “all those consonants and no vowels” had led her to forget it entirely.

A few days later she brought in the offending name, written on a folded piece of paper. Obviously, like Voldemort, it was considered too terrifying to repeat in public. I opened the note and saw the full horror for myself: Aberdare.

What is it about Welsh that causes the brains of otherwise intelligent people to turn to mush?

A friend of mine recently visited Hay-on-Wye, not expecting that this small border town would contain quite so many Welsh signs, but seemed charmed rather than alarmed by the experience. He is very much in the minority.

Discussing the new series of Torchwood with another well-educated friend last week, she revealed that she didn't enjoy it as much as Doctor Who (another BBC Wales production) because of “all the Welsh names.”

There were actually only two main characters with Welsh names in Torchwood – the formidable Gwen Cooper and a character, killed off at the end of last season, called Ianto Jones. I think that most of us can cope with Gwen and Jones but in case, dear reader, you find the thought of saying “Ianto” about as appealing as diving headfirst into a pit full of vipers, here's a guide to pronounciation: yan-to. There! Not that difficult, is it? If you really want to sound authentically Welsh, shorten the second syllable so that it doesn't sound like “toe”.

Currently I'm planning my own Welsh drama series, following DC Llinos ap Iorwerth from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychllwyndrobwll-llantisiliogogogoch as she tries to solve the murder of Llanelli-based rugby player, Llelli Llewellyn, on the Froncysllte viaduct.

If that doesn't sort the men from the boys, I don't know what will.


  1. The only daunting aspect of Welsh is its written form IMO. Once you learn a words pronunciation it's not that bad - at least for me. However, this begs the question as to how the 'multi-consonant ridden' written form came to be. C'mon KJ - enlighten me....I don't feel like looking it up!

  2. By the way, folks, the bloke leaning on the Llanddewi Brefi sign is BBC Wales weatherman and housewives' favourite, Derek Brockway!