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Week eighteen: BRIMING (probability 23132), by David Sutton

BRIMING is an old Cornish word that means 'phosphorescence of the sea', which is a phenomenon observed at night as a result of the bioluminescence of organisms in the surface layers of the sea.

It's one of the those words that can trip up the unwary because it looks so like the participle of a verb. But there is no BRIME*. Other such words that spring to mind are CISSING, FRICKING, GANGLING, GROZING, MARAGING, PREHIRING, ROBORATING and UPTITLING — there is no CISS*, FRICK*, GANGLE*, GROZE*, MARAGE*, PREHIRE*, ROBORATE* or UPTITLE*. And while I don't suppose it is likely that anyone would try to derive a verb NONCLE* from NONCLING, stranger things have happened over the Scrabble board.

To return to BRIMING, this is one of the very few words that we owe to the old Cornish language, that became extinct in the late 18th century, though modern efforts have been made to revive it. This belonged to the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages, and as such is most closely allied to Welsh and Breton, especially the latter, because there was much migration from southwestern Britain to Brittany in the Early Middle Ages, under the pressure of the Saxon advance. Indeed, a Cornish sailor who found himself in Brittany in 1742 was surprised to find that he could make himself understood in his native language.

Other words that we owe to Cornish mostly relate to those traditional Cornish occupations, mining and fishing. Thus from mining we have ELVAN, a kind of quartz rock, deriving from Cornish elven, spark, KILLAS, a clay-slate, VUG (or VUGG or VUGH), a cavity in a rock lined with crystals, GOSSAN (or GOZZAN), a kind of decomposed rock, MUNDIC, a name for iron pyrites, and WHEAL, a mine. Fishing gives us WRASSE, MORGAY, SCAD and PORBEAGLE, all names for local fish. (Quickly now, what's the anagram of PORBEAGLE?).

Finally, look out next year for FOGOU (currently FOGOU*) making an overdue appearance in our list: this is a long-established word for a man-made underground passage or chamber found in Cornwall (rather like a WEEM, which derives from the Gaelic uaim).

   













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