When my partner and I started living together, he asked me a very earnest question: “You say ‘cootch’ a lot - what does it mean?"
I explained what the word meant, but the question left me dumbfounded. A cwtch! How on earth does someone not know what a cwtch is?!
Didn’t everyone grow up with their mum tucking them in at night as a child and asking, ‘are you nice and cwtchy?’ When you fall over and scrape your knee as a kid, doesn’t every mum say ‘come here and give me a cwtch’ to make you feel better? Well, apparently not, which was astounding news to me.
There’s no direct English translation for cwtch. A cwtch is sort of like a hug, but so much more. It is being comforted in a way that makes you feel extraordinarily, undeniably safe, like nothing bad could ever happen to you. When someone gives you a cwtch, you feel loved and secure and wholly shielded. You feel a cwtch down to your bones, in the very depths of your soul. You feel a hug physically, but you feel a cwtch mentally, emotionally, with every fibre of your being and essence.
When someone gives you a cwtch, you feel loved and secure and wholly shielded.
A cwtch solved everything in my family. An enormous, all-encompassing moment of love and togetherness. A way of passing our strength to one another, particularly when someone didn’t feel particularly strong.
I had never before considered that not everyone had experienced a cwtch. It was in that moment that I realised that cwtch was my grandmother and my mother’s Welsh heritage being passed down to me. It might sound silly, but I hadn’t even really realised that cwtch was a Welsh word - I honestly thought it was in every English-speaking person’s lexicon.
I’ve since realised that my Gran, who grew up in Maesteg, a small town east of Swansea in South Wales, uses a lot of Welsh phrases in her day-to-day speech. When looking back at when my cousins and I were young, she’ll always say, ‘when you were a little doot’ — I now know she was actually saying the Welsh word ‘dwt’. At Christmas, the random spit-in-the-back-of-throat phrase Gran would always greet people with was ‘nadolig llawen’ (pronounced nah-doh-lich lah-wen, with the classic Welsh phlegm-y sound happening on the double-L). She even throws out the occasional ‘bore da’, which is the Welsh for ‘good morning’.
As silly as it might sound, I didn’t take much notice of the Welsh language surrounding me because it was just always there. But I’m glad I finally realised, because it was an enormous moment of cognisance: these precious words are a part of my history, culture, heritage and family.
The Welsh language is something of enormous beauty, but the rates of it being spoken are dropping dramatically - it’s estimated only 11 per cent of people living in Wales can speak the language fluently.
The Welsh language is something of enormous beauty, but the rates of it being spoken are dropping dramatically - it’s estimated only 11 per cent of people living in Wales can speak the language fluently. I don’t want the words passed down to me to die with me. I want my future children to be surrounded by these words like I was. I’m now making a determined effort to learn more Welsh.
This simple, innocent question from my partner has helped me acknowledge my Welshness and my connection to Wales. This connection is extremely strong, and yet I never realised it existed until 'cwtch' was questioned.
My mum and gran passed cwtch down to me, and I one day will pass the beauty of a cwtch down to my kids. So they too will feel safe and loved, and connected to their Welsh identity.
My Gran always says that Australia is her home because it’s where her family is, but her soul will always be in Wales. I think acknowledging my adoration of the word cwtch helped me learn that, in a way, mine is too. Cymru am byth! (Wales forever!)