According to the Wiki page the Gaelic name for the Scottish Lowlands can be translated as, "the place of the foreigner". I'm wondering which foreigners they are referring to. Also, if this actually refers to Celts then who are the native people that created this name?

BTW, if you have a good answer you may want to add to the Wiki page so that others may find this information easier.


2 Answers 2


The word 'Galldachd' for the lowlands arises from the Old Irish 'gall' for 'foreigner' which came in turn from the Latin word 'gallus' for a Gaul. http://www.wordsense.eu/Gall/#Old_Irish.

The Gaels called (indeed call) their linguistically and culturally Gaelic part of Scotland the Gàidhealtachd, usually translated as 'Gaeldom'. This cultural way of viewing the world gives a hint to what the Gaels meant when they said 'foreigners' ... they basically meant 'land of the non Gaels'. 'Foreigners' was not meant necessarily as any sort of denigration - it was just a simple statement of cultural and linguistic fact.

The Irish word 'galldacht' has a closely related sense (although not identical) of the English, English speakers and the region of the Irish Pale, and therefore 'Galldachd' also had or came to have a sense of 'a region that is culturally English' - again meant as a simple reflection of the shared language and culture of lowland Scotland and England at that time, and not as any kind of denigration or diminution of Scottishness.

In the years when these terms developed, there was no nation of Scotland, and Gaelic Scotland had little in common with the part of modern Scotland where people spoke the precursor dialects of Middle Scots. Even after the political entity of Scotland came into existence, the highlands and islands remained strongly distinct, and weakly controlled by the lowland Scots monarchy. A long tradition of antipathy between the two cultural regions meant that there would have been little motivation to ever stop calling the lowlands by a word that tended to underline the separation between the peoples.

  • I do admit here that I'm being vague with the phrase "In the years when these terms developed" - because I don't exactly know when that was, but I am presuming somewhere around the 1000-1100 mark. Someone with access to a better dictionary than me could fill in the gap.
    – fred2
    Dec 17, 2014 at 17:29
  • I've got issues with the etymology presented in that link. For one thing, it seems to be implying that the Celtic languages are derived from Latin, which is just way wrong (people used to think they were closely related within Western Indo-European, but that theory is out of favor now). Secondly, I can't find anyone else saying that. I'd really like to see their work on that one.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 17, 2014 at 23:25
  • No it's not suggesting Gaelic is derived from Latin, however Gaelic, like most languages that came into contact with the Romans and the Romance languages that arose from it, and the broader world in which Latin was a lingua franca, does have a lot of Latin loan words, or words of Latin origin. Be all of that as it may, a better dictionary isn't really the issue here. 'Galldachd' as a word for lowlanders/the English/foreigners in different parts of the "Celtic" world exists in Old Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx ... therefore clearly it does not arise from a hypothetical Pictish placename ...
    – fred2
    Dec 18, 2014 at 3:54
  • ... used in the lowlands of Scotland, and that would make no sense to the Irish-speakers who used the same word to describe the English in a completely different part of the world.
    – fred2
    Dec 18, 2014 at 3:56
  • A quick Google does suggest the 'Gaul' etymology is widely accepted through a variety of Gaelic dictionaries, but it's not actually the determining point here. ceantar.org/Dicts/MB2/mb20.html
    – fred2
    Dec 18, 2014 at 4:05

Well, the obvious conclusion would be that this is a reference to the historical fact that the lowlands tended to have a lot more non-Gaelic speakers living in them.

Of course, place names can be tricky, so it isn't always wise to go with the obvious. They tend to be very "conservative", in that they can be the oldest words in use in a language, or even predate the language itself. Often times new settlers in an area will borrow an existing place name from the existing residents, and then bash it into some kind of slightly different form that is easier for them to pronounce, or has some plausible local meaning. So, in the absence of any evidence to its origins, it would be quite possible for it to have been an old Pictish word that the Gaels(Scotts) took up when they took over the highlands sometime around the 10th century, and then slightly transformed so that it actually meant something in Gaelic.

  • Are you saying that this area was a 'port of call' for foreign visitors? The way New York has long been the most common place for people to arrive in the US.
    – krowe
    Feb 4, 2014 at 3:19
  • @krowe No, that's not what he is saying at all. Feb 4, 2014 at 8:31
  • @krowe - Hopefully the link I added clarifies the point.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 5, 2014 at 23:40
  • 1
    It's not a Pictish word. The Etymology of Galldachd is via Old Irish 'gall' which derives from Latin 'gallus'.
    – fred2
    Dec 17, 2014 at 17:22
  • fred2 - Do you have better backup than that one link? Frankly, I don't buy it. Pictish is very closely related to Old Irish, and Roman is not. A word that clearly was in Old Celtic could easily have been in Pictish as well, and it would be really tough to tell which it came from first (or even if if came from a common ancestor) at this remove.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 17, 2014 at 23:30

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