The placename 'bugarth' or 'bugardie' in Shetland has be confused.

Normally for Shetland placenames I turn to Jakobsen who gives: bu stock of cattle on a farm from [Old Norse] ; and gart an enclosed, uncultivated patch of land from [Old Norse] garðr an enclosure.

However, James Brittonic Language in the Old North suggests this could come from the [Early Celtic] *bou-cc-ā-garto- A cattle-yard, an enclosure, pen or fold for livestock.

Could these two words:

  • stem from the same PIE root, and survived relatively unskathed
  • have been borrowed one from the other, making one or both of the etymologies dubious
  • have been borrowed from a non-IE language (perhaps in Shetland or other point of contact) into both Early Celtic and Old Norse

Or is there another explanation of how these two similar sounding words can have such similar meanings with apparently vastly different origins?

  • -gard and varaints feature prominently in Norse place names. I cannot say the same about Celtic, but I don't know any Celtic, anyway. // I know the German family name Baumgard, with Baum "tree". There's bu- in German coastal placenames where it apparently relates to beech, MHG Buche, see the quoted text over at german.SE/Woher kommt das Wort Eitz (well it's with umlaut, Bötz, Bütz, but let's not be picky).
    – vectory
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


Could these two words:

  • stem from the same PIE root, and survived relatively unskathed
  • have been borrowed one from the other, making one or both of the etymologies dubious
  • have been borrowed from a non-IE language (perhaps in Shetland or other point of contact) into both Early Celtic and Old Norse

Yes indeed! All three are plausible on the surface (as in, all three of these things happened for various words in various languages); in this specific instance, I think it's a mixture of the second plus a healthy dose of coincidence.

The PIE root for "cow" is reconstructed as *gʷṓws; in various languages, including P-Celtic, P-Italic, and some varieties of Greek, *gʷ becomes /b/. This is why we see Latin bōs (*), Old Irish , Ancient Greek boûs, and so on. This is the first part of the proposed Celtic origin.

But this shift (the "Q-to-P shift") did not happen in Germanic, which is why we see the English word "cow" from the same root, with a /k/. Instead, Germanic had a presumably unrelated root *būą "building", which gives Old Norse and all its descendants. This is the first part of the proposed Germanic origin.

Meanwhile, Germanic also had a root *gardô (and/or *gardaz), "fence, enclosure, yard". This is the origin of English "yard" and "garden", via two different paths, and became enormously popular in Romance, completely displacing native Latin words like hortus. So it was clearly a popular word in Germanic, and it's not much of a stretch to imagine it being borrowed into Celtic languages too. This seems to be the last part of both reconstructions.

As for which one is correct—I'm afraid I don't know enough to say. It's not inconceivable that both the Celtic root for "cow" and the Germanic root for "building" influenced the name of the location, but it would require someone more familiar with the history of Britain to say for sure.

(*) Latin is not in fact a P-Italic language, but it has lots of loans from Oscan and Umbrian, which were. The word for "cow" seems to be one of them.

  • Cow is derived from the observation of the animal chewing (kauen in German). While German bauen (to build) comes from IE like Hindi भू (bhoo) for land/earth/soil. Farmer (Bauer in German) shows the profession and the oxen (bu) helped him work the land and ‘anbauen’ (grow) vegetables.
    – Ajagar
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 22:04
  • Bhoo (land) compared to B-hawa means ‘by sky’ which should be interpreted as વધારો (Vadhārō) meaning ‘raise’ (like feather and father) and this shows the act (by sky) of growing seeds. Feather in context of birds and father in context of births. Birds and births? Both related to breath. There is parallel use of the same roots to show mnemonics in metaphoric use of meanings that can be captured in slightly different but still recognizable groups of consonants within words that have a common origin that aurpases any written evidence we know.
    – Ajagar
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 22:59
  • I can confirm that "Wieder-Käuer" denotes bovines. This is however not enough to reconstruct an original sense and might a secondary development or even a reinterpretation from a non-PIE borrowing. While it rings true with me that "parallel use" can escape observation or show a deeper meaning, the existence of word play makes it very suspect to missinterpretation.
    – vectory
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 22:12
  • @vectory You say ‘Wieder-Kaüer’. Wieder (return/turn/again) is cognate with the Widder not in meaning but in description where Widder describes the form of its horns. Wetter is a similar cognate not in meaning but in description of the returning time (weather is temps in French which also means time). Weather tells us the seasons return. As such a root can be found in different meanings. The last syllables (-der/-ther) show the verb ‘dreh’ (turn)
    – Ajagar
    Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 20:45
  • Wi- Wea- and Wie- (first syllables) are also found in ‘woman’ and ‘west’. They are antonyms of man and east and show a rudimentary meaning of ‘opposite’. To turn in these three words is described as ‘opposite turn’ ‘w-dreh’.
    – Ajagar
    Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 20:48

The Celts and the Norwegians were not the first peoples to have ox gardens so both are cognates and the name is a compound of the phonemes that appear in both languages. The phonemes in the name represent two words meaning ‘bovine garden’ and this gives two etymologies to pursue. You could investigate the oldest maps of Shetland and see what spelling is used. I assume the spelling that is closest to either gives you the people who named it Bugarth. Probably Old Norse. There is a Dutch surname called Boogerd. The two phoneme groups Bu and Garth are quite universal in Europe for bovine garden as French ‘bouef cour’ shows.

  • 3
    Can you explain the putative IE roots and how the known fact of sound changes into Norse and Celtic is consistent with the proposed development?
    – user6726
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 21:17
  • That is a lot of questions in one line. For the first part of the question if you wish to look into the IE direction we can decompound words like garden and create to करो हाथों (karo haathon) from a meaning ‘to do/act (by) the hand(s)’. This ‘acting hand’ description is literally compounded in ‘create’ but is in extension used in the word garden, which is in the context of the ‘acting hand’ in earth. I’d like to mention ‘karate’ (the act of the hand I. Sports) and ‘guard’ (the act of the hand in protection). Do you wish for an analyses of ‘kr’ into words based on ‘k’ and ‘r’ and their meanings
    – Ajagar
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 21:44
  • Maybe you should turn your question into a question on SE?
    – Ajagar
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 21:50
  • Gujarati has બીજ કરે તે Bīja karē tē. उगना (ugana) meaning ‘to grow’ is cognate with Hebrew גַן (gn) meaning ‘garden’. અધિનિયમ (land) and germinate show a relation with કાર્ય જમીન હાથ (Kārya jamīna hātha) which means work land hand.
    – Ajagar
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 22:42
  • 2
    Karate has a well-established etymology in Japanese: kara 'air, 'empty', te 'hand'.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 22:56

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