This is some notes on whether linguistically "Cruithne" could be the Gaelic form of "Pict" as is usually asserted. The answer is that this is very unlikely and so I explore what could be the various meanings of the words in the possible languages around at the time of the Picts (300AD to ~750AD)

Like most things "Celtic", the Cruithne do not stand up to scrutiny. We've no evidence at all of what the Picts called themselves only and accounts in Latin, Old English and Welsh (?). Cruithne comes from Irish texts mentioning a group called the 'Cruithne' who are clearly located in Ireland. Some scholar at some time asserted this was the Irish for "Pict". Unfortunately, this is not true. There are some instances where Cruithne appears to have been used to mean "Pict" but there are others where Cruithne does not mean Pict.

However, as in all things Celtic, give them a mm and they will go a mile. So this tentative translation of Cruithne as Pict, has now expanded to a whole industry allowing a lot of people to talk nonsense about the "Picts" by the usual formula of "find text mentioning "Cruithne", now rewrite Cruithne with "Pict" and then elaborate and elaborate and then state with absolute certainty the most tenuous suggestion.

The truth is that what we actually know about the Picts for certain can be written in a few lines:

  • St.Ninnian preached to the southern Picts
  • They are first recorded in 297AD
  • The Picts and Scots harried the Northern Wall
  • According to Bede the end of the Antonine wall "starts almost two miles west of the monastery at Aebbercurnig in the place which the Picts call Peanfahel, while in English it is called Penneltun.” This is assumed to be Kinneil. Pen is a common welsh geographic location which is usually taken to mean the Picts were Welsh-speakers.
  • We have a list of Pictish Kings written by a Gaelic scribe which merge into later Gaelic Kings.
  • + a few odd battles and other single sentences in e.g. the Anglo Saxon Chronicles

In addition we have some quite unsubstantiated assertions:

  • "Pit-" prefix place names - presumably originally identified as "Pictish" because it was translated as Old English Peohtas (picts). But when Old English fell out of favour, the idea of them being "Pictish" remained without any basis.
  • "Pictish" stones - identified as "Pictish" because they are predominantly in the area with "Pit-" prefix names
    And ... Cruithne - a group in Ireland falsely translated as "Pict". In truth, this must refer to an Irish group, but also appears to have been used of the "Picts"
    (this needs checking - but perhaps in another article).

So can we equate the Picts with the Cruithne linguistically?

Looking at "Pict" in Old English (some written when there were Picts) we find forms such as:

Pehta, Pihtas, Pyhtas, Peohtas.

In Welsh it appears as

Fichti (source: wikipedia with no citation)

Converting "Peoht" to Gaelic we find that both Old Irish and Old English have "P" so it would likely be written "P" or less commonly as "B". This implies Peoht would be written something like: "*Pit" or "*Bit" in Gaelic. So no sign at all of the required "CR-"!

If Peoht does not convert to Cruith, would Gaelic Cruith- translate to Old English Peoht? Looking at the phonetics it would appear that "Cruith" would be written something like: CRUÞAS, CROÞAS or CRAÞAS (said: Cruthas) in Old English. Again, Old English has most of the right phonetics so that it would translate pretty easily.

Fortunately, the McBain Dictionary gives many Old English and Welsh equivalents of Gaelic words, so checking the Gaelic dictionary to find "CR-" words with Old English equivalents we have:

cròm (bent) = crumb (crooked),
cronaich (rebuke) = OE hréam (a din)
cruach(a pile) = OE hreác (rick)
crog (an earthan vessel) = OE crocca (crock)
crith (shake) = OE hrið (fever), hrisian (to shake)
criathar (sieve) = OE hridder, hriddel (riddle)
creubh, cre (the body) = OE hrif (belly, womb)
Creathall (cradle) = OE cradel (cradle)
Creamh (garlic) = OE Hramse (onion)
Croit (Croft) = OE Croft (a small enclosed field)

This confirms that CR in Old English is often CR in Gaelic, but it also suggests an equivalence of CR (gaelic) ↔ HR (OE). This suggests an alternative spelling of "*Cruith" as hriðas which would translates as either:

hrið (fever) or
hriðer (cattle).

Do either of these have an equivalent meaning in Irish?What is "Cruith" in Irish? Looking for similar words with the final "th" we find:-

cruit (a harp, so Irish, Old Irish crot, Welsh crwth,)
cruithneachd, cruineachd (wheat, Irish cruithneachd, Old Irish cruithnecht: presumed root = kert, ker, cut so that which is cut)
crith (shake, quiver, Irish, Early Irish crith, Old Welsh crit Anglo-Saxon hriða)
critheann, critheach (the aspen tree - from crith).
croit (a hump, hillock, Irish croit, Welsh crwth, a hunch, harp, croth)
croit (a croft; from the English croft)

Again two senses come out

... to pluck, scythe, shake, quiver
... farming

The Cruithne are starting to look like a group of farmers harvesting wheat!!!

Checking welsh for words starting CR- to find equivalents in Gaelic, we find:

creuchd (wound) = Welsh craith
cruit (a harp) = Welsh crwth
+ 34 others where both start with 'CR'

However in addition we have 4 others worth picking out:

cruth (form, figure) Old Irish cruth = Welsh pryd,
cruimh (a worm) Old Irish cruinn = Welsh, Cornish pryf
crann (tree, a plough) Old Irish crann = Welsh and Breton prenn
crè (clay) Old Irish cré = Welsh pridd, Cornish, Breton pry

Here we see CR (Gaelic) ↔ PR (Welsh). This suggests "Pryd-" might be the welsh equivalent of "Cruith-". This however is nothing like the Fichti written in Welsh! So, how does "Pryd" transalate? pryd:

meal n.m. (prydau)
time n.m. (prydiau)
form n.m.
season n.m. (prydiau)
aspect n.m.
complexion n.m.
while adv.
when adv. since adv.

The non-adverbs appear to me to have a meaning of a quantity and don't seem to have any connection at all with the Irish words. It looks like a chance similarity!

But Pryd is an important word, because it is part of the argument intended to show that "Britain" is "Celtic". Here the argument goes:-

In Irish the Picts were called "Cruithne" (a bogus assertion).
Phonetically this is "Pryd in welsh" [but they don't say what it means because the translation doesn't help]
They then suggest that p → B, D → T (even though neither is necessary) and that this becomes "Bryt-".

Hence the rather ridiculous translation of "Britain" using the nonsense Welsh to get:

Britain from *Pritani = "People of the Forms" (cf. Welsh Prydain "Britain", pryd "appearance, form, image, resemblance", Cornish Breten)

A more accurate "translation" would be *Pritani = "the meals", "the times", "the seasons", "the aspects" ... in other words the idea Pritani is a name for a group of people is a load of codswallop.

In contrast, if we look at Old English we find:

Breotan, brytan (to bruise i.e. 'brute', 'brutal')
Bretta, Brttnere, bryta (A steward, lord)
Brittian (to dispense)
Brot (a fragment from breotan to break)
Bryd ('bride' one owned or purchased)
Bryidan (to take)
brytian (to profit)
brytnian (to dispense, distribute)

There are plenty of ways these words could be applied to a group name of some people. We clearly have the sense of "owners", "Lords" or to lesser extent those who take, profit or marry. These are all very good words from which a people might choose their name. Like so many other group names, it might refer to an elite who came in and took over as "the Lords". These people were then referred to as "the Lords", and then this gradually became synonymous with the people rather than the elite. Or perhaps it just meant "the owners" of the land.


Thanks to Arthur for his question inspiring this.