Meaning of 'damshgel' and other words/phrases in Babel by Ifan Morgan Jones

Another word in Ifan Morgan Jones’s ‘Babel’ that has me stumped: ‘damshgel’. Can’t find anything like it in the dictionaries and a google search just refers you back to this book. The sentence is ‘A finnau’n gofyn beth oedden nhw’n ei wneud yn damshgel ar bopeth o’u blaenau.’ (‘And I was asking what they were doing (something) on everything ahead of us’.

Nearly three-quarters of the way through now, so I suppose drawing a blank on only two words so far is not too bad going…

The best I can think of is that this is a colloquial spelling of “damsgel” / “tan gel”, both of which mean hidden / in concealment / concealed / in secret.
It would seem to fit the sentence - “what were they doing in secret on everything before us”

I’m by no means 100% sure, but it’s the closest I can find in the GPC.

Hi Davids. Damshgel means ‘treading on’ in this context. Also heard as ‘damscyn’ in the south-west. Looking back at final drafts of the novel it was still ‘treading on’ until my final word doc version so ‘damshgel’ might well have been added by one of the linguistic editors (I’m from north Wales so they know more south Wales dialect than I do!).

Thanks for reading the novel and taking such an interest! Best, Ifan


Given that information, if you try looking for damscyn in the electronic GPC it still doesn’t have it, but suggests damsgen, which then redirects you to damsang, damsangu with the meaning ‘tread’ or ‘trample’ - so that’s the dictionary’s chosen form, and little wonder you couldn’t easily get from one to the other!

Thanks for the explanation, Ifan. Really loving the book. Just got to the bit where Sara has to choose which sick child to save. Call me an old softy, but I am having to swallow hard. ‘Dadeni’ is next on my reading list.


I stand corrected! Great to have the man himself here to answer!


I loved Dadeni - absolutely devoured it - and have Babel on its way to me as soon as Palas Print get it back in stock, so I’m doing it the opposite way round.


@Davids - I’ve been reading your thread(s) with interest as my copy of ‘Babel’ arrived from Palas Print this week (sorry, Richard!) and it’s great to have the answers in advance of reading it…and as Siaron says, from the man himself! Thanks, Ifan :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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Came across this sentence in Ifan Morgan Jones’s ‘Babel’.

‘Wedyn yn chwarae mwgwd yr ieir, ystôl gadno, tynnu cwtws, pyncio, brathu afalau crog’.

The context is games that are or used to be played at Christmas. ‘Mwgwd yr ieir’ = blind man’s buff, ‘tynnu cwtws’ seems to mean drawing lots, but I suspect there’s more to it than that, ‘pyncio’ could be singing or reciting poetry and ‘brathu afalau crog’ = ‘bite hanging apples’, presumably like apple-bobbing but with the apple on a string rather than in water. But I am stumped by ‘ystôl gadno’, which I can’t find in any dictionary: literal meaning seems to be fox chair, could this be something like ‘musical chairs’? Thanks in advance for any enlightenment.

The book is a really good read by the way.

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I found this reference -
“Fox stool” - a board game where the “stôl” was carved out generally on the back of a bellows or any flat piece of board. The playing area is in the form of a cross.

But that’s all there is - maybe it was a kind of Ludo type game?


I asked Ifan Morgan Jones about this on Twitter, and he can’t remember mentioning it, or find it in his final draft - so he asked what page it’s on. I’ve ordered the book, but not read it yet - so help me out here!
“Rhaid cyfaddef fod hyn wedi fy nrysu i’n llwyr… dw i ddim yn cofio trafod ystôl cadno yn y nofel a methu dod o hyd iddi yn y drafft terfynol! Ar ba dudalen mae o?”

OK - further reply received, but not much help, I’m afraid!
Oh, I remember now! I think I had read an article from the 19th century about Christmas, and there were lots of games they used to play that got mentioned. I included a few I liked the names of… TBH I’ve got no idea what the rules of mwgwd yr ieir or ystôl y gadno are - maybe there’s no-one alive now who does - but I liked the names! When the pandemic is over I’ll go back and have another look at the article and see if there’s any hint as to the rules…

"Ah cofio rwan! Dw i’n credu mai wedi darllen erthygl o’r 19eg ganrif am y Nadolig oeddwn i ac roedd llawer o gemau oedden nhw’n eu chwarae yn cael eu crybwyll. Mi wnes i gynnwys ambell i un oeddwn i’n hoffi eu henwau nhw nhw fel mwgwd yr ieir ac ystôl gadno.
"A bod yn onest does gen i ddim syniad beth yw rheolau mwgwd yr ieir ac ystôl gadno - efallai nad oes neb yn fyw sydd erbyn hyn - ond mi’r oeddwn i’n hoffi’r enwau!
“Pan mae’r pandemig ar ben fe af i nôl i edrych ar yr erthygl i weld a oedd ryw awgrym o’r rheolau…”

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OK, thanks Richard and Siaron. For reference, I’m reading the book on Kindle and the sentence in question comes on the page that has ‘location 3708 of 7326’, or just over halfway through the book. Same page has a reference to the children being pleasantly terrified at Christmas by stories about ‘gwrach y rhibyn’ (‘a phantom or apparition which in bygone days was popularly imagined to assume the guise of a loathsome hag with huge teeth and hair several yards long’) and ‘cŵn Annwn’ (the hounds of the underworld, which appear in the Mabinogion). Ah, they made their own entertainment back then…

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Hi @Davids! :slight_smile:

I’ve merged both your threads about Babel in to one, to make it easier for others wanting to discuss the book and it’s vocabulary, to find all relevant information in one place. Hope this is OK with you and I’m super pleased that you have reached the stage where you are able to enjoy reading in Welsh as much as you do. Llongyfarchiadau! :slight_smile:

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It appears as a footnote in one of the Tribannau Morgannwg:

Ma Bedffwrd Gymro digri
A i gyfall Ffil y joci
Yn hela oria trist ÿw’r gair
I hwara iair a’r cendi
Iair a’r cendi = ystôl gadno

So maybe see if you can find information on “Iair a’r cendi”?

Thank you, Deborah. I can’t find anything about ‘iair a’r cendi’, so this is pure guesswork on my part, but for what it’s worth here are my thoughts on the matter.

‘Iair’ probably = ‘ieir’, hens. ‘Cendi’ is probably a plural form of ‘cadno’, fox. So, ‘hens and the foxes’. Now there is a board game called ‘fox and geese’, once popular throughout the British Isles (see, so perhaps it is related to that. Or it could be nothing to do with the board game: it could, for example, be a game where a boy is chosen as the fox and has to chase the girls. That’s all I have to offer, I’m afraid!

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‘I’ve merged both your threads about Babel in to one’. Good idea, Catrin, thank you. It may be worth mentioning to other prospective readers that there are quite a few other non-dictionary spellings in the book, but most are easily deducible from context e.g. it doesn’t take much to work out that ‘llêth’ = ‘llaeth’ (milk), and, with a little more effort, that ‘’ala’ is probably a form of ‘hela’ (to send). What a learner like me doesn’t know, of course, is what that spelling or form is meant to convey about the speaker, in terms of regional dialect or a class-denoting register. But I think that there is no easy way for a learner to acquire that level of reading sophistication other than by a lot of exposure to different sources, so it’s probably best not to get too hung up on such points, just carry on soaking things up and hoping that some kind of linguistic osmosis eventually takes place, of the same kind that, for example, tells the English reader immediately whether speakers in an English book are meant to be posh or a bit down-market, and whether they hail e.g. from Scotland or the East End. I imagine this is going to take a long time; would be interested to hear of other learners’ experiences in this regard.

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I’m not sure that such a level of understanding can be achieved through reading alone. Having lived in Belgium and Spain for many years, I am able to distinguish the various forms of Dutch and Spanish when used in writing, so that I can recognize class and origin, for example, but I am sure that that is because I have lived intimately with both languages (moreso with Dutch). I speak French, too, but have not lived with the language, so that “deep understanding” is missing.

Going back to damshgel and the GPC, I just spent an interesting few minutes checking out the sengi/sangaf part of the origin. As well as tread -on/under, it seems also to mean to press or insert, including to insert (a word or phrase) in parethesis.

I’d agree with that. I’d also add that a lot of the English ‘coding’ is English/UK specific IMO. I know American friends wouldn’t necessarily pick up on a lot of the signals, in the same way as I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on USA-specific indicators of the same kind.