This was a question I should really have anticipated, but it took me by surprise. I had just talked to a packed marquee at the 2018 Hay Festival about why dialects of English are of such enduring interest to the language’s speakers. 

“Cwtch,” I lied.

As a south Walian living in south Wales, I am approaching the point where I will have had a gutful of the word. The Welsh-English term, meaning a “hug” or “cuddle”, is everywhere. You find it on mugs, cushions, greetings cards, ornaments, t-shirts, and even in the names of cafes and festivals. But that’s why, trying to keep cool in my desperation, I chose cwtch – or “cwtsh”. 

One thing I like about dialect words is you can’t always rely on them to have a consistent spelling, because they are not Standard English words. By definition, the spelling of Standard English terms has been standardised down the centuries – dialect words have not been subject to the same pressures. 

Dialect words are local or regional and cwtch is particularly associated with the Welsh-English dialect of south Wales. It has become something of a local symbol, a symbol of Welsh-Englishness – especially because it is perceived as having been adopted into south Wales English from the Welsh language.

But there is more to cwtch than this. It can be a noun or a verb. It can also mean a small storage place used for food or odds and ends, or as a hiding place, or it can mean to squat down or crouch. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates its earliest use in English to the late 19th century, but its history goes back further. And, on looking into it, one can find a wonderful example of why dialects are a fascinating characteristic of language.