Sunday, 17 January 2016

Film with Two FFs.

Do you know what the Welsh word for film is? Ffilm. Being mildly intrigued, I did some research and discovered this bit of lexicographical history:

Once upon a time, somewhere around 1900 I believe, two men were engaged upon important business in a garret room of an old country inn not far from Port Talbot.

‘We have a problem,’ said one man to the other.

‘What’s that?’

‘Have you heard of this new thing called “film”?’

‘Film? Yeah. Pictures on bits of plastic. Clever stuff, boyo; they say it’s going to revolutionise the way we see the world.’

At this juncture, I must point out that the whole conversation was in Welsh. I assumed you’d know that, but just in case… And did you know that the only word that’s the same in Welsh as it is in English is ‘boyo’? Thought not. Anyway, just so you know.

‘So what’s the problem?’ continued the second man.

‘The problem is, we don’t have a word for it.’

‘Yes we do: Film.’

‘No, no, that will never do.’

‘Why not?’

‘It sounds too English. We can’t have a Welsh word that’s the same as an English word, now can we?’

‘What about “boyo”?’

‘Ah, but they got that word from us.’

‘Did they?’


‘Oh, right. Never knew that. OK, so what do you suggest we call this film thing?’




‘Why f-film?’

‘It’s got two fs in it. All words with two fs in them are Welsh.’

‘What, like “diffuse”?’

‘No, no. “Diffuse” has two fs in the middle. What I mean is that only Welsh words have two fs at the beginning.’

‘What about “Llandaff?” That has two fs at the end. We could call it “filmff.” That would sound really Welsh.’

‘No, it wouldn’t. It would sound really silly.’

‘But “ffilm” looks really silly.’

‘No, it doesn’t. It looks really Welsh. Like Blaenau Ffestiniog.’

‘Mmm, suppose you’re right.’

‘Agreed then?’


So that’s the story of how the Welsh film industry, or Ffilm Cymru as they like to be known, got its name. And I interrupted a f(f)ilm about Dylan Thomas to tell it. I did, really.

(And how fortunate it was that George Formby wasn't born Welsh, or we would have had to endure songs with lines like I'm lleaning on a llamppost at the corner of the street in case a certain llitle llady comes by. His audiences would have needed umbrellas.)

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