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Qualtagh

Definition: The word qualtagh refers to the first person one meets (either leaving or entering their house) after the start of the New Year.

 

Pronunciation: Kwol-tog

Origin:

Qualtagh is from a form of Gaelic known as Manx.  It is spoken on the Isle of Man, and although it has nearly died out in conversational usage, it is a well-documented language and there is an effort to revive its usage.  Literally the word qualtagh means “first foot”, as in the first person to set foot in the house on New Year’s Day, or the first person one met when they set foot outside on New Year’s Day.  It may also be used to refer to the first person a woman encounters after being confined to her house following the birth of a child.

A great deal of superstitious belief surrounds the qualtagh of New Year’s Day.  A darker complexion was considered luckier (although in Scotland the opposite is considered true).  A male qualtagh was considered luckier than a female, and a redheaded person was exceptionally unlucky.  A qualtagh bearing gifts was considered beneficial as it was considered representative of what the New Year would bring.  Finally, when meeting a qualtagh it was polite to provide them with the best offerings of the house- the finest food and drink available.

Why this word?

Every culture is ripe with beliefs and customs that may surprise outsiders.  Traditions surrounding the New Year, however defined by the calendar of each culture, are no different.  From the celebration of Chinese New Year, to the extravaganza of the Times Square countdown, eating black eyed peas to bring good luck in the New Year, religious observance, and lighting fireworks are but a few of the traditions in various parts of the world.  The New Year is a time of renewal, and the word qualtagh strikes me in that sense.  It is a time to wipe away the old year and replace it with the promise, and hopefully reality, of something better.

How to use the word qualtagh?

“Happy New Year!  Off to meet my qualtagh!

“My qualtagh was red-headed, so this year isn’t looking too great for me.”

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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.

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