In an earlier post, I casually wrote that Donald Trump is a “notorious welsher on debts”, meaning that he feels free to not pay what he owes. It is not a word that I commonly use but am familiar enough with that it came naturally to me when I wanted to describe Trump’s practice of defaulting on his debt obligations.
That is the common meaning of the phrase ‘to welsh’. But later it got me thinking. ‘Welsh’ also refers to the people of Wales, a distinct nationality with their own language that makes up part of the United Kingdom. Was using the term ‘welsh’ the way I did a slur on them, implying that they as a people were prone to this type of dishonesty?
I decided to look up the term and found that although its origins are murky, it is likely a pejorative term coined by the English who are notorious for their imaginative ways of derogatorily referring to people of other nationalities.
Oxford English Dictionary
The OED says of the verb welsh or welch:
Origin uncertain; perhaps < Welsh adj., on account of alleged dishonesty of Welsh people (see note). Earlier currency is probably implied by welsher n.1, welshing n., and welshing adj.
Sometimes considered offensive in view of the conjectured connection with Welsh people.
But it is still used, often by politicians, including the BBC itself. Occasionally they apologise. The BBC reported in February 2012 that Education secretary Michael Gove apologised for saying he’d “welshed on the deal” in the House of Commons, and ‘Bill Clinton apologised to Republicans in 1995 for calling them “Welshers”‘.
So I went back and changed the word to ‘renege’.
I find it is a good habit to avoid using any word that could be considered a slur, even if it is not definitively shown to be so.