Word History: Ouse
- also Great Ouse River A river, about 240 km (150 mi) long, rising in south-central England and meandering east and northeast to the Wash, an inlet of the North Sea.
- A river, about 100 km (60 mi) long, of northeast England flowing southeast to join the Trent River and form the Humber River. It is an important commercial waterway.
is a perfectly appropriate name for a river, but one whose etymological meaning is likely to raise a smile. The name of these two rivers is derived from the Celtic languages that were spoken in England before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles. Their Celtic name, &Umacron;sa,
is derived from *udso-,
“water,” which is in turn derived from the Indo-European root *wed-,
“wet, water.” The same root *wed-
gives us the English words water
as well. Thus the Ouse River etymologically is the “Water River” or the “Wet River.” Of course, the speakers of early forms of the English language who borrowed the name from the Celts did not know the meaning of the word—as is rather frequently the case when foreign topographical terms are borrowed.