I’m a quarter Welsh. My darling grandmother grew up in the Rhondda Valley, a small mining town where her father was the school principal. She didn’t speak a lot of Welsh, other than to delight us by reciting the longest train station name in the world (Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch). I was always aware, though, of the word ‘cwtch’. She didn’t use it often, but I knew it was special; it was almost said in a whisper. I remember her using it once in hospital, when we first thought she was dying. It’s a special sort of cuddle, she said. And that it is: a ‘cwtch’ (pronounced ‘kutch’, to rhyme with ‘butch’) is the Welsh word for a cuddle or hug, but it’s also so much more than that.
Its second meaning is a cubbyhole or cupboard; a small space in which to store things safely. Blend those two meanings and you get a better idea of what the word means: it’s the wrapping of your arms around someone to make them feel safe in the world. It’s precisely what my grandmother needed, and gave, as she started to see her life slip away from her. I remember nuzzling into her neck, smelling the Youth Dew perfume she wore on her papery skin, and feeling like there was no safer space in the world. That is exactly how a cwtch ought to make you feel: safe, warm, comforted.
It’s an emotionally significant embrace and an intrinsically Welsh word that evokes a sense of home. My grandmother was some 17,000km from her Welsh home when she died in her sunburnt adopted home of Sydney, Australia. It is of little surprise to me that she would use that word then, wanting, probably, to transport herself back to where she grew up. It’s in times of fear, danger, distress and melancholy that we most need a cwtch. It’s not a casual gesture of affection; it’s a profound one, and it was invented by the Welsh.
“It’s not just a cuddle or a hug – it’s something special and something I wouldn’t do with everyone,” said Amy Jones, a Welsh Londoner whose mother comes from Cardiff and father from the Valleys. “A cwtch is what my parents would give me when I was young and had fallen over, it’s something my husband and I do on the sofa when we’re in a blissful cocoon, it’s what I give my friends when they’re stressed or sad. A cwtch is something you do when you’re overflowing with joy and love at another person’s sheer existence in your life that you can’t help but try and squeeze that love into them; it’s a safe space of love and comfort for someone who needs it; it’s all the best parts of being alive and loving someone, in a pair of arms. Hugs are for everyone; cwtches are only for a few, very special people in my life.”
Read more: BBC Travel