PEMFÊ D’YÒ / water-dropwort

photo source: wikimedia

pemfê d’yò“, s.m., pronounced [pɛ̃fwɛ: dʲ jɔ:] 🔊, or simply “pemfê” [pɛ̃fɑ:ɪ̯], is the Sarkese name of Old Celtic origin for “hemlock water-dropwort” (Oenanthe crocata), a highly toxic flower, growing in Sark, which is mistakable with common “pemfê“, or common hemlock, another toxic plant, or with two edible flowers “bènárde” and “aléxandre“.

origin: Old Celtic (Gaulish) / first recorded for Sarkese: 1970s (PB) / current status in the 21st century: fully preserved, in use

“pemfê d’yò” is a compound name, consisting of “pemfê”, an uncountable invariable masculine noun (he-word that does not change and cannot be counted), and the invariable attribute “d’yò”, lit. “of water”. In Sarkese, we therefore do not say simply “one hemlock” or “two hemlocks”, but only “du pemfê” or “du pemfê d’yò”. If necessary, we may specify a number of plants by saying one flower of hemlock or one piece of hemlock, etc. f.e. “une fłeǔr d’pemfê”, “deû fłeur d’pemfê”, or “trê mórsyò d’pemfê” etc.

The pronunciation is regular, with “pemfê”, pronounced [pɛ̃fɑ:ɪ̯] in FSP, while [pɛ̃wɛ:] if non stressed and directly followed by another ford, in the case of “pemfê d’yò”, by the attribute. Nevertheless, since the atrribute is prepositionnal, [pɛ̃fɑ:ɪ̯ dʲ jɔ:] is as accceptable as [pɛ̃fwɛ: dʲ jɔ:].

On the origin

The word “pemfê” is of Old Celtic origin, meaning “five fingers”, refering to the pentamerous flowers with five stems of hemlock water-dropwort, a unifying feature for the whole of Apiceae family, including “pemfê“, hemlock, “bènárde” hogweed (cow parsnip), “aléxandre” alissenders or “fanůł“, fennel, which is why all the related flowers may be our “pemfê” when refering to any “hemlock-like weed” in general without specifing it.

photo source: wikimedia

The name is Old Celtic, possibly Gaulish in origin, conserved over the past centuries in the Norman languages of the Channel Islands, as well as in both the Romance language and the Celtic language of Brittany, Gallo and Breton. In Guernsey, it is known as “pôin-faie” with the primary meaning of “hemlock water-dropwort”, while in Jersey the primary meaning of “penfaîs” is “hemlock”, as in Sarkese. In Breton, the only Celtic language known to us, in which the name exists as well, under the form of “pempiz” or “pempez” (historically pempes), lit. “five fingers” as in Old Celtic, with the primary meaning of “hemlock water-dropwort”.

It is unclear whether in the past the original meaning, either in Old Sarkese or in Old Celtic, was “hemlock” or “hemlock water-dropwort”. However, it may be that there has simply never been a clear distinction. After all, even in Sarkese, we only add “d’yò” to “pemfê” for water-dropwort, if a necessary distinction between the two plants is required..

To learn more on the backround history of the word, see the article and the SNDO entry “pemfê“-hemlock.


Citation: NEUDÖRFL, Martin. pemfê d’yò/water-dropwort. In: Sark Norman Dictionary Online [on-line].

Relevant SNDO Entries:

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