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Loch (//, also the non-standard but common //) is the Irish and Scottish Gaelic word for a lake and a sea inlet. In Hiberno-English, the anglicised spelling lough is commonly found in placenames, although it is pronounced the same way as loch. In Scottish English, 'loch' is always used. Some lochs could also be called firths, fiords, estuarys, straits or bays. Sea-inlet lochs are often called sea lochs or sea loughs. It is cognate with the Manx logh and the now obsolete Welsh word for lake, llwch.
This name for a body of water is Goidelic1 in origin and is applied to most lakes in Scotland and to many sea inlets in the west and north of Scotland. The word is Indo-European in origin; cf. Latin lacus, English 'lake'.
English borrowed the word separately from a number of lochs in Northumbria and Cumbria. Earlier forms of English included the sound /x/ as gh (compare Scots bricht with English bright). This form was therefore used when the English settled Ireland. However, by the time Scotland and England joined under a single parliament, English had lost the /x/ sound, so the Scots convention of using CH remained, hence the modern Scottish English loch.
Many of the lochs in Northern England have also previously been called "meres" (a Northern English dialect word for "lake" and an archaic Standard English word meaning "a lake that is broad in relation to its depth") such as the Black Lough in Northumberland.2 However, reference to the latter as lochs or loughs (lower case initial), rather than as lakes, inlets and so on, is unusual.
Although there is no strict size definition, a small loch is often known as a lochan (so spelled also in Scottish Gaelic; in Irish it is spelled lochán).
Some new reservoirs for hydroelectric schemes have been given names faithful to the names for natural bodies of water - for example: the Loch Sloy scheme, and Lochs Laggan and Treig (which form part of the Lochaber hydroelectric scheme near Fort William). Other expanses are simply called reservoirs, e.g.: Blackwater Reservoir above Kinlochleven.
Scotland has very few bodies of water called lakes. The Lake of Menteith, an Anglicisation of the Scots Laich o Menteith meaning a "low-lying bit of land in Menteith", and applied to the loch there because of the similarity of the sounds of the words laich and lake. Until the 19th century the body of water was known as the Loch of Menteith.3 The Lake of the Hirsel, Pressmennan Lake and Lake Louise are man-made bodies of water in Scotland known as lakes.
The word "loch" is sometimes used as a shibboleth to identify natives of England, because the fricative x sound is used in Scotland whereas most English people incorrectly pronounce the word like "lock".
As "loch" is a common Gaelic word, it is found as the root of several Manx placenames.
The United States naval port of Pearl Harbor, on the south coast of the main Hawaiian island of Oahu, is one of a complex of sea inlets. Several are named as lochs, including South East Loch, Merry Loch, East Loch, Middle Loch and West Loch.
Loch Raven Reservoir is a reservoir in Baltimore County, Maryland.
In the Scottish settlement of Glengarry County in present-day Eastern Ontario, there is a lake called Loch Garry. Loch Garry is named by the settlers that settled in the area, Clan MacDonell of Glengarry after the well-known loch their clan is from, Loch Garry in Scotland. Likewise in Nova Scotia are found Loch Broom, Big Loch, Greendale Loch, Loch Lomond, in Newfoundland is found Loch Leven, and in Saskatchewan is found Loch Leven.
- The word has currency in the following languages: Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Manx, and has been borrowed into Lowland Scots, Scottish English, Irish English and Standard English.
- Beckensall, Stan (2004). Northumberland Place-Names. Thropton, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE65 7LP: Butler Publishing. ISBN 0-946928-41-X.
- Lake of Menteith
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