from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun The vault of heaven; the sky.
  • noun The upper air.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun The sky; the vault of heaven; the heavens.
  • Sky-blue.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun The visible regions of the air; the vault of heaven; the sky.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun archaic The sky, the upper air; the heavens.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun the apparent surface of the imaginary sphere on which celestial bodies appear to be projected


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English welken, from Old English wolcen, weolcen, cloud.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English welkne, wolkne ("clouds, heavens"), from Old English wolcnu ("clouds"), plural of wolcen ("cloud"), from Proto-Germanic *wulkanan, *wulkō, *wulkô (“cloud”), from Proto-Indo-European *welg-, *welk- (“wet, moist”). Cognate with Dutch wolk ("cloud"), Low German Wulke ("cloud"), German Wolke ("cloud"), German welken ("to wither"). More at welk.


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  • See also make the welkin ring.

    January 11, 2008

  • Also (more commonly) the sky, the heavens.

    "with feats of Arms / From either end of Heav'n the welkin burns." - Paradise Lost, Book 2.

    January 11, 2008

  • Antiquated word for clouds.

    Described in "To make the welkin ring".

    from James Greenough's Words and Their Ways in English Speech, 1901

    May 17, 2008

  • "Sky with wooly clouds" from Saxon wealcan 'to roll,' wolke 'cloud,' and German wolle 'wool.'

    July 11, 2008

  • Whoa! Etymological connexion with 'wool'? Or 'walk'? I think not. It's true that 'welkin' originally meant "cloud" and it has no cognates outside West Germanic, but it's pretty clearly a stem *wolk(ə)n- in all those (OE and OFris wolcn-, OS wolcan, OHG wolkan), so if it were related to 'wool' you'd have to account for both the /k/ and the /n/.

    It's true also that 'walk' originally meant "roll", but it was always the rolling or tossing of the sea (10th cent.: Feruentis oceani wealcendre sæ), or people's metaphorical tossing with discomfort. There's no evidence that it was associated with the motions of clouds. Again, the deeper etymology of 'walk' is unknown as it has no clear cognates outside Germanic. So 'welkin' doesn't look like it comes from (the etymon of) 'walk'.

    Finally, to derive either of these from (the etymon of) 'wool' is really stretching plausibility. The Germanic root was *wull-, so it's got the wrong vowel. You then have to suggest a semantic pathway from "wool" to "toss" (the waves of the sea don't toss like wool), and put forward a /k/ suffix to make this transition.

    Or you could disregard 'walk' and try to get straight from 'wool' to 'welkin' by losing the doubled /l/ and adding a /-k(ə)n/ suffix and claiming that clouds were called woolly things. I'm not saying that's impossibile, just that there's no evidence for it and it looks a lot like mere vague similarity.

    July 11, 2008

  • Intriguing, qroqqa! Poplollies and Bellibones: A Celebration of Lost Words, where I found welkin, states (This was simplified in the book's glossary to what I posted below): "From the Saxon words wealcan 'to roll,' and wolke 'a cloud.' It is also connected to the German word wolle 'wool,' used to describe the wooly quality of clouds. Shakespeare wrote in A Midsummer Night's Dream,

         The starry welkin cover thee anon

         With drooping fog as black as Alcheron"

    You may very well be right, but it's one author's (informed?) opinion. I don't find myself leaning in either direction in particular.

    July 17, 2008

  • JM wandered out, squinted up at the welkin, saw all was where it should be, wandered back, shut the door behind him.

    February 1, 2009