A welly, or wellie, is a Wellington boot — a knee-high slip-on rubber boot. The Duke of Wellington, in moments between defeating Napoleon Bonaparte, had a leather boot made for him, knee-high in front and cut away behind.

This practical but elegant boot became all the rage for a while. The modern Wellington boot, though it has inherited the name, has nothing elegant about it — but as it is made of rubber and so completely waterproof, it is certainly practical in wet conditions and muddy terrain. The childish form “welly” was first recorded in 1961.

Like almost everything else in Britain, wellies are capable of sustaining class divisions — in this case, over their color. Your common welly is black. The upper classes, however, when out on their country pursuits, favor green wellies. Wear the wrong color wellies for the company you keep and you can be written off as a poncy snob — or a jumped-up plebe — before you even open your mouth.

Welly is also a common colloquial term for effort or force: “Give it a bit of welly!”

The expression originally referred to putting your foot on the accelerator of a car, not that you would wear wellies for driving by choice. But the word soon took on a life of its own, perhaps because its sound so irresistibly suggests truly wholehearted exertion. Try standing up, breathing deeply and saying, “Give it some WELLY!” Put plenty of welly into it. You’ll soon see what I mean.

Mark Wainwright is a freelance writer living in Cambridge. Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at:

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