A COCKED HAT.

I apologize in advance for the fact that this post will be totally uninteresting to the vast majority of my readers, but those few who are interested in reading Tolstoy in Russian or enjoy obscure historical Russian idioms will like it, and the rest can continue discussing names for Ireland or little words. So: in reading War and Peace (see here and here), several times I’ve come across a tiny phrase that looks simple but is hard to explain, с поля [s polya]. This looks like it means ‘from the field,’ and in fact is nowadays so used (“the enemy was driven from the field”), but in these contexts it describes a hat; for instance, as the Battle of Austerlitz is beginning, General Miloradovich is described as “без шинели, в мундире и орденах и со шляпой с огромным султаном, надетой набекрень и с поля”: ‘without a greatcoat, in uniform and [wearing his] orders and with a hat with a huge plume, worn on one side and s polya.’ Now, polyá (with end-stress), literally ‘fields,’ can also mean ‘brim of a hat’ (as well as ‘margin of a book’), but this has to be singular and stem-stressed (pólya), and even if you assume that once upon a time the singular could refer to the brim of a hat (though even Dahl only has it as plural), what would ‘from the brim’ mean?
So I wrote to one of my informants (I try to rotate my queries, so none of them get sick of my pestering), who comments here as mab, and she did a little research and came up with this Russian page, which says “The three-cornered hat of [Pestel]‘s uniform was worn not straight, as was required by [army] regulations, but s polya — with a corner forward: wearing a uniform hat in that manner was permitted only to officials in the Emperor’s retinue and adjutants. At the time of the Patriotic War of 1812 and foreign expeditions, the fashion arose among the dandies of the officer corps to wear their hats s polya, which was an undoubted breach of regulations.” So there you have it; I’m still not sure how the phrase works grammatically, but at least we know what it means both denotationally (with a corner in front) and connotationally (dandyism).

Comments

  1. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    This isn’t in the least bit uninteresting; quite the opposite, it’s just the kind of thing that is worth knowing.

  2. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    This isn’t in the least bit uninteresting; quite the opposite, it’s just the kind of thing that is worth knowing.

  3. It certainly has something to do with the way one used to put it on; that is “с пóля” is actually a shortened way of saying “надетая с поля”.
    If I could imagine having the hat in my hand, holding its brim… Maybe, if you hold the brim, you wear it naturally that particular way; if you take the hat by its “носок” (that’s the term Dahl uses, when he says that “с поля” is “вдоль” and “носком наперед”) you’d put it on otherwise.

  4. Hmmm – weren’t there similar restrictions on how officers could wear their hats in the British navy? I vaguely recall something about Napoléon’s bicorne fostered a change of fashion in the English tricorne. Might have been from one of the Hornblower films, but I’m not sure.

  5. How about, “… worn on one side and cocked in decidedly non-regulation style”? It’s probably not that important to mark the details like “corner in front”.

  6. Alexey, that’s interesting — maybe the key to it is understanding how one put on a hat. I hope more native Russian speakers will chime in. But thanks for носок, which is very charming, isn’t it?

  7. The Ridger: I think that would be an excellent translation.

  8. Is it not written: “He who writes a post of great interest to a single reader, it is as if he has written a post for all mankind.”?

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Hear hear! assume a single reader, and dozens will come out of the woodwork.
    Too bad that the fashions of the past 100 years (more or less) have so neglected the hat and the kinds of statements it can make, not only while on the head of the wearer but getting there and off.

  10. mollymooly says:

    How do the English translations render this? The Ridger’s is good as a once-off, but if it crops up several times it would have a touch of “early, rose-fingered dawn” about it.

  11. I wonder if the phrase “с поля” could derive originally from the fact that the brim of the tricorne is turned up ‘away from the ground’ (so “полe” would mean ‘ground’ here).
    This page http://militarist.milua.org/waterloo.htm (in Russian) mentions “с поля” several times, always in inverted commas, but there is a picture of each uniform and the relevant hats are pointed forward, as mab says.
    The page is describing uniforms worn at the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815, so a similar time to the action of War and Peace. Other pictures elsewhere of the two Waterloo adversaries, Napoleon and Wellington show that they are wearing similar hats, but Napoleon wears it crosswise, ie pointed ends to the side, while Wellington wears it pointing forwards.
    This page http://www.mytimemachine.co.uk/waterloo.htm has a guardsman’s recollection of the Duke of Wellington. Apparently he wore a large cocked hat a la Russe (ie in the Russian style).
    Basically, what I am saying here is confirmation of what mab found, but the pictures are interesting!

  12. Arthur Crown says:

    Napoleon wears it crosswise, ie pointed ends to the side, while Wellington wears it pointing forwards
    Lovely pictures. I was wondering if anyone here had a preference about this? When I was a boy I liked Wellington’s style, but now I prefer Napoleon’s. If the truth be told, I even prefer Napoleon (he was so smart and good at maths), but I’m glad Wellington saved us from the Frogs. His name was Arthur, of course.

  13. Great pictures; here‘s the direct link. Thanks, Susan!

  14. John Emerson says:

    Ever since Kron showed up I’ve wanted to give my best wishes to the little Kroner, in hopes that they will continue to appreciate against the Euro.

  15. John Emerson says:

    Ever since Kron showed up I’ve wanted to give my best wishes to the little Kroner, in hopes that they will continue to appreciate against the Euro.

  16. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    There is a lot of pressure on the kroner from the small krone, aka the øre. She is artificially driving up the value of other currencies by inflated speculation on Icelandic horses, and what the chances are of us buying one (none).

  17. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    There is a lot of pressure on the kroner from the small krone, aka the øre. She is artificially driving up the value of other currencies by inflated speculation on Icelandic horses, and what the chances are of us buying one (none).

  18. John Emerson says:

    It’s always bothered me that metal bands neglect the “ø”. Who[m] are they trying to fool?

  19. John Emerson says:

    It’s always bothered me that metal bands neglect the “ø”. Who[m] are they trying to fool?

  20. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    And don’t forget the last letter of the Norwegian alphabet, Åå, so that “from a to z” in norsk is fra a til å.

  21. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    And don’t forget the last letter of the Norwegian alphabet, Åå, so that “from a to z” in norsk is fra a til å.

  22. Achei da hora mais fika tudo em englis

  23. John Emerson says:

    Metalheads are just fake Nazis. If they were real Nazis, they’d use the full range of Norwegian vowels, just as Hitler did.

  24. John Emerson says:

    Metalheads are just fake Nazis. If they were real Nazis, they’d use the full range of Norwegian vowels, just as Hitler did.

  25. Not Metalhead says:

    Japan tried to help.

  26. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    Interesting that there’s a Japanese example, though the music sounded a teeny bit punk to my untrained ears.
    John’s right that Ø is very much like a fascist graphic. The / just needs to be drawn as a lightning bolt. Of course, Knut Hamsen was a terrific fan of Adolf & Co.

  27. Crown, A. J. P. says:

    Interesting that there’s a Japanese example, though the music sounded a teeny bit punk to my untrained ears.
    John’s right that Ø is very much like a fascist graphic. The / just needs to be drawn as a lightning bolt. Of course, Knut Hamsen was a terrific fan of Adolf & Co.

  28. Aha! I asked yet another Russian speaker about с поля, and here’s his reading: поле is not brim here, but field, as in “from the field.” That is, on the field men must have worn the hats with the corner in front. Simple, no? A classic case of overthinking a language problem.

  29. Brilliant! Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

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