Two things that have nothing to do with one another; I figure those who don’t know Russian can enjoy the strange bird name.
1) I visited OEDILF (The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form, previously discussed here), and the Random Limerick happened to feature the word aberdevine:

When naming the aberdevine,
It’s siskin that birders assign.
I think the word finch
Might suffice in a pinch,
And I’ve heard even bird would be fine.

(The excellent limerick is by Tim Alborn, who’s done over a thousand of them.) Of course I looked it up in the OED, and found that the etymology was “unascertained,” which is annoying but unsurprising. What struck me was the definition: “A bird-fanciers’ name of the siskin.” Why don’t bird-fanciers call the siskin a siskin? But it does sound grander, and perhaps this citation gives a clue:
1768 PENNANT Brit. Zool. II. 310 It [the siskin] is to be met with in the bird shops in London, and.. sells at a higher price than the merit of its song deserves: it is known there by the name of the Aberdavine.
2) I just started reading Nabokov’s 1938 story Истребление тиранов [Istreblenie tiranov, “Tyrants destroyed”], and one of the first words that sent me to the dictionaries was застречка in “и уже нельзя было представить себе… что под эту губу можно залезть пальцем, чтобы выковырнуть застречку пищи из-за гнилого резца” [‘and you could no longer imagine… the possibility of a finger’s slipping beneath that lip to winkle out a zastrechka of food from behind a rotting incisor’]. It’s not actually in the dictionaries, but it’s an obvious diminutive of it could be related to zastrékha, which Oxford defines as a dialect form of стреха [strekhá] ‘eaves.’ So far, so good (a very Nabokovian image, a bit of food envisioned as a tiny eaves projecting from the roof of a tooth), but out of habit I looked up eaves in the English-Russian volume, where I found it defined as карниз [karniz], which means ‘cornice’! I checked Katzner, who gave стреха as the definition, and sighed with satisfaction. But then I made the fatal decision to look it up in a third source, the Penguin Russian Dictionary, which defined it as свес крыши [sves kryshi], ‘overhang of a roof’! I can only assume that strekhá is not in common use (Ozhegov says it’s used of a wooden house or izba), and that the normal way to talk about that part of a roof is as Penguin says. But, as always, I’d appreciate input from actual Russian speakers.
Addendum. In the comments, artm says the word sounds weird but might mean ‘something that is stuck’ (застряло [zastryalo]). Also, I realized that the diminutive of застреха should be застрешка (which is in fact in Dahl). But Dahl has застрека [zástreka] in the sense of ‘gutter (under the eaves),’ whose diminutive would be застречка… but the sense doesn’t work here. If anyone has the Collected Stories, could you please check the translation there? And while you’re at it, what’s the translation of плесницах in the first sentence of part 3: “When the gods took earthly form and… walked with muscular legs in not yet dusty плесницах [plesnitsakh]”? It seems to be some sort of ecclesiastical footwear, but I’d dearly love to know what Nabokov had in mind, and I presume he supervised the translation pretty closely.


  1. Застречка, застреха и стреха all sound weird to me. But if I read the passage you quote I would think “застречка” is a dialect word for “something that is stuck” (застряло).

  2. Really? Damn, I’d never have thought of that. And now that I think of it the diminutive of застреха should be застрешка (which is in fact in Dahl). But Dahl has застрека [zástreka] in the sense of ‘gutter (under the eaves),’ whose diminutive would be застречка… but the sense doesn’t work here. Damn. Anyone have the Collected Stories and can check the translation there?

  3. I’ve never seen it before, but, yeah, i think, “застречка” is from “застревать” (to stick; get stuck). “Пища застревает в зубах” (“food gets stuck between teeth”). Diminutive of “(za)strekha” would definetely be “(за)стреШка”, not “(за)стреЧка”.
    p.s. You blog is wonderful!

  4. Here’s what I have, not fromthe Collected Stories but from Tyrants Desroyed and Other Stories:
    “…it became impossible to imagine that nose being blown, or that finger poking on the inside of that lip to extricate a food particle lodged behind a rotten incisor.”
    That help?

  5. I guess “lodged” implies that the застревать (to stick, get stuck) reading is correct. Thanks! If it’s not too much trouble, what about the divine footwear at the start of section 3?

  6. плесница is most probably the same as плюсна (or плесна in Dahl), that is, metatarsus.

  7. … not in this context, sorry! here it means ‘sandals’, of course. see Dahl.

  8. Yeah, I got the basic meaning from Dahl, but I figure Nabokov must have had something particular in mind, or why use such an obscure word? That’s why I was hoping the translation might shed some light (since N. likes to use obscure English words that render his meaning precisely).
    Incidentally, плюсна is one of those words that illustrate one sort of difference between languages: it’s a perfectly normal word in Russian, like any other body part, but in English you have to use a scientific term like “metatarsal” that most speakers couldn’t identify for love or money. Of course, you can just say “middle part of the foot,” I guess.
    One question I have about that word is why on earth it got changed from the normal-looking плесна to the odd, harder-to-say плюсна.

  9. Плесница, церк. обувь, вроде сандалий, калиг или туфлей, поршней. (Даль)
    That “церк.” explains why God wears them 🙂 I suspect the word has become obscure after 70 years of atheism, but was more familiar to our orthodox ancestors.
    A hint: search for obscure Russian words at http://slovari.yandex.ru/ It especially helps with archaic words because most freely available dictionaries are old.

  10. Oh, yeah, missed a bit about плесна/плюсна. They are just as strange to me as English “metatarsal”. But even having said that, none of the two is harder-to-say to me then the other and they both sound / feel equally odd.
    Some sound associations (why they still feel Russian): плесница / десница / колесница
    Плесна / весна / блесна (although i think this one is a loan word)
    Плюсна … хмм… плющ (растение), плющить (to make flat, or slang for not feel well / be high). I even would dare to imagine that плюсна и плющить could be related – they would make things flat with their …what was it… metatarsals 😉

  11. Not sure whether this is relevant, but стріха in Ukrainian is the (thatched) roof on a хата (hut), with its traditional overhanging eaves. This is distinct from the more general дах, “roof.”

  12. They are just as strange to me as English “metatarsal”
    Really? OK, then somebody lied to me. I’ll try to erase that non-fact from my brain.
    As for obscure Russian words, I know how to find them (and I have Dahl at home), it’s just not clear to me what exactly a плесница is or why N. picked it. I guarantee you he wasn’t just going for a vague “archaic” feel. But this site has an interesting bit:
    Известно, что канонические требования Студийского устава предписывают облачить тело усопшего монаха в новую рясу («свиту»), затем возложить на него куколь и аналав (параманд, «плетцы»), затем препоясать поясом и обуть в «плесницы» (Мусин А., 1997, с. 85–86). По В. Далю, «плесница (церк.) – обувь в роде сандалий, калиг или туфлей, поршней (от плюсна, плесна, – стопа, ступня…, нога от пятки до перстов)». Сандалии являются непременным атрибутом средневекового монаха. Согласно объяснениям автора «Новой Скрижали», «под именем сандалий везде разумеют одни обвязки около ног, думая, что … монахи ходят босыми ногами; но они обуваются совершенно. Василий Великий в 1-м послании к Григорию Богослову говорит: «обувь да будет малоценная, но без недостатка нужду исполняющая»… Симеон Солунский объясняет знамение монашеской обуви следующим образом: «потом подает сандалии в уготование, говорит, благовествование мира, дабы не повредил он мысленных ног души, не был уязвлен мысленными змиями в пяту помыслов, но чтобы наступал на них и попирал льва и дракона, скрытых завистливых зверей злобы; чтобы неуклонно поспешал по пути евангельскому, как бы бежал горе, где он сподобится назначенной нам жизни небесной» (Вениамин, 1992, с. 406–407).
    Наиболее известные из дошедших до наших дней средневековых монашеских сандалий, которые датируются последней третью XIV в., принадлежали прп. Сергию Радонежскому (Балдин В.И., Манушина Т.Н., 1996, рис. 72) и имеют сходную конструкцию задников, но закрытый носок. Другой образец средневековых монашеских сандалий, в которых был погребен прп. Никита Столпник Переяславский (конец XII в.), имеет аналогичную конструкцию задников и такие же, как в захоронении пожилой женщины (предположительно, инокини Пелагии) в Вознесенской церкви г. Старицы, открытые носки (Станюкович А.К., 2001, с. 18–19, рис. 10). Оба описанных типа обуви, очевидно, являются «плесницами» Студийского устава.

  13. Sorry not to be able to add to the discussion regarding Russian words (I have my hands fairly full with the English variety) but I thought I’d clarify a point you made in the first section of this post. The OEDILF doesn’t actually have a “Word-of-the-Day” feature though it certainly is on the ever-expanding list of things we would like to bring about someday. What you saw, apparently, was Tim’s limerick in our Random Limerick Display. Any time you bring up our home page, the RLD, as we call it, displays one of the limericks that has successfully made it through the workshopping process to its Approved state. It might be a great piece or, frankly, it might not. If you would like to see the limericks that we ourselves believe to be our best, may I direct you to the OEDILF Showcase in which writers are invited to choose what they consider the top 10% of their own limericks.
    Last but not least, thanks much for bringing us up in your blog. Your initial mention of The OEDILF in the very first month or two of our existence attracted some very talented writers to our site, many of whom are still with us.
    Chris J. Strolin
    Editor-in-Chief, The OEDILF

  14. I’ll change the wording to “random limerick,” and congratulations on such a successful site!

  15. I remember that occurrence of застречка, too, and my first guess from 15 years ago remains the best, to my taste — застречка from застрять, застревать.

  16. I like people who remember obscure words for years. Thanks, and I’ll accept that as the solution.

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