ANCHUTKA.

I’m reading a long story by Andrei Platonov (see my post on his novel Kotlovan); the story is called “Впрок” (Vprok, ‘for future use/benefit’), and as far as I know has never been translated into English. Although it’s very much of a piece with Kotlovan, featuring a naive narrator who wanders among villages and collective farms describing people and stories who horrify us but not him (a fanatic named Upoev let his wife and children starve because “he directed all his forces and desires toward care for the poor masses”), it actually managed to get published in 1931 in Krasnaya nov’ [Red virgin soil], causing trouble for both Platonov and the journal (which was forced to print a “craven retraction,” as Thomas Seifrid calls it): “Stalin is reputed to have written ‘scum’ in the margin of the story … and to have said to Aleksandr Fadeev (later secretary of the Writers’ Union), ‘Give him a good beating—for future use.’” (From here.) I assume Robert Chandler and Olga Meerson will get around to translating it eventually, now that Platonov is in vogue.
But what I’m here to discuss is one word that isn’t in even my largest Russian-English dictionaries. Our hero has wandered into a village that has not yet been collectivized and is asking an old man why he is sitting outside his hut grieving; the old man responds:

Да как же не горевать, когда у всех есть, а у нас нету! Все уж давно организованы, а мы живем как анчутки! Нам так убыточно!
Well, how are you supposed to not grieve, when everybody has something, and we don’t! Everybody else got organized a long time ago, but we live like anchutki! That way it’s a loss for us!

Dahl has anchutki (oddly, only in the plural), defining it as ‘little devils’; fortunately, I found a mention in that marvelous repository of old Russian superstitions, The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia:

Various groups of Old Believers were sufficiently convinced that they were living in the reign of the Antichrist, and thus in the last days of the world, that they were given to mass suicide by burning. The last case of this was in the late nineteenth century. ‘Antichrist’ even became a taboo word and was replaced by ‘Antii’ or ‘Anchutka’, which by a popular association of ideas also came to mean the Devil or a leshii (wood demon), or other demons of folk belief, in particular the bathhouse demon.

On the other hand, Boris Uspensky says (in a Google Books snippet) it’s derived from the given name Онисифор (Onisifor), which is from Greek Onesiphoros and has the popular form Анцифер (Antsifer). I guess there’s no way to know for sure. Anyway, you can see a handsome picture of one at the Russian Wikipedia article (which does not discuss the etymology).

Comments

  1. I thought it was an older word — and little gremlin — than the Old Believers.

  2. Great post, you’re making me very envious that you have time to read Platonov. Someday I’ll finish my way through my pile of lesser writers and get back to him.

  3. In Yuz Aleshkovsky’s novel, A Ring in a Case, the main character is beset by little devils. I have only the English version of the book, so I don’t know whether he calls them anchutki. Can anyone help out on this?

  4. I don’t have it, but the odds are poor—Russian has more different kinds of little devils than you can shake a stick at, and anchutki are among the more obscure.

  5. I’d translate it here as ‘poor sods’. It does mean little devil, little gremlin, but associated qualities of this type of devil are dirtiness, sloppiness and untidiness, exactly the meaning in Platonov’s context.
    And, Hat, look into your archives – we’ve discussed anchutki in one of your posts on Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Dead House. Remember, анчутка беспятый – anchutka the heelless?
    If you go to Yandex Dictionaries (slovari.yandex.ru) and type anchutka it will give you a wealth of sources, from Dahl to wikipedia. It is a very good search engine and translator.

  6. re etymology, one of the dictionaries says it is from one of the Baltic languages, for example in Lithuanian anèiûte is a little duck.
    Look here.

  7. Sashura, since anchutka is an old Eastern Slavic gremlin, don’t you think it strange if the word was derived from Lithuanian?

  8. yes, it’s the first time I saw this suggestion. Not impossible though considering the links between Slavic and Baltic tribes.
    I think it’s more like it that anchutka, anchipka and antipka are all cover-words, phonetic variations of Antichrist, sometimes pronounced anchicrist (анчихрист), meaning in fact devil. By saying devil’s name you invoke him, avoid the word – avoid trouble.

  9. Had I read the translator’s notes to Aleshkovsky’s novel more closely, I’d have known the answer, or at least part of it, to my own question. The demons that beset Helium Serious are collectively called ‘nechist,’(the unclean) The author also uses ‘chort’ and ‘bes.’

  10. I don’t know, Sashura. All my sources state that the anchutki were “ancient East Slavic” mythological figures, which suggests they predate the schism.

  11. And, Hat, look into your archives – we’ve discussed anchutki in one of your posts on Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Dead House. Remember, анчутка беспятый – anchutka the heelless?
    You had me scared for a minute there (is my memory going even faster than I thought?), but no, that was Antipka.
    …Oh, wait, I see you mentioned it in a comment:

    I’ve searched for ‘bespyaty’ without the Antipka. It appears that there is another heel-less little devil called Anchutka the Heel-less (Анчутка). You can see the phonetic similarity between Anti- and Anchu-. These creatures are similar more to naughty spirits, poltergeist, elves or gnomes rather than to the big satan/devil. Closer to бесы, черти, than to дьявол, сатана.

    Ah well, that was a long thread.

  12. I am not sure either. Look at the link I put above, it refers to a 1973 soviet academic study.

  13. Off-topic, you might find this magazine interesting – snob.ru – http://lubman.org/?p=983, , not only are they going to sell at B&N but also they offer a three-month free subscription in US http://www.snob.ru/subscribe/usa

  14. For those who read Russian, here is a link to the search results:
    http://yandex.ru/yandsearch?text=%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%87%D1%83%D1%82%D0%BAa&lr=223
    apparently, the word in question means a little demon/troll-like evil creature…

  15. memory
    it’s mine – I remember mentioning one of them, but couldn’t remember which way round.
    oh, crossed, my comment re 1973 study is in reply to mab.

  16. Yes, I saw that, Sashura. I honestly don’t know. It seems odd to me that it is associated with the schism in some sources and with Baltic tribes in another. Both frankly seem unlikely, but I’m not a specialist in anchutki.

  17. But then, who is?

  18. Although I can see the Ghostbusters team consulting a specialist in anchutki if the need arose.

  19. They’re already covered in Tobin’s Spirit Guide.

  20. Fascinating! I’ve known this word all my life (I remember being called one in kindergarden), but never heard of its folklore roots.
    At least where I grew up, it was only used as a synonym for “чумазый”, “извазюкавшийся” (now that I think of it, I don’t think I’ve used this word since I was 10, either).

  21. mab, sorry, I couldn’t understand why you were referring to schism (1054) until I realised it’s raskol (1652) in the Russian Church.
    Then the link is clear: raskolniki (old believers) thought that everything to do with Nikon’s reforms was from Antichrist, especially the new three-finger sign of the cross. Phonetically Antichrist turns into anchikhrist (stress on i), then transforms into diminutive-derogative anchipka, anchutka, antipka and is applied to everything devilish, dirty and inappropriate.
    The Baltic link is also easy to imagine: two trading parties, Russian and Baltic, camp on a riverbank next to each other at night. A duck splashes, ‘aychutka!’, say Lithuanians, ‘vodyanoi!’ (water spirit), think Russians, and hearing the Baltic word associate it with the vodyanoi and then begin to use it as a counter-charm. You know, ‘he who should not be named’ – if you don’t name it, it won’t come. Let’s call the vodyanoi – anchutka.
    That the creature itself preceded the name it got in C17th isn’t strange. Thor was probably brought to Slavonic lands by the Rus (vikings-normans) and became Perun, god of thunder, and then, in Christian times, turned into Elias the Prophet (Илья-Пророк).

  22. Since I’ve never encountered this word in my 38 years of living and speaking Russian, it must be a very obscure creature. There’s a picture and a description here – http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Анчутки . (In case the Cyrillic doesn’t work here, it should be the Russian spelling of ‘anchutki’)
    I’m not sure what Platonov’s character really meant but it’s probably just not being accepted by society, being like some little ugly creatures that everyone shuns.

  23. ah, Alex, thanks for this – I am about ten years older, and I only vaguely remember my grandmother using it, otherwise I haven’t heard it used in modern Russian either. So we have a valuable evidence from native speakers for whoever decides to use this post for a collection of ‘dead words’.

  24. Recently I translated a film script with anchutki. The authors didn’t think it was that obscure.

  25. film script with anchutki.
    how is it used?

  26. It’s a kid’s fantasy movie, and two of the main “characters” are anchutki called Ancha and Chutka.

  27. “Chutka?” Does this mean that when my Ukrainian grandmother referred to her sister as “chutka” she was calling her a little devil?

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