Occasionally I dive into Nabokov’s insanely detailed commentary on Eugene Onegin for a bracing refresher, and recently my attention was caught by his perverse insistence (pp. 70-71) that the correct way to translate Russian shinel’ ‘greatcoat’ is “carrick”—he goes so far as to render the title of Gogol’s famous story as “The Carrick.” It is, of course, absurd to use in translation a word that not more than a handful of readers will understand, but that’s the kind of absurdity that makes Vladimir Vladimirovich such a lovable crank, and hey, it was a new word to add to my vocabulary.
So I went to the OED… and it wasn’t there! I found it hard to believe that such a word, from the early 19th century, wouldn’t have been scooped up by the OED’s famed readers, so I considered the possibility (unlikely but not unheard of) that VV was simply mistaken. A little googling, however, convinced me that there was indeed such a word: a fashion timeline (placing it under “Directoire/Empire 1795-1815”), an ad, a Dictionary of Costume (“carrick a gentleman’s greatcoat for driving. Of heavy fawn-colored cloth, double-breasted and with deep collar.”), and Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging (“Carrick/ use GREATCOAT”) were a convincing bunch of sources. So I followed up Nabokov’s hint that the word came from France and checked the Dictionnaire de l’Académie francaise, where I found “CARRICK n. m. XIXe siècle. Emploi métonymique de l’anglais carrick, « sorte de cabriolet ». Sorte d’ample redingote qui a plusieurs collets ou un collet très long. Un carrick de cocher.”
But now we have a further problem: the Académie claims that the French word is borrowed from English carrick ‘sort of cabriolet‘—and that isn’t in the OED either! I give up.
Update (March 2009). Alexander Dolinin in his article “Pushkinian Subtexts in Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading” (translated by Jeff Edmunds) has an excursus on carricks:
The clothing worn by the doll-like Pushkin was chosen with equal care by Nabokov. The mention of the “fur carrick” should be seen as a reference to very important testimonies included in Veresaev’s book. First, a carrick (bekesh’) occupies a central place in a fragment from the recollections of N.M. Kolmakov: “Amidst the public strolling along the Nevsky it was often possible to glimpse A.S. Pushkin, but he, arresting and attracting the attention of each and everyone, was not startling because of his dress, on the contrary, his hat was far from being distinguished by its newness, and his long carrick was also old-fashioned. I will not be sinning against posterity if I say that his carrick was missing a button on the waist at the back. The absence of this button embarrassed me every time I met A. S-ch and saw it.”
[Footnote 33:] V. Veresaev, op. cit. [i.e., Pushkin v zhizni: sistematicheskii svod podlinnykh svidetel’stv sovremennikov, 6-e izd., znachitel’no dopolnennoe (Moskva: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1936), T. 2], p. 251. Gavriel Shapiro groundlessly traces the image of Pushkin in a fur carrick to a well-known drawing by Pushkin, in which he depicts himself and Evgenii Onegin on the embankment of the Neva (see G. Shapiro, op. cit. [i.e., Delicate Markers: Subtexts in Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading (New York: Peter Lang, 1998)], pp. 132-133). Shapiro’s assertion notwithstanding, both figures in the drawing, illustrating stanzas XLVII-XLVIII of the novel’s first chapter, are not in fur carricks, but in frock-coats, which is entirely natural given the “summer-tide” being described by Pushkin.