Efimok, Efimon.

I was looking through Ivan Shmelyov‘s Лето Господне [Leto Gospodne, The summer/year of the Lord], a loving reconstruction of the religious and folk life of prerevolutionary Russia, when my eye hit on the unusual word ефимоны [efimóny]. Curious, I looked it up in Vasmer (who has it as ефимон, even though it seems always to be used in the plural), and discovered it meant “great penitential psalm of Andrew of Crete read at the evening service in the first week of Great Lent,” the Old Russian form was мефимонъ [mefimon], and the etymology — wait for it — is from Greek μεθ’ἡμῶν ‘with us [is God]‘! Isn’t that great?

And just above it was an equally obscure word with an equally wonderful etymology, ефимок [efímok], a name for an old coin, which comes (via Polish joachymik < Latin Joachimicus) from Joachimsthal (now Czech Jáchymov); to quote Wikipedia, “The Joachimsthaler coins minted there in the 16th century became known as thaler for short, with the word ‘dollar’ and similar words for monetary units in many languages deriving from it.” So ефимок and dollar are twins, coming from different ends of Joachim’s Valley!

Unrelated, but as a public service announcement: there’s a Kickstarter campaign for an effort to “write, illustrate and publish four books in the endangered languages of indigenous cultures in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region”; if that is of interest to you, check out the link.

Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer says:

    More precisely “God is with us” is not from the Great Canon of St. Andrew but is the refrain from a freestanding hymn sung on every evening of the year when Great Compline (as opposed to Small Compline) is appointed to be served by the Typikon. On the first few weeknights of Lent, the excerpts from the Great Canon are inserted into Great Compline (with the rest of the compline service being abbreviated to a greater or lesser extent in ordinary parish use, but that hymn usually being retained, because people like it). For an ordinary parishioner in an ordinary parish (i.e. anyone who doesn’t hang out at a fairly hardcore monastery doing the full cycle of services 24/365), the opening nights of Lent are probably the primary time of the year other than the Vigil service on Christmas Eve when Great Compline (and thus that hymn) is likely to be encountered. But it’s actually a much more Christmas Eveish hymn than a Lenten one (the lyrics mostly riffing on the 9th chapter of Isaiah). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QjAVTjuMYg is some seminarians at St. Tikhon’s (up in the Poconos, not far from the old coal towns settled a hundred years ago by poor but pious Slavic immigrants) chanting the hymn (in English) at a Lenten Great Compline service earlier this month.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    More amazing things we learn on this blog¡

  3. J.W. Brewer says:

    One internet attempt at an English text: http://wikitranslate.org/wiki/God_Is_With_Us

  4. Лето Господне – could also be The Year of the Lord (leto is unequivocally “summer” in modern usage, but more frequently “year” of old)

    Joachimsthaler (the antecedent to dollar) actually exists in Russian in two incarnations, ефимок from its “head” and талер from its “tail”

  5. The hymn from Great Compline is a lovely one (God is With Us)–thanks to JW for “splaining” it out better than I could.

  6. Yes, many thanks to JW!

    Лето Господне – could also be The Year of the Lord (leto is unequivocally “summer” in modern usage, but more frequently “year” of old)

    Yes, and that’s an inherent translation problem; I went with “summer” because that’s certainly how most modern Russian-speakers understand it, but “year” would be equally defensible.

  7. I went with “summer” because that’s certainly how most modern Russian-speakers understand it

    Probably not how modern readers would understand the title, because the choice of the Slavonic 2nd word, and the noun-adjective word order, clear implies that the whole title is Church Slavonic, and then leto definitely stands for “year”.

    Anyway, any lingering ambiguity disappears after one takes a quick glance at a book, which is shaped after the traditional Orthodox Christian calendar of a year of Russian life, with almost all chapters titled by the hallmark holidays and events of the Orthodox Year, of all 4 seasons of it.

  8. “So ефимок and dollar are twins, coming from different ends of Joachim’s Valley!”

    This is the process that Benedict proposed to link etyma in Austroasiatic and Austronesian and that everyone laughed at as too convenient and too improbable.

  9. Probably not how modern readers would understand the title, because the choice of the Slavonic 2nd word, and the noun-adjective word order, clear implies that the whole title is Church Slavonic, and then leto definitely stands for “year”.

    You’re assuming that most (surely you don’t think all?) modern readers are aware of the history of the word and its meaning in Church Slavonic, which seems to me something of a stretch. It’s always tempting for the well-educated to take their erudition for granted; I submit that the average reader (who is more likely to read Latynina or Dotsenko than Akunin, let alone Shmelyov) would not know the earlier meaning of Лето any more than the average reader of English knows what “wherefore” means in “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

  10. would not know the earlier meaning of Лето

    Since “лето” is part of suppletive paradigm (or whatever is the right term) of “год” in modern Russian, an average 4 year old speaker knows to answer “Сколько тебе лет?” with “4 года”. So the “year” meaning is not as archaic :)

  11. Ah, good point!

  12. I will weigh in on the Dmitry Pruss’ side. The usual form of this phrase, I believe, was genitive лета господня = in the year of the Lord = AD = Anno Domini. Now clearly Shmelev wants it in the nominative, so its either The Year of the Lord or something like Annus Dominus (which is much worse). As for likely confusion by an undereducated Russian speaker, that hardly can be a serious reason for the translation.

  13. Well, as a practical matter, The Summer of the Lord is the accepted translation in scholarly works.

  14. I guess what I was trying to write in response has already been upstaged :)

    It’s not so much historical erudition which gives the Russians ability to understand that лето ~~ year, but more common sense and common culture. You find the word лето in meaning “year” in common-language contemporary constructs (я открыл для себя сайт language.com 5 лет тому назад), contemporary terms of chronology and history (летосчисление, летопись) and of course in the Orthodox Church.

    Of course there may be native speakers whose linguistic intuition or common sense are sorely lacking, and who also know nothing of history, and nothing of the Church, but I think I qualified my statement enough when I italicized the word “readers” as opposed to speakers? Surely anyone reading Shmelyov would have no problem understanding the author’s intent?

  15. as a practical matter, The Summer of the Lord is the accepted translation in scholarly works

    True; but so is “The Year of the Lord”, too.
    That’s how official Russian Orthodoxy site puts it, and so does The Voice of Russia radio, and an English-language Orthodox studies journal, and scholarly books

  16. Of course the next thought I got was to check if for someone more erudite in English linguistics than myself, English “Summer” might also come across as “Year”. Lo and behold, it must have been true in PIE! And Sanskrit sámā means both season and year. But the ambiguity must have disappeared long before the times of English…

  17. True; but so is “The Year of the Lord”

    Well found! I’ll add “Year” as an alternative. Glad I don’t have to decide on a single version for a published translation…

  18. (btw my comment with many links using “The Year of the Lord” is stuck in moderation)

    Irresistible reading, this Shmelyov’s book. Note that in his text, two more now-obsolete derivatives of лето ~~ year are used on very many occasions: летось / летошний ~~ yesteryear. There are also two places in the chapter on Trinity Day (which is essentially Mother Earth’s birthday in the Orthodox tradition) where he recites the Holy Trinity Day annual prayer: “пошли, Господи, лето благоприятное!” ~~ “give us, o Lord, a favorable year”.

  19. Yes, I wish he were better known; he is indeed an irresistible writer.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    In French there is an old-fashioned, perhaps even obsolete, way of referring to years of age as printemps ‘springs’. This might be because in earlier times many old people died in the winter, so if a person made it until spring they had a good chance of living through most of the year. It would make sense for Russian, spoken in a region of longer winters, to count summers rather than springs.

  21. A very common Russian way of greeting someone you haven’t seen for a while is “сколько лет, сколько зим!” which literally means ‘how many summers, how many winters!’; the appropriate colloquial translation, of course, is “Long time no see.”

  22. I’m sure people were, and probably still are, irked by Shmelyov’s message of love to the retrograde, ossified, merchants’ and clergymen’s Russia, the turn-of-XXth century remix of Ostrovsky’s proverbial Kingdom of Darkness (the parallels between The Storm and The Year of the Lord are uncanny, but one author can’t wait for the old order to fall, while the other is nostalgic. The level of anthropological detail, the livelihood of the dialog are what’s irresistible in Shmelyov’s book. His personal affection to the Darkness of Ages is not.

    “сколько лет, сколько зим!” which literally means ‘how many summers, how many winters!’
    it’s a classic pun starting from regular “сколько лет” ~~ “how many years” = “long time”, then adding a wordplay. Interestingly, of all Slavic languages, only Polish seems to have the same dualism in year-naming as Russian: in Polish, rok is singular for “year”, but lata is plural for both “years” and “summers”

  23. M-L,
    “In French there is an old-fashioned, perhaps even obsolete, way of referring to years of age as printemps ‘springs’. ”

    There is a similar very formal expression in Chinese 春秋几乎 chūn qiū jǐ hū “spring/autumn/how-many/INT. You used it upon meeting someone so that you could determine what forms of address to use based on who was senior, if the person making the introduction had somehow omitted that information.

  24. I’m sure people were, and probably still are, irked by Shmelyov’s message of love to the retrograde, ossified, merchants’ and clergymen’s Russia, the turn-of-XXth century remix of Ostrovsky’s proverbial Kingdom of Darkness (the parallels between The Storm and The Year of the Lord are uncanny, but one author can’t wait for the old order to fall, while the other is nostalgic.

    Quite so, but I submit that if Ostrovsky had lived through what Shmelyov did, he might have been nostalgic too. (Cf. widespread nostalgia for those good old Soviet times in today’s Russia.)

  25. I’ve seen seasons used to indicate age in English as well, although I associate it more with mock-antiquated writing than actual older material. I know I’ve seen spring, summer, and winter used this way, although probably not fall. I think I also see something similar in the title “Across Five Aprils,” for a young adult book which is consciously trying to evoke the feel of an older time.

  26. two more now-obsolete derivatives of лето ~~ year are used on very many occasions: летось / летошний ~~ yesteryear.

    http://ru.wiktionary.org/wiki/летошний gives a wonderful example: “Это ведь летошней осени озимые сыплются.”

  27. Jim, that would probably be 春秋几何 (chūnqiū jǐhé).

  28. Yes it is. I misremembered. That is exactly what it is.

Speak Your Mind

*