Leskov’s Nekuda.

I remember those halcyon days (was it really only a few weeks ago?) when I picked up Leskov’s first novel, Некуда [Nekuda, conventionally translated No Way Out, although the novel itself has never been translated; the Russian word is rather ‘nowhere (to go),’ but you can’t make a good title out of that]. I knew it had been highly controversial when it was published in 1864, and its 700 pages were theoretically somewhat daunting, but I’d liked everything of Leskov’s I’d read, and I was eager to give it a go.

Then I started it, and within a couple of chapters I was bowled over and expecting great things. I had the vague idea it was about radical politics, but Leskov immediately introduces the reader to two young women, Lizaveta (Liza) Bákhareva and Evgenia (Zhenni) Glovátskaya, who have been best friends at boarding school and are now returning to their home town, a provincial city in the Black Earth region, doubtless not all that far from Leskov’s own Oryol Gubernia. Zhenni is a tall, raven-haired beauty of a quiet, peaceable disposition; Liza is shorter and fierier, eager to read, learn, and think for herself. On the way home they stop at the convent where Liza’s aunt is abbess; as Anna Bakhareva she had been a famous beauty who had once danced with Emperor Alexander I, but she had plighted her troth to a young man who was exiled to Siberia (implicitly in connection with the Decembrist revolt) and sent her a note asking her to forget him, upon which she joined the convent and became Mother Agnia. While capable of stern piety and aristocratic hauteur, she is good-hearted and supportive at every turn of Liza’s independence. At night, the girls have a talk with young Sister Feoktista, who tells them how she became a nun: she had made a love match and was happily pregnant when she had a craving for a kind of fish stew and insisted her husband bring her some, whereupon he fell through the ice on the river and drowned, his family (who’d never liked her) threw her out, and she took the veil. When they get to their respective homes, the girls settle into their family lives again, Zhenni easily and Liza unhappily — her family loves her but doesn’t understand her, and her mother uses fainting spells to get her way. Eventually they try to marry her off to an oaf in uniform, whereupon she flees to Zhenni, and after the intervention of Mother Agnia her father agrees to let her be and to order her all the magazines and books she wants.

I have gone on about this at some length because it is what fired my enthusiasm, and because you will get no hint of it from descriptions of the novel, which ignore the first of its three books, “In the Province,” entirely. At the end of that book the Bakharevs and other characters move to Moscow, and attention abruptly shifts to Doctor Rozanov, who has been an intriguing but minor character in the first part. Now he starts hanging out with various radicals, who are described at tedious length, and after one too many repetitive conversations about whether Russia was ready for revolution, I realized the women were going to wind up as satellites in the solar system of some damn commune or other, and I didn’t care enough to keep reading — I wasn’t even half way through, and life is too short. I realize radical thought and communes and revolution were burning issues of the day, but they put me to sleep; I’d had all of that I needed from Chernyshevsky, and I wasn’t going to watch while Leskov gnawed the same bone. (Yes, I realize Dostoevsky picked the bone up himself for The Devils, but he’s one of the greatest writers of all time, and he can write about whatever he wants as far as I’m concerned.)

At any rate, here’s a passage of LH interest in which a deacon explains why Дюмафис [Dyumafis = Dumas fils] is a perfectly cromulent Orthodox surname:

Я ведь вот вам сейчас могу рассказать, как у нас происходят фамилии, так вы и поймете, что это может быть. У нас это на шесть категорий подразделяется. Первое, теперь фамилии по праздникам: Рождественский, Благовещенский, Богоявленский; второе, по высоким свойствам духа: Любомудров, Остромысленский; третье, по древним мужам: Демосфенов, Мильтиадский, Платонов; четвертое, по латинским качествам: Сапиентов, Аморов; пятое, по помещикам: помещик села, положим, Говоров, дьячок сына назовет Говоровский; помещик будет Красин, ну дьячков сын Красинский. Вот наша помещица была Александрова, я, в честь ее, Александровский. А то, шестое, уж по владычней милости: Мольеров, Рассинов, Мильтонов, Боссюэтов. Так и Дюмафис. Ничего тут нет удивительного. Просто по владычней милости фамилия, в честь французскому писателю, да и все тут.

I’ll tell you where our family names come from, and you’ll understand that it’s possible. We can divide them into six categories. First are names from holidays: Rozhdestvensky [Christmas], Blagoveshchensky [Annunciation], Bogoyavlensky [Epiphany]; second, from high qualities of the spirit: Lyubomudrov [‘wisdom-lover’], Ostromyslensky [‘sharp-thinker’]; third, from the ancients: Demosfenov, Miltiadsky, Platonov; fourth, from Latin qualities: Sapientov, Amorov; fifth, from the names of landowners — let’s say a village landowner is Govorov, then the sexton’s son will be Govorovsky, and if Krasin, then Krasinsky. Now our landowner was Aleksandrova, so I’m Aleksandrovsky in her honor. And the sixth is by the bishop’s grace: Molierov, Rassinov, Miltonov, Bossyuetov. Dyumafis is just the same; there’s nothing surprising here. The bishop graced him with the name in honor of the French writer, and that’s all there is to it.

So I’m giving up on the book, but I’ll remember Sister Feoktista, her sad story, and her simple statement of her pain at dreaming of her dead husband’s black curls on her face longer than I’ll remember many more famous stories.

Comments

  1. I’ve never heard of Bossuet before. Was he that popular in Russia?

  2. You keep amazing me. Small correction: “owner” who gives names in the sixths instance is actually a bishop. And maybe everyone but me knew it, but Bossyuetov is from Bossuet.

  3. Did you ever skip ahead to see whether the book gets better after the debates on revolution?

  4. SFReader says:

    Uspensky writes that he encountered surname Velocipedov (from French vélocipède – bicycle) in 16th century Pskov document.

    Very surprising, since it is well known that bicycles were invented only in late 19th century.

    So how come?

    Without involving time travel, most likely explanation is that some 16th century polyglot Russian churchman decided to improve plain Russian surname Bystronogov (literally “swift-foot”) by translating it into Latin – (velox+pedem).

  5. Small correction: “owner” who gives names in the sixths instance is actually a bishop.

    D’oh! I actually theoretically knew that, but had a brain fart. Thanks, fixed now.

    Did you ever skip ahead to see whether the book gets better after the debates on revolution?

    No, I read up on the novel enough to realize its focus is on radical politics from then on (he was excoriated by radicals who failed to notice that his stupid, venal radical characters were counterbalanced by noble, self-sacrificing radical characters — like their Soviet epigones, they wanted only Positive Heroes and Bourgeois Baddies). I mean, I’m not saying that stuff is objectively bad, it just doesn’t interest me.

  6. This book doesn’t quite sound like my bowl of soup either, but your post made me hungry for some солянка, which has never even been a favorite!

  7. David Marjanović says:

    солянка

    Very widely available in Berlin (though interestingly not in the university/museum/hospital cafeteria) as a cucumber-containing abomination.

  8. You don’t like cucumbers?

  9. Nekuda, conventionally translated No Way Out, although the novel itself has never been translated; the Russian word is rather ‘nowhere (to go),’ but you can’t make a good title out of that].

    I was pondering how to translate the ‘не-idea’ construction and came up with the English ‘not even …’ This suggested ‘некуда’ as ‘Nowhere, even’ or as ‘Nowhere to go, even’. Would that work as a title?

  10. No, it wouldn’t work as a title, and there’s no “not even” implied by the Russian: некуда (идти) is simply ‘(there’s) nowhere (to go),’ just as нечего делать is ‘(there’s) nothing (to do).’

  11. David Marjanović says:

    You don’t like cucumbers?

    Nope. They’re almost as disgusting as strawberries. 🙂

  12. Difficulty with translating некуда is that Russian has 2 words for nowhere — некуда and негде. The second one references just (an absence of) a place, but the first one has a sense of directionality, though not a categorical one. For example, некуда положить книгу (nowhere to put a book) is idiomatic as well as яблоку негде упасть (nowhere for an apple to fall, meaning too crowded, but the same adverb is used in similar non-fixed expressions as well). I didn’t read the book, but if “no way out” is what Leskov has meant it is a good translation.

    A wild guess. In famous (there are actually no other, but this one is like in the top-10) Pushkin’s poem “Осень” (Autumn) the last line is “Плывет. Куда ж нам плыть?” (It sails. Where should we sail?) . Leskov might have provided a depressing answer — nowhere.

  13. Michael Hendry says:

    It turns out there is a perfectly cromulent English word for nekuda: “nowhither”. Dictionary.com tells me that Ford Madox Ford used it in The Fifth Queen: “She had nowhither to run—but there she was at the end of a large trap.”

  14. Ooh, excellent! I mean, it wouldn’t work as a title unless you wanted to market the book exclusively to twee Victorianists, but it’s a great word.

  15. D.O.: If you search for “некуда” at the first link you’ll find a bunch of instances — Leskov keeps beating you over the head with it. It’s even italicized here:

    Семья не поняла ее чистых порывов; люди их перетолковывали; друзья старались их усыпить; мать кошек чесала; отец младенчествовал. Все обрывалось, некуда было деться.

  16. @D.O.: Re некуда vs.негде: you say “the first one has a sense of directionality, though not a categorical one” and “the same adverb is used in similar non-fixed expressions as well”. Could you elaborate?

    Just based on the examples of the apple and the book, I’d guess that куда is used where there’s more of a leeway in where the object can go in the horizontal dimension, and because the person placing it has a wide choice of locations. In the case of the apple, the location where it might fall is restricted to one point, and that is somehow expressed with где. Is this a fair analysis?

  17. Trond Engen says:

    Nowhere versus noplace?

  18. No, those are synonyms.

  19. Trond Engen says:

    No two synonyms are synonymous. But I suppose they are more synonymous than the rwo Russian words.

  20. Y, the examples that I gave go against the directionality of “некуда”. Usually, it is something like “nowhere to go/run/fly”, but for a large class of verbs it is interchangeable with негде. The saying about falling apple can be done with both of them.

  21. I always found it easy to teach где and куда as “where at” and “where to”.

  22. Hat, I have followed your advice and looked up “некуда” in “Некуда”. There are lots of those. I am even calculated that the text has 25 “некуда” in about 187 thousand words (about 130 words per million) and Russian National corpus gives something like 24 words per million. But now I am dissatisfied with the title. The sum total of those uses mean that there is no place to go to make things better, no matter what you do it will be a failure, not “no way out”. Here’s the very end

    Мутоврят народ тот туда, тот сюда, а сами, ей-право, великое слово тебе говорю, дороги никуда не знают, без нашего брата не найдут ее никогда. Всё будут кружиться, и все сесть будет некуда.

    They stir up the people, one this way and another that way. But they themselves, I am telling you the very truth, do not know the road, couldn’t find it without people like me, ever. They will turn round forever and there will be no place to sit.

    Did this “wise man of the people” describe musical chairs? Anyway, I think that was the idea. You hardly can translate the title as “Nowhere to sit”, but simple “Nowhere” will probably do.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    I always found it easy to teach где and куда as “where at” and “where to”.

    We have a winner.

  24. But now I am dissatisfied with the title. The sum total of those uses mean that there is no place to go to make things better, no matter what you do it will be a failure, not “no way out”.

    Yeah, exactly. That’s why I didn’t call the post “Leskov’s No Way Out.”

  25. Interesting. In Croatian “nekuda” means (to) somewhere; while “nikuda” means (to) nowhere. This creates a faux amis situation with Russian. I wonder what the situation is in Old Slavic.

  26. Croatian also has 2 more sets of words to describe “where”. The first is “gdje”, which is the usual word to describe location. “Nigdje” then means “nowhere” and, “negdje” means “somewhere”. The second is “kamo”, which describes directionality, as “whither” in English. So, “nikamo” can be translated by nowhere, and “nekamo” by somewhere.

  27. January First-of-May says:

    I wonder what the situation is in Old Slavic.

    Same as in Croatian, I suspect. There’s even an analogue in Russian – nekto means “someone” and nikto means “no one”.

    Originally, the respective Old Slavic terms effectively came in neat tables (like Japanese and Esperanto) – so this particular section (the equivalents to where/there/here) was k-dje/*t-dje/sj-dje, k-uda/t-uda/sj-uda, k-amo/t-amo/sj-amo (give or take some precise details).
    Naturally, k-dje became gdje and sj-dje became zdje (or something similar) immediately after the intervening short vowels dropped (I’m not sure at which stage of Slavic this happened). I’m not sure what would have happened to *t-dje, if such a word (it would’ve been spelled тъде) even existed at all (it would’ve meant some variety of “there”, but I can’t think of any descendants).

    In Russian, kamo disappeared, while the other seven became gde, zde(s’), kuda, tuda, syuda, tam, syam (the last one only extant in fixed expressions).

  28. Thanks JFoM!
    But if “ne” in “nekto” means “some”, why does it have a negative meaning in “nekuda”?

  29. Trond Engen says:

    The Mainland Scandinavian indefinite pronoun paradigms are

    Da. nogen, – , noget; nogle
    Sw. någon, – , något; några
    No. N. nokon, noka, noko; nokre
    No. B. noen, – , noe; noen*

    These were formed by grammaticalization of a phrase, *ne-veit-ek-hw- “I don’t know wh-“, but I don’t think there’s any clear consensus on how *-veit-ek- was reduced to almost [o:]. Could Slavic ne- as oppsed to ni- stem from a similar process? And the two have merged again in Russian.

    I suppose one might analyse the Scandinavian paradigm as a negative prefix n(e)- put on a morpheme with a definite meaning to achieve indefiniteness. The opaque head morpheme cranberrified on its way to the modern languages, but the process could just as well happen with a more sustainable morpheme

    *) Note the simplified grammar and the rough pronunciation of Danish.

  30. Trond Engen says:

    (But it’s probably been adequately explained a long time ago, so my speculations are just a waste of time and effort.)

  31. @zyxt But if “ne” in “nekto” means “some”, why does it have a negative meaning in “nekuda”?

    The “nekto” is negative. It means “not any particular ‘who'”, thus ‘someone, anyone’.

  32. Michael Hendry says:

    Do Slavic languages only distinguish ‘where at’ and ‘where to’, not ‘where from’?
    Though they’ve mostly disappeared except in clichés (‘come-hither look’) or quotations from Shakespeare or the King James Bible, traditional English had all three, with completely regular forms for interrogatives and demonstratives: where, whither, whence, here, hither, hence, there, thither, thence.

    Latin is equally regular in the demonstratives, though with an extra 2nd-person set for things near or connected to the addressee:
    1st person: hūc (to here), hīc (here), hinc (from here),
    2nd person: istūc (to over by you), istīc (over by you), istinc (from over by you),
    3rd person: illūc (to there), illīc (there), illinc (from there),

    For whatever reason, the interrogatives do not match:
    quō (to where), ubi (where), unde (from where).

    I had imagined that these sets of three were a general Indo-European thing. Was I wrong? Or have they been simplified in other languages besides English?

  33. Of course, Russian has “where from”, it is otkuda. And I am sure other Slavic languages have similar forms. It even has a word for “nowhere from” niotkuda and even somewhat ostentatious expression “iz niotkuda” (from nowhere from)

  34. David Marjanović says:

    Naturally, k-dje became gdje and sj-dje became zdje (or something similar) immediately after the intervening short vowels dropped (I’m not sure at which stage of Slavic this happened).

    After the Czech g > h shift: kde “where”.

    I had imagined that these sets of three were a general Indo-European thing. Was I wrong? Or have they been simplified in other languages besides English?

    Having such a system is widespread, but they’re renewed pretty often. German has one today, and had a completely different one less than 1000 years ago.

  35. even somewhat ostentatious expression “iz niotkuda” (from nowhere from)

    Vladimir Maksimov’s “minimally fictionalized autobiography” was titled Proshchanie iz niotkuda (1973), translated as Farewell from Nowhere.

  36. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    The Mainland Scandinavian indefinite pronoun paradigms * * * were formed by grammaticalization of a phrase, *ne-veit-ek-hw- “I don’t know wh-“, but I don’t think there’s any clear consensus on how *-veit-ek- was reduced to almost [o:]. Could Slavic ne- as oppsed to ni- stem from a similar process? And the two have merged again in Russian.
    There’s also the idiomatic nescio quid in Latin as an indefinite. I don’t know if there are any reflexes in modern Romance languages.

    Da. nogen, – , noget; nogle
    Sw. någon, – , något; några
    No. N. nokon, noka, noko; nokre
    No. B. noen, – , noe; noen*
    *) Note the simplified grammar and the rough pronunciation of Danish.

    In spoken Swedish, någon / något / några is often pronounced (not to mention texted) as nån / nåt / nåra. I assume that it must sound similar to the Norwegian and Danish? (especially with the breaking I can hear of long vowels)

  37. Trond Engen says:

    Yes, very similar. In Modern Urban Eastern Norwegian, the base of Bokmål, it may be pronounced as (if written) non / no / non, but in more broad varieties it used to be nån m./f. / n. / nån pl.

    I’m not really sure that the g-less-ness is borrowed from Danish, but it’s a hint that the expected feminine **noa is nowhere to be found. And it’s not far inland from the Oslofjord before the traditional dialect forms had g, at least in the plural.

  38. Trond Engen says:

    That is, before the traditional dialects had plural forms with g (nogre or some such).

  39. Trond Engen says:

    Having had the weird idea of checking if I remembered the plural form correctly, I found listed what seems to be feminine forms noo’a, nå’a, so I’ll concede that the g-less forms may be homegrown after all.

  40. Note that Da nogle is a formal / written form that is distinguished from plural nogen by definiteness, but only peevers make that distinction in speech.

  41. Trond Engen says:

    Right. There’s a certain definiteness to Nyn. nokre too, but it’s more of a some/any distinction. And essentially pragmatic, following from the tendency to ask and negate in the singular. (“Did you find any?” Not one”.)

    I see that I read the dictionary entry wrong. The forms ending in -a are listed as plurals. That just makes me confused. And I’m no less confused when feminine forms are listed under f. = n.. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered feminine forms identical to the neuter. I may have to conclude that the process of phonological simplification and reorganization into a neat paradigm was still going on in the dialects when the age of lexicography set in.

  42. Trond Engen says:

    Stephen C. Carlson: There’s also the idiomatic nescio quid in Latin as an indefinite. I don’t know if there are any reflexes in modern Romance languages.

    With exactly parallel structures in Latin and Scandinavian, we might look for a wider phenomenon. Celtic would be the obvious first step.

  43. Michael Hendry says: “Do Slavic languages only distinguish ‘where at’ and ‘where to’, not ‘where from’?”

    The Croatian forms are identical to the Russian ones given by D.O.

    There is also the 3-way distinction in response to the question “kuda?” (which way / in which direction): The responses could be “ovuda” (this way), “tuda” (that way), and “onuda” (that way, far from me and you).

    Similarly, in response to the question “gdje” (where), the responses could be “ovdje” (here), “tu” / “tamo” (there) [note: standard Croatian does not have the equivalent of t-dje < tъ-dě] and "ondje" (yonder).

    I seem to recall that in Macedonian, one of the rare Slavic languages with articles, there is also the 3 -way distinction in the articles themselves: eg. masata ("the table"), masava ("the table here"), masana ("the table yonder").

  44. For whatever reason, the interrogatives do not match:
    quō (to where), ubi (where), unde (from where).

    Ubi (where), unde (from where) are generally considered mis-back-formations of necubi (nowhere) and necunde (from nowhere),where q wu –> cu.

    So the Latins series does, historically is not synchronically.

  45. Trind Endgen says: “Could Slavic ne- as oppsed to ni- stem from a similar process”

    Now you’ve got me interested. I think I have a reference book somewhere that I can dig up to check.

    In Croatian though, the ne- in “nekuda” comes from the Old Slavic “ně”, rather than “ne”.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    Stephen C. Carlson: There’s also the idiomatic nescio quid in Latin as an indefinite. I don’t know if there are any reflexes in modern Romance languages.

    Latin nescio quid = French je ne sais quoi ?

    Given the previous discussion, I suppose that the Latin words mean literally ‘I don’t know what’ but actually ‘something’. Similarly with the French words, used for ‘a little something, a mere suggestion of something’.

  47. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    Latin nescio quid = French je ne sais quoi ?
    That looks more like a parallel development with the right sense development than a reflex, since isn’t ne sais from non sapio rather than nescio?

    Poking around, I found a Romanian reflex niște, meaning ‘some’.

  48. Stephen C. Carlson says: “Poking around, I found a Romanian reflex niște”

    This could potentially be from Slavic. “Some(thing)” in Crotian is “nešto”

  49. Trond Engen says:

    marie-lucie: Latin nescio quid = French je ne sais quoi ?

    Stephen C. Carlson: That looks more like a parallel development with the right sense development than a reflex, since isn’t ne sais from non sapio rather than nescio?

    Or a renewal of an existing expression.

    When I named Celtic above I didn’t mean to suggest common heritage from some stage of Western IE but rather an early CE European calque. Since it’s apparently not (preserved?) in West Germanic, Celtic would be next in line.

    zyxt: “Some(thing)” in Crotian is “nešto”

    What is the relation between nešto and e.g. nekto above?

  50. January First-of-May says:

    What is the relation between nešto and e.g. nekto above?

    A fairly direct one, I suspect, given that the Russian is nechto

  51. David Marjanović says:

    it’s apparently not (preserved?) in West Germanic

    That prompted me to look for the etymology of the irgend- words (“some-/any-“). Two clicks away from Wiktionary:

    irgend Adv. ‘nicht näher bestimmbar, überhaupt, nur’ (vgl. wenn irgend möglich). Ahd. io (s. ↗je) und (h)wergin ‘irgendwo, -wohin’, aus ahd. (h)wār (s. ↗wo) und einer Indefinitpartikel -gin, verbinden sich zu ahd. io (h)wergin, iergen ‘irgendwo’ (11. Jh.), mhd. iergen, irgen, mnd. iergen(e), mit sekundär angetretenem Dental mhd. irgent (13. Jh.), mnd. iergent (s. ↗jemand, ↗niemand). Örtliche Bedeutung hält sich bis ins 17. Jh., danach allgemein im Sinne der Unbestimmtheit (wohl irgend zwanzig, 18. Jh.). Heute steht irgend vornehmlich in Zusammenrückung (bis ins 18. Jh. noch getrennt geschrieben) mit anderen Indefiniten, vgl. irgendwer, irgendwas, irgendein (16. Jh.), irgendwo (18. Jh.; vgl. spätmhd. iergen anderswā), irgendwelch, irgendwie (19. Jh.). Der Indefinitpartikel ahd. -gin (s. oben) entspricht asächs. -gin, aengl. -gen, anord. -gi; vgl. asächs. hwā̌rgin, hwergin ‘irgend, irgendwo’, aengl. elles hwergen ‘irgendwo anders’, anord. hvargi, hvergi ‘überall’, engi (aus *einngi) ‘irgendein, keiner’, manngi ‘niemand’, dazu mit Ablaut und grammatischem Wechsel got. -hun, vgl. got. ni ainshun, ni mannahun ‘niemand’. Verwandt sind aind. caná, awest. činā̌, die gleichfalls als Partikeln der Unbestimmtheit bzw. Verallgemeinerung fungieren. Zugrunde liegt vielleicht eine erstarrte Flexionsform (Instrumental) zu dem unter ↗wer (s. d.) behandelten Pronominalstamm. nirgend(s) Adv. ‘an keinem Ort’, aostnfrk. niwergin, niergin (9. Jh.), mhd. niergen, niergent, mnd. nergene, nergende, nergent, nhd. nirgend (16. Jh.) neben nirgends (15. Jh.). Vgl. nirgendwo (18. Jh.).

    So, it’s complex, but there’s no “I”, “know” or negation in it. And West Germanic should of course be the best place to look for Celtic influence.

  52. Trond Engen says:

    David M.: That prompted me to look for the etymology of the irgend- words (“some-/any-“).

    […]

    So, it’s complex, but there’s no “I”, “know” or negation in it.

    But interesting anyway. If I read it correctly, it could be a back-deformation similar to Lat. unde and ubi above.

    It could be Celtic, but I’d rather think Migration Era Latin. But West Germanic would be the entry point either way.

  53. Trond Engen says:

    My last paragraph was not meant to refer to the one before. Substitute …, German ‘irgend’ could be a back-deformation …” and “The ne scio quod construction could be Celtic …”

  54. David Marjanović says:

    I can’t find anything about a back-deformation. The 11th-century iergen meant “somewhere/anywhere”, and this meaning remained into the 17th century; then it changed to “about”, which first shows up in place metaphors (18th century wohl irgend zwanzig “probably about 20”) and was then generalized, so that the historically pleonastic irgendwo “somewhere/anywhere” shows up in the 18th century as well.

    The -d is one of those excrescent consonants that came out of nowhere to mark the end of a word.

  55. Trond Engen says:

    I supposed something like

    *hwer-gin- “any-who” > *ni-wergin- “no-one” > *niergen “id.” gt; iergen “some-any-”

    … but I may well have misread between the lines. A formation with a definite demonstrative rather than the indefinite/interrogative hw-, is hard to square with the distibutive suffix. Is it the 3p pronoun er > *er-gin- “any-he/she/it”?

  56. Trond Engen says:

    Forget it. It plainly says AHD io wergin. And io- = HG je- is related to ‘ever’.

  57. “What is the relation between nešto and e.g. nekto above?”

    Good question. “nešto” comes from něčъto. It means “something”, but can be used to translate “some” eg. in the response to a question: eg: Q: “Je li bilo išto?” A: “Je, nešto.” = “Was there any(thing)?” “Yes, some(thing)”.
    In Croatian, “što” literally means “what”.

    The Croatian word for “someone” or “somebody” is “netko”, It comes from something like někъto, with a metathesis of T and K. In Croatian, “tko” literally means “who”.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    Stephen CC: isn’t ne sais from non sapio rather than nescio?

    It is true that the verb savoir is from sapere rather than scire, but the French verb translates both Latin verbs, which must have had slightly different meanings originally.

    Je ne sais quoi sounds like an older (or archaizing) French translation of nescio quid.

  59. more of a some/any distinction — in Danish as well, I just tried to take a shortcut. Har du nogen æbler? — Ja, nogle har jeg. would be the old / prescriptive version. In practice, contrastive stress takes on the load of the some/any distinction in many contexts — stress the determiner for the ‘any’ sense.

  60. Trond Engen says:

    Yes, or the verb. Har du nogen æbler.

  61. m-l: sapio is ‘know, understand, be able’, whereas scio is ‘distinguish, discern’ (originally applied to flavors). The latter can also be used with an impersonal argument, in which case it means ‘taste like’.

  62. Michael Hendry says:

    J.C.:
    You’ve got that backwards: it’s sapio that was originally ‘taste of’, scio ‘discern’.

  63. Kamo means “where to, whither” in OCS and exists in modern Russian in the fixed expression kamo gryadeshi? – in other words, quo vadis? Not the quo vadis of John 13:36 (that one’s kamo ideshi in OCS) but its reprise in the legend of St. Peter fleeing Rome and meeting Jesus.

  64. Well, I have a couple of questions about that. 1) Why is the fixed expression taken from some apocryphal legend rather than the Gospel? (Further to that: is there an online OCS text of the legendary text?) 2) The Russian Wikipedia article stresses Ка́мо гряде́ши, with penultimate stress on the verb, but the OCS text of John has initial stress on Идеши; why would there be a difference?

  65. Bah, I note that the online Энциклопедический словарь крылатых слов и выражений has Камо грядеши? coming from Евангелие от Иоанна, гл. 13, ст. 33 — didn’t the author bother to check the alleged source?

  66. An odd oversight. Peter asks Jesus in John 13:36: Gospodi, kamo ideshi? In John 14:5, Thomas says to Jesus: Gospodi, ne vemy, kamo ideshi… Earlier in John (8:14), Jesus says: istinno est’ svidetelstvo moe: yako vem, otkudu priidokh i kamo idu: vy zhe ne veste, otkudu prikhozhdu i kamo gryadu…

    Close, but not quite there. Sreznevsky’s Old Russian dictionary has kamo and gryasti/gryadu, but (unless I’m missing it) no kamo gryadeshi. A puzzle.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Michael H: it’s sapio that was originally ‘taste of’, scio ‘discern’.

    I see, that’s why the French noun la saveur ‘the (specific) taste, flavour’, the adjective savoureux ‘flavourful’ and the verb savourer ‘to enjoy the flavour of (a food in one’s mouth)’ (hence English to savour). Also in Spanish: saber ‘to know’, sabor ‘flavour’, sabroso ‘tasty, flavourful’. And the difference between the French verbs savoir ‘to know (how to), to know by heart, by experience, to be able to’ and connaître ‘to know of, to know (intellectually), to be acquainted with’.

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