MECH/SHPAGA = SWORD.

I was thunderstruck (well, surprised anyway, but I’m feeling a little weak-brained this morning, so it hit me strongly) to discover from this post of Anatoly’s that the Russian words “меч” and “шпага” are felt by Russians to be completely different things. Because they are both defined as “sword” in bilingual dictionaries, I assumed they were synonyms. It seems, however, that меч [mech] is the kind of sword you go into battle with, whereas шпага [shpaga] is the kind of sword you fence with. Anatoly can’t quite see how a language can mix up two such obviously distinct objects; as I say in his comment thread, I can sort of see the distinction, and I suppose as I read Russian with it in mind it will become clearer, but the two concepts will never be as distinct for me as they are for a Russian-speaker. Without diving into the Swamp of Sapir-Whorf, this is a clear example of the kind of effect language has on thought.
It is interesting, however, that the Wikipedia articles Шпага and Меч have the identical illustration, in the latter labeled “Изображение двенадцати разных мечей” [twelve different meches] and in the former “ново-прусские шпаги” [new-Prussian shpagas].

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    The pictures don’t look quite the same: the меч [mech] is a heavy-duty weapon used as a double blade while the шпага [shpaga] is much more slender and comes to a sharp point. I looked up the French articles, which call both of them épée but the second one is described within the context of fencing.
    The word épée is from Latin spatha which is itself borrowed from a Germanic word which must be related to Russian [shpaga].

  2. Doutblessly a useful distinction. You don’t want to go someplace requiring a меч armed with only a шпага .
    I couldn’t help but be distracted by the similarity between шпага and Romanian şpagӑ, which means “bribe”. False friends or semantic drift?

  3. You don’t fence with a sword. You fence with an épée (which we call kord, I wonder why), a sabre and a fleuret / foil. To my mind, there is a world of difference between a меч and a шпага, but I’d have a difficult time explaining it. Marie-Lucie’s list of distinctions is a good start, I would also add that only a меч can be used two-handed and that шпага almost always has a basket hilt, while the crossguard on a меч is a simple bar.
    As for the illustrations, could it perhaps be that меч is a generic term for a cold weapon of certain length? Come to think of it, doesn’t the same apply to the word sword in English?

  4. And the there’s also the рапира, which the Russian wiki defines as a type of шпага, but the English wiki calls a “a relatively slender, sharply pointed sword.”

  5. шпага [shpaga] is much more slender and comes to a sharp point
    Anything to do with spaghetti?

  6. I think the whole distinction comes down to the primary use – меч is used primarily for cutting and slashing while шпага is primarily used for thrusting.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    bulbul, those are the words I was searching for as to the use of those weapons.
    La rapière was a particularly long and slender kind of “spaga”, like the swords of the Three Musketeers: used for duelling, not battle.

  8. The wikipedia article for Шпага has the right illustration on the top, as opposed to the Меч. For a native speaker the two words have a definite distinction with Шпага strongly associated with the Dumas’ “Three musketeers” and other literature of the period.

  9. m-l,
    I’m pretty sure the musketeers had épées. In my head, rapiers are associated with conquistadors and the Spanish bravi of I Promessi Sposi.

  10. What bulbul said. Меч is an older Slavic word word that refers to older weapons. For example, the Iliad translation uses меч. Шпага is a western borrowing that must have appeared with introduction of fencing in the 18th century. Тhe 3 musketeers definitely used шпага. Then there is also сабля, which is a Turkic borrowing and is similar to меч, but lighter and curved.

  11. меч is used primarily for cutting and slashing while шпага is primarily used for thrusting
    Does the former take precedence? What is a weapon for d’estoc et de taille?

  12. marie-lucie says:

    The rapière is just a type of fencing épée, so in some contexts the words could be unterchangeable.
    there is also сабля, which is a Turkic borrowing and is similar to меч, but lighter and curved.
    Then it must be the same as le sabre. The Turkic origin makes sense as this was the weapon of cavalry regiments.

  13. a cold weapon of certain length
    I’ve often wondered whether the French arme blanche and Spanish arma blanca had an English counterpart. Now I know they do.

  14. It’s funny, people here must not be into medieval history or at least not medieval military history. I think that in English “mech” would be “broadsword”, a heavy, two-handed, two edged sword that is heavy enough to smash through armor. Even if the cutting edge doesn’t cut through, broadswords are heavy enough to do damage just as clubs.
    I’d call the other one generically a “foil”, but I don’t really know much about fencing and that may just be one type. But it’s a duelling and sports sword and is pretty much useless in battle. (Sabers are used at times in wars, but not the pointed stabbing swords, I don’t think).
    I’m by no means an expert but I think I’ve come reasonably close. (Where’s the SCA when you need them?)

  15. Marie-Lucie, that’s right – I didn’t know it had exactly the same meaning in French. I tried to think of possible Western translations that would use сабля, but nothing came to mind. It is used throughout 19 century literature that has to do with the military (Lermontov, Tolstoy, etc.)

  16. Then it must be the same as le sabre.
    It indeed is. And come to think of it, sabres (and cutlasses and scimitars) have a hand guard, so maybe the question of what separates the handle from the blade is a much better classification criterion than the predominant type of movement.
    Does the former take precedence?
    I’m not sure. In any case, it may all come down to physical characteristics which predetermine the use (меч is a lot heavier than шпага and thus much better suited to cutting and slashing) as well as the choice of tactics.
    Which brings me to the fictional weapon used by the Jedi in the Star Wars universe. Why do they call it a lightsaber and not a lightsword? It has none of the characteristics of a saber…

  17. I think that in English “mech” would be “broadsword”
    That would be a typical example, but not the only one. A Roman gladius is a меч and so is daito or even wakizashi. Even the aforementioned lightsaber is called a световой меч in Russian.

  18. Not really, Grumbly. Cold weapon can denote missile weapons directly or indirectly powered by human (or, I suppose, animal) muscle such as bows, slings, blowguns, and boomerangs, whereas arme blanche (and presumably arma blanca, which looks like a calque to me) normally does not.
    Wikipedia says that cudgels are also cold weapons, which seems plausible enough, though I am not familiar with such a usage.

  19. Sometime in the 1970s the US air force retired the Super Sabre aircraft and George Lucas introduced the lightsaber. By doing so, it seems Lucas may also have switched the US spelling of “sabre” to -er. What with the spaghetti, I’m getting pretty good at etymology. I may start writing a couple of dictionaries.

  20. michael farris says:

    I looked up the Polish (in W-pedia) and they’re miecz and szpada respectively.
    My question is: How did the d (also found in cognates in other languages AFAICT) become a g?
    Also, in Polish krzeszło (chair) and fotel (armchair) are considered completely different things. I have the idea that most Americans usually use ‘chair’ for both.
    I’ve noticed other examples where general American (can’t speak for other kinds of English) uses a general cover term for a variety of things that are considered the same kind of thing where Polish has very different terms and theyre not considered similar at all. This is often an issue in translation class.

  21. Interesting. To me a foil and an epee and a sabre are “swords” — not *really* swords. Just called swords because you need a generic word for the whole class. A *real* sword is a battle sword, be it one handed or two. (Sabres are maybe sort of crossovers, because cavalrymen really did carry them in battle.)
    Kind of like a brig is a “ship,” but it’s not a ship, because a ship, as we all know, has three masts, while a brig has only two.

  22. which we call kord, I wonder why
    kord, like Hungarian kard must come from Alanian kard meaning ‘knife’ in modern Ossetian and Persian

  23. The pictures don’t look quite the same
    You’re not looking at the right picture. On the Шпага page, scroll down to the История section; on the right is the exact same picture as the top one for Меч.
    You don’t fence with a sword. You fence with an épée (which we call kord, I wonder why), a sabre and a fleuret / foil.
    Fencing, like all other specialized activities, has its own specialized vocabulary. Normal (i.e., non-fencing) speakers of English do not use the words épée, sabre, fleuret, or foil. They’re all swords. I trust you’re not the sort of pedant who looks down on ordinary speakers for not using specialized vocabulary.
    Меч is an older Slavic word that refers to older weapons.
    But that implies they’re two different words, one older than the other, for basically the same concept, which is exactly what Anatoly is denying. (And let’s face it, all swords are “older weapons.”)
    By doing so, it seems Lucas may also have switched the US spelling of “sabre” to -er.
    No, the US spelling has always been saber (e.g., 1889 GUNTER That Frenchman x, Several pairs of foils, and sabers). The question is why the air force used the U.K. spelling; probably some confused notion of prestige.
    As to etymology, шпага is from Polish szpaga, from Italian spada, from medieval Latin spada, from Greek spáthē. Меч may be a loan from Gothic, but the matter is disputed.

  24. Световой меч? I had no idea about the SW culture when I lived in Russia, and it’s been almost 15 years, but to me it sounds very clunky albeit technically correct.
    Michael – in Russian, word кресло stands for armchair, and chair is стул (from German). I am guessing that English relies on modifiers for distinction, and they get dropped when the context is sufficient.
    LH – agreed, but they have completely different blades and you wouldn’t confuse them in a picture. Меч would be a broader term for all ancient and medieval swords, be it a broadsword, longsword, estoc, etc.

  25. michael farris says:

    “шпага is from Polish szpaga, from Italian spada”
    Now I’m wondering how the d became a g in Polish and when it got changed back – the modern word is szpada.
    “I am guessing that English relies on modifiers for distinction, and they get dropped when the context is sufficient.”
    I think that’s a Russian way of approaching the difference. My intuition is that English speakers think of them at most as different versions of the same thing and add extra info to distinguish them (very) occasionally.
    “Normal (i.e., non-fencing) speakers of English do not use the words épée, sabre, fleuret, or foil.”
    I would use foil though only as the thing that (especially competitive) fencers use (where I don’t know if it’s correct from an insider’s point of view). But I think of foil as a member of the larger class ‘sword’.

  26. >Меч is an older Slavic word word
    Until the mid-16th c., the medieval Russian army was almost entirely light cavalry; therefore, it is unlikely they would have used broadswords. They, like their Tatar adversaries, were first of all archers; next recourse was the “sabel” — sabre– a curved sword, wielded from horseback, Tatar-style.
    Much of the terminology for military (or horse) equipage in old Russian comes via Tatar.
    I don’t know what they used when they fought the Teutonic knights (who would have used western-style heavy armor?) I can’t get out of my head Eisenstein’s cone-heads and bucket-heads in Alexander Nevskii, but that of course isn’t necessarily accurate.

  27. Much of the terminology for military (or horse) equipage in old Russian comes via Tatar
    not Tatar, but in my language mech is ild, sablya – selem, shpaga – tuyalzuur jad, which means flexible spear
    i kind of always get ‘put off’ that all our conquests get ‘usurped’ by Tatars, though one shouldn’t feel jealous about wars perhaps

  28. I look down on thee, Hat!
    [repeat twice]
    Apparently I belong to the small, snooty class of people who knows the least little bit about fencing. I had a friend who fenced for P.E. around 1964-5. I also met an Olympic fencer around 1980 during my second undergrad career. Oddly, I met him in a P.E. class he had to take even though he was an Olympian, because Last Chance U. did not recognize fencing as a sport. I must have picked up a teeny bit of vocabulary by osmosis.
    Slightly relevant, dueling was still practiced in France into the 1870s or so, but they used pistols. Foils, etc., were passe.
    Also slightly relevant, dueling was a common practice in the US at least until the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln, who was very tall and extraordinarily strong, persuaded one challenger to withdraw his challenge by choosing to duel with broadswords.

  29. hat,
    I trust you’re not the sort of pedant who looks down on ordinary speakers for not using specialized vocabulary.
    No, of course not. I just wouldn’t use the word sword to refer to any of the cold weapons used in fencing and I mistakenly assumed neither would other speakers of English. Which is why I wondered about меч and sword meaning “any cold weapon of certain length.” Both usages in both languages sound strange to me. Slovak (and Czech) doesn’t have a single word for either the type of cold weapon or the subset thereof Russians seem to call шпага. Now put that in your Sapir-Whorfian sheesha and smoke it :)
    Normal (i.e., non-fencing) speakers of English do not use the words épée, sabre, fleuret, or foil. They’re all swords.
    A normal speaker of Slovak would probably not know what a fleret (fleuret) is, but they would know the difference between šabľa and meč and would probably also know about kord.
    Studiolum,
    kord, like Hungarian kard must come from Alanian kard meaning ‘knife’ in modern Ossetian and Persian
    Ah yes, thanks. And indeed, Holub’s etymological dictionary of Czech has “from Persian kārd via Turkish kard.”
    MV,
    световой меч, yep. In Slovak, it’s called a svetelný meč and I, having seen the original trilogy in German only (Lichtschwert), was really surprised to encounter the term lightsaber in (probably) KOTOR.

  30. michael farris says:

    “I look down on thee, Hat!”
    Ooh, a fun new game! Can I look down on Hat too?

  31. oleg semenov says:

    michael farris,
    Also, in Polish krzeszło (chair) and fotel (armchair) are considered completely different things
    Russian has exactly the same distinction except “kreslo” is an armchair! A regular chair is called “stul” which is obviously cognate with English “stool”, which in Russian is completely distinct from both “kreslo” and “stul” and is called “taburet”. What a neverending source of amusement…

  32. So – no language has only one word for sword?

  33. And does Arabic really have 653 words for sword?

  34. You could live your life never noticing the difference between serif and sans serif font.
    Then, one day you’re told of the difference between them.
    Then, if you look more closely, you notice the difference more, and you get even better at it doing so with time.
    For me, that’s not language influencing thought so much as your mind being trained to distinguish two categories or types of thing. And the reason that can seem to strange to someone coming late to the distinction is that their mind has not been trained to do this discerning over time.
    Anyway, that’s what I reckon.

  35. Etienne says:

    1-French also has “glaive” (from GLADIUS, though the shift of the /d/ to /v/ is irregular and has been explained as interference from a cognate Gaulish word: cf. Old Irish GLAIBH), which to me, from what I’ve been reading, seems to be very close in meaning to “Mech”.
    2-Latin SPAT(H)A would not have yielded Italian or Medieval Latin SPADA (the consonant should have remained /t/). I suspect the ultimate source of both was Old Provencal (which voices intervocalic stops and leaves /a/ unscathed).
    3-English SPADE is a nice Germanic cognate of Greek SPATHE, and English SPATULA a direct loan from a Latin diminutive of SPAT(H)A (SPADE and SPATHE would make a great pair for learning the sound correspondance: Indo-European DH = Greek TH and Germanic D)
    4-Oleg: I’m neither a Russianist nor a Netherlandicist (I can manage to ‘fake’ being both on occasion), but I strongly suspect Russian STUL is a loan from Dutch STOEL, rather than an actual cognate. Which would make it an indirect cognate of FOTEL, since the latter is a loan from French FAUTEUIL (FALDESTOED in the CHANSON DE ROLAND), which itself in turn was borrowed from Frankish: it is a Germanic compound of cognates of “fold” and “stool”.
    5-Since I’m neither a Russianist nor a slavist, and since I am not so foolish as to try to fake being either with this crowd, I won’t even venture to guess how SPADA ended up with an intervocalic /g/ in various Slavic languages.
    6-Reading the thread, I sometimes get the impression that lovers of etymology know more about the history of cross-cultural contacts and influence than many historians (no disrespect meant to the latter profession, of course).

  36. Isn’t it “Batavianist”?

  37. Bathrobe says:

    According to Japanese Wikipedia, the 剣 tsurugi or ken generally (but not always) refers to a double-sided blade; a 刀 katana refers to a single-sided blade.
    the kind of effect language has on thought
    Well, maybe, maybe not.
    For English speakers, sheep and goats are quite different animals, but in Chinese, sheep and goats (and certain kinds of antelope) are referred to by the same word — 羊 yáng. In Chinese, you have to make a conscious decision to distinguish the two, 绵羊 miányáng (wool-yang) for ‘sheep’ and 山羊 shānyáng (mountain-yang) for ‘goat’.
    For English speakers, mice and rats are similar but quite different animals. In Japanese they are all ネズミ nezumi. If you want to specify ‘mouse’, you can call them ハツカネズミ hatsuka-nezumi, but in normal use, Japanese speakers don’t make a distinction.

  38. John Cowan: thanks for pulling me up before that misprision of “cold weapon” got settled in my mind. I had been in a rush today, and having found the WiPe article I took in “any weapon that does not involve fire or explosions” and decided that that must mean knife.
    It’s odd that arme blanche and arma blanca are in current use – generic expressions, as I have believed up to now, meaning “any weapon that is not a firearm”, not just “knife”, for instance brass knucks – yet there doesn’t seem to be an English equivalent apart from “not a firearm”, unless possibly something like “blade weapon” ? I encounter the expressions frequently in French and Spanish newspaper articles and television reports about encounters between police and bad guys (knifings in France) and among husband, wife and jealously involved third parties (knifings in Spain). Perhaps I’m wrong about “generic”, and the expressions are just a (to my mind) fancy way of saying “knife”. Maybe it seems fancy because only because rapiers etc. are not generally available nowadays. Only in Tarantino films does one encounter sworded jealousy.
    The Petit Robert, under arme and related entries, seems to be telling us that arme blanche is any weapon that is not “hardened”, or that doesn’t involve the use of bullets:

    Armes blanches*; armes à feu.

    Since arme à feu is generic, i conclude that arme blanche is generic. The * refers me to the blanc entry, where I find:

    ARME BLANCHE, non bronzée (opposé à arme à feu)

    Tirer à blanc : avec des balles inoffensives, ou sans balle. Fig. À blanc : sans effet réel, pour essayer.

    Under bronzé I find:

    Fig. Vx  Endurcir. Pronom.  « En vivant et en voyant les hommes, il faut que le cœur se brise ou se bronze » (Chamfort)

    Here is the RAE telling us that arma blanca covers knives, swords etc.:

    La ofensiva de hoja de hierro o de acero, como la espada.

    But, new to me, it also says about blanco that it can mean “target” or “distance marker in target shooting”:

    10. m. Objeto situado lejos para ejercitarse en el tiro y puntería, o bien para adiestrar [train, A.d.Ü.] la vista en medir distancias, y a veces para graduar el alcance de las armas.
    11. m. Todo objeto sobre el cual se dispara un arma.

    Apart from the surprising apparent connection between “blanks”, blanc and blanco in the sense of “cartridges without a real bullet”, the expression “point blank” occurs to me. I had always thought that meant “fired directly in front [of the person]“, but MW seems to be saying that “fired so that the projectile travels in a straight line” is the basic meaning, so being close is only a way of ensuring a linear trajectory:

    a : marked by no appreciable drop below initial horizontal line of flight
    b : so close to a target that a missile fired will travel in a straight line to the mark

    I’m not clear on all the interrelationships here, and I still wonder about the idea behind arme blanche. Could it be the fact that knives, swords “gleam” or “flash” in the light, whereas muskets etc. made of wood and metal are “dark” for the most part ??

  39. marie-lucie says:

    Merci, Etienne. I have seen Latin spat(h)a reported as a Germanic loanword, but it could have been a word widespread in the ancient world and present in several languages.
    Etienne is right about Russian FOTEL from French fauteuil from Frankish FALDESTOEL ‘folding seat’ (that commanders used during campaigns). In French la chaise (armless chair) and le fauteuil (armchair) are considered completely different. As for Russian TABURET, it is French le tabouret “stool”. (I wonder if that word means “little drum”, referring to its shape: tabour is an older, alternate form of meaning “drum”).
    Back to ancient weapons: compared to l’épée which is more or less generic, le glaive seems to me rather associated with epic poetry or rather florid historical prose, and in any case it would mean a large battle weapon, probably a type of broadsword.
    I did not know the English phrase “cold weapon”, but in French une arme blanche has to refer to one that has a metal blade (knife, sword, etc). You cannot use this phrase for any type of gun, but neither can it refer to bows and arrows, boomerangs, etc which do not have a blade. I think the adjective blanche refers to the shiny aspect of the polished blade.
    The English foil is another name for le fleuret – a training weapon whose tip was blunted to as not to cause injury. (They all have this feature nowadays since the end of actual duelling).

  40. I just bust a gut at a French expression new to me: Les doigts dans le nez. It is, in a way, a counterpart to “[sitting around] with his thumb up his ass”, i.e. not doing much, not paying attention. How I love the telling phrase, be it crude or refined !

    3¨ (v. 1889 turf)Loc. fam. Arriver dans un fauteuil : arriver premier, sans peine, dans une compétition. Par ext. Dans un fauteuil : avec facilité, sans peine pour obtenir la réussite, le succès (cf. Les doigts dans le nez*).

    Fam. Gagner les doigts dans le nez, sans aucune difficulté (cf. Dans un fauteuil*).

    By the way, a lawn chair is a Faltstuhl. There are many words for armchair, probably of different regional predominance: Armsessel, Lehnstuhl, Polstersessel, Polsterstuhl, Sessel, and also Fauteuil (pronounced as in French). All of them are der.

  41. a lawn chair is a Faltstuhl.
    A lawn chair or deck chair is more commonly called Liegestuhl, or just Liege. A Klappstuhl is a folding chair.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly,
    Thank you for finding dans un fauteuil, which I did not know but would much prefer to les doigts dans le nez (as in Il a réussi à l’examen les doigts dans le nez – I guess that in that position you cannot “lift a finger”). It is one of a few phrases involving the nose that my father often used and that I always found thoroughly disgusting. I would never use it myself in spontaneous speech, but dans un fauteuil is a nice substitute.

  43. A lawn chair or deck chair is more commonly called Liegestuhl, or just Liege.
    Would be interesting to learn if Ukrainian ліжко (lizhko, “bed”) is related, or is instead from some native form of the verb “to lie down.” (Lie/legen/лежать — all cognate?)

  44. Liege is also used for other simple, bed-like things on which you can lie, such as in the first-aid room of an office building (can’t remember, is that called a “couch” ?).

  45. I guess that in that position you cannot “lift a finger”
    That’s why I find the phrase and its English homolog fort à propos. Given the way humans are constructed, such auto-immobilization of the hands is the natural way to make oneself useless, whether by design or dorkiness. The expressions are usually applied to men. Women have the happy ability to achieve a similar result in a less disgusting manner by means of long fingernails. At the other extreme, men have two left feet while women wear high heels.

  46. Similar point, different language. The other day I was trying, not for the first time, to explain to my Spanish students the difference in English between ‘sleep’ and ‘dream’. In Spanish these are both ‘sueño’, and the English distinction is not always easy to grasp. But then, Spanish playwright Lope de Vega famously said ‘Life’s a dream’ (La vida es sueño).

  47. bruessel says:

    I’m surprised Grumbly didn’t mention this, but surely the Russian distinction corresponds to the German Schwert(=mech)/Degen(=shpaga). To me, it is quite obvious that the 3 musketeers would only use Degen.

  48. Peter Harvey,
    I’m sure you wanted to say Pedro Calderón de la Barca instead of Lope de Vega. ¿no?

  49. Anatoly says:

    Peter Harvey,
    Russian is the same as Spanish in this respect: ‘sleep’ and ‘dream’ are both сон son. But English merely chooses a different pair to conflate here: ‘dream’ as the contents what you dream in your sleep vs ‘dream’ as a conscious vision of the future (“I have a dream…”). Russian has a separate word for this: мечта mechta.
    So if we look at these three different things:
    A: the state or activity of sleeping
    B: the “vision” you experience while asleep
    C: A highly desirable and hoped for state of affairs
    Then English unites B+C with ‘dream’, while Russian unites A+B with ‘сон’. There probably are languages that keep all of A, B, C separate; can anyone offer some examples?

  50. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly, long fingernails are not a prerogative of women: upper-class Chinese men used to grow notoriously long fingernails.

  51. the German Schwert(=mech)/Degen(=shpaga)
    bruessel, I know diddly about weapons (not because I am pacific, but because I’m ignorant). So it’s just as well that you made the point. I now know more than I did. The extent of my previous knowledge was: Schwerter are wielded by the big guys, while Degen are plunged by nasty little assassins into the backs of their victims.

  52. Etienne says ‘French also has “glaive” ‘
    The English have ‘glave’, which I have encountered in relation to an ‘eel glave’ which is a multi-bladed, serrated spear for catching eels (linking to recent eely discussions).

  53. Etienne, thanks very much for your learnèd and helpful comment!
    I strongly suspect Russian STUL is a loan from Dutch STOEL, rather than an actual cognate.
    According to Vasmer, it could be from either Old Irish stóll or Low German stuhl (a borrowing from High German would have given штуль).
    Reading the thread, I sometimes get the impression that lovers of etymology know more about the history of cross-cultural contacts and influence than many historians
    In some ways and contexts this is probably true, just as it is for numismatists (it’s amazing how much coin collectors who specialize in the area know about obscure Near Eastern principalities of Late Antiquity).
    Les doigts dans le nez
    Thanks for this wonderful expression, Grumbly!

  54. A: the state or activity of sleeping
    B: the “vision” you experience while asleep
    C: A highly desirable and hoped for state of affairs

    my language (Mongolian) separates all three of them
    A: noir
    B:zuud
    C:möröödöl

  55. B is pronounced more like züüd

  56. Japanese also separates i guess A : o nemuri B: yume C: but C is also yume as far as i can recall
    well, we win then

  57. bruessel says:

    “while Degen are plunged by nasty little assassins into the backs of their victims.”
    Ah no, the weapon of choice for an assassin is a Dolch (dagger). Remember “Zu Dionys, dem Tyrannen, schlich Damon, den Dolch im Gewande” from Schiller’s Bürgschaft?

  58. An unnecessarily high proportion of what we know about the Bactrian Greeks and the Kushan Empire comes from numismatics. If Afghanistan and neighboring areas ever settle down, archaeologists will have a lot of opportunities. If.

  59. dolch
    Dolk, in Norwegian.

  60. rootlesscosmo says:

    Ah no, the weapon of choice for an assassin is a Dolch (dagger).
    Dolchstoss was the Nazis’ word for the “stab in the back” that brought Germany down in 1918.

  61. “Zu Dionys, dem Tyrannen, schlich Damon, den Dolch im Gewande” from Schiller’s Bürgschaft
    Since I’ve read only Maria Stuart, how am I supposed to know what a Dolch is ? But the line thumps along prettily enough.
    Of course you’re right, I just wasn’t thinking. I knew a Degen is not a Conan the Barbarian Schwert, but what it is exactly I didn’t know . No more than I’ve ever known more than the crudest differences between “rapier”, “cutlass” etc. Or between “birch”, “elm”, “Ford”, “Chrysler”, “cerulean”, “marine” etc. I suppose that’s because in my everyday life there is no cash value in knowing these things.

  62. John Atkinson says:

    I strongly suspect Russian STUL is a loan from Dutch STOEL, rather than an actual cognate.
    According to Vasmer, it could be from either Old Irish stóll or Low German stuhl (a borrowing from High German would have given штуль).
    I wouldn’t want to contradict Vasmer, but if it came from High German early enough it would be [st-]. Not sure when that sound change happened, but Yiddish, which split off from Middle High German around the 12th or 13th century, retains /s/ before consonants too.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Russian STUL
    I wouldn’t want to contradict Vasmer either, since he seems to be THE authority on the history of Russian, but why and how would speakers of an early form of Russian have adopted an Old Irish word for a piece of furniture? “Borrowing” supposes some form of contact, even very indirect, and some reason to adopt a word (exotic object, cultural prestige, etc). Some Germanic language seems to be the obvious source of the Russian word (I don’t know enough to speculate on the source of the OI word).

  64. En stol is a chair in Norwegian too, if that’s any help.

  65. There is more to this than semantics. At one of my first seminars in Russian (lexicology) the professor asked us to define the difference between лошадь (horse fem.) and конь (horse masc.) We all shoutted: it’s the gender! No, Tamara Shanskaya said (Hat you should know her: she was a renowned specialist in swearing, your field), it’s stylistics: a peasant goes on a лошадь, a cossack always goes on a конь.
    The same goes for меч and шпага. Меч is generic for sword, шпага is what a musketeer used.

  66. Sash: шпага is what a musketeer used
    Although according to Wikipedia they weren’t THAT hoity-toity,

    As a junior unit in the Royal Guard, the Musketeers were not closely linked to the royal family. Traditional bodyguard duties were in fact performed by the Garde du Corps and the Gardes suisses. Because of its junior status, the Musketeers were open to the lower classes of French nobility or younger sons from noble families whose oldest son served in the more prestigious units. The Musketeers soon gained a reputation for boisterousness and fighting spirit as the only way for social and career advancement was excelling at their task as mounted light dragoons.

    Isn’t it peculiar that we’re using them as an example of sword fighting, when the whole point of musketeers is that they used muskets?

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura: There is more to this than semantics.
    The difference is sociolinguistic.
    AJP: The musketeers used muskets in their military capacity, to fire from a distance, for instance on a crowd, but they also wore and used swords for fighting at close quarters with individual adversaries of noble rank. Swords were the noble weapons, carried in public whether the wearer was part of a corps or not. Duels were supposed to be fought with swords, in a display of skill and artistry governed by a code of honour, not with the plebeian muskets. I suppose that since the musketeers were a kind of second-class nobility, they had to prove their nobility by showing their prowess with the sword, not with the utilitarian musket.

  68. bruessel says:

    What m-l said. Quite honestly, the only musketeers I’m familiar with are the ones from Dumas’ novels, and they are famous for their duels and swordplay, which was amply illustrated in several films.

  69. Okay. Well, has anyone mentioned this weapon yet: the sovnya? I found it when I was looking up halbardiers.

  70. Etienne says:

    Trying to keep it short here (with little success, I might addd…)
    -Marie-Lucie: your hunch is correct: according to my etymological dictionary TABOURET is indeed the diminutive of Old French TABOUR, and acquired its meaning because of the (shared) round shape. I wonder about the last point though: in a military setting, could drums have been actually used as chairs, FAUTE DE MIEUX? Cf. “drumhead trial” in English.
    -I’ll fake being a Celticist/Slavicist (against my own advice, of course…) and join my voice to others’ in doubting that Old Irish could have been the source of Russian STUL: I’ve never heard of Old Irish loanwords making their way that far East.
    -Anatoly, Peter Harvey: I’m pretty sure Spanish SUENO and Russian SON are cognates, both going back to Proto-Indo-European *SWEPNOS (Latin SOMNUS being a nice half-way point being Indo-European and Spanish). I’m not sure whether the shared Spanish/Russian meaning can be traced back that far though…
    -In support of my contention that MECH (and its cognates elsewhere in Slavic)and GLAIVE are semantically close I submit the following: Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel OGNIEM I MIECZEM was translated into French as PAR LE FEU ET LE GLAIVE.
    -PK: Thanks for the information on the English word “glave” (the things I learn here!)

  71. JE: Where’s the SCA when you need them?
    Not technically SCA here, but the SCA does not neglect to invite their 10th century Viking cousins to banquets. Viking reenactors gravitate more towards the mead, though, also lute music, and mostly just want a sword that looks good enough to carry in the Syttendemai parade. From Reid’s Arms Though the Ages:

    A sword is a weapon intended for cutting, thrusting, or both. It consists of a straight or curved blade with a point which may be sharp or blunt and it usually has one or two sharp edges (although some have none) and a hilt formed of a handle and a simple or complex guard.
    The knight’s sword of the Middle Ages was of a cruciform construction, the hilt comprising no more than a cross-guard (quillions), grip and pommel fastened by riveting to the tang of the blade. Most swords of state and other bearing swords follow this pattern.
    As armor passed out of use, the carrying of swords by men going about their daily business became more common. With the custom came changes in hilt design; those for the more complex forms of fence became very complicated. Moreover the rapiers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were occasionally used with a buckler, a dagger or even another sword in the left hand. By the middle of the seventeenth century, there appeared the prototype of the elegant smallsword and, in turn, of the modern fencing foil. A variety of such weapons followed. These were little more than masculine jewelry, even if they were deadly in the hand of an expert.
    Parallel with the developments of the rapier and the estoc, essentially thrusting swords, came the broadsword made for cutting in almost a medieval method of fighting. The broadsword used in Europe from the middle of the sixteenth century had a stout basket-guard which almost enclosed the hand. Around 1700, the finest were made in Scotland (in Glasgow and Stirling), and fitted with blades imported from continental Europe. More open forms were common elsewhere, but in Italy the shiavona, whose hilt has a superficial resemblance to the Scottish types, evolved in the second half of the seventeenth century.

    The index lists 54 types of swords.
    Viking swords were often made from poor quality iron, mostly reclaimed from bogs. Swords were often given names, and a good sword smith regarded as something of a magician. Sometimes the sword would get bent and a Viking combatant would have to have to stop mid-battle and straighten the sword, which gave an advantage to their opponent. Sometimes a blow to the sword would strike an impurity in the metal and the sword would break, another advantage to the opponent. A sword fight was won basically by hacking off limbs until the opponent couldn’t fight anymore, so that death came slowly, often slowly enough for the dying Viking to have time to compose a poem about the day’s deeds that was hoped would ensure the poet a form of immortality.

  72. Sometimes the sword would get bent and a Viking combatant would have to have to stop mid-battle and straighten the sword, which gave an advantage to their opponent.
    The Norse gift for understatement, I presume. Much of this has been covered by Monty Python, of course.

  73. The Norse gift for understatement
    Yes, it’s in Laxdale Saga like that: “Kjartan smote hard, but his sword was of little avail (and bent so), he often had to straighten it under his foot.” Ironically, that’s from Chapter 49 “The Death of Kjartan”.
    They probably ripped it off from Python, then. :~)

  74. Yabalak says:

    There is a poem by Yury Levitansky (Юрий Левитанский) where you can read:
    Каждый выбирает по себе
    Слово для любви и для молитвы.
    Шпагу для дуэли, меч для битвы
    Каждый выбирает по себе.

  75. Yabalak says:

    And here at youtube Sergei Nikitin sings the song “Каждый выбирает для себя”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ygkr-Iw6Mb8

  76. Thanks, a nice song and a perfect quote for the topic! Here‘s the direct link. Translation of the relevant quatrain:
    “Everyone chooses for themselves
    A word for love and for prayer.
    A shpaga for a duel, a mech for battle;
    Everyone chooses for themselves.”

  77. English has glaive too, as in (speaking of lines of verse) Stephen R. Donaldson’s lyric:
    Andelain I hold and mold within my fragile spell,
    While world’s ruin ruins wood and wold.
    Sap and bough are grief and grim to me, engrievement fell,
    And petals fall without relief.
    Astricken by my power’s dearth,
    I hold the glaive of Law against the Earth.
    Andelain I cherish dear within my mortal breast;
    And faithful I withhold Despiser’s wish.
    But faithless is my ache for dreams and slumbering and rest,
    And burdens make my courage break.
    The Sunbane mocks my best reply,
    And all about and in me beauties die.
    Andelain! I strive with need and loss, and ascertain
    That the Despiser’s might can rend and rive.
    Each falter of my ancient heart is all the evil’s gain;
    And it appalls without relent.
    I cannot spread my power more,
    Though teary visions come of wail and gore.
    Oh, Andelain! forgive! for I am doomed to fail this war.
    I cannot bear to see you die — and live,
    Foredoomed to bitterness and all the gray Despiser’s lore.
    But while I can I heed the call
    Of green and tree; and for their worth,
    I hold the glaive of Law against the Earth.
    (Andelain is the last surviving forest.)

  78. marie-lucie says:

    A man was recently arrested in Pakistan for setting out to kill Osama Bin Laden, armed with a 40-inch “sword” among other weapons. Not an easy thing to conceal in one’s luggage, one would think, regardless of whether it was a меч or a шпага.

  79. They’re absolutely different things, even in english, I would think. The thing is that I don’t actually see foils anywhere in english movies or books. Everybody uses swords. “Shpaga” is basically a foil and it’s much, much thinner than a sword and is approximately round in section. Consider that a long dagger would be much closer to a short sword than a “shpaga” would be to either. In english, I would feel it’s incorrect to use the word “sword” even in general-use context, I’d expect “foil” to be used or, failing that, “a very thin duelling sword” as an approximation if someone does not know “foil”.

  80. In english, I would feel it’s incorrect to use the word “sword” even in general-use context
    But that’s because you’re used to the distinction. I assure you that the average non-fencing English-speaker uses only “sword” in all contexts. “Foil” is something you wrap food in.

  81. Even those who know the difference feel free to use sword to refer to a foil.

    … , he being remisse,
    Most generous, and free from all contriving,
    Will not peruse the Foiles? So that with ease,
    Or with a little shuffling, you may choose
    A Sword unbaited, and in a passe of practice,
    Requit him for your Father.

  82. I assure you that the average non-fencing English-speaker uses only “sword” in all contexts.
    Because in all contexts the average speaker would encounter a sword and never a foil! In any cartoon, a blockbuster movie, anywhere – nobody uses a foil because it’d quite simply break on the first contact with a sword.. If that same average speaker would see a foil he’d think “what the hell is that thing? it looks like a thin skewer with a handle.. what’s the closest word I could use for it? Maybe a sword? ok”, but he would not think, in my opinion, “that’s a sword”.
    Although if you see a foil and don’t look too closely it may look like a sword viewed in the narrowest section. That’s why an image can be misleading, you have to see it in action, see that it’s round-ish in section and has no cutting edge and very flexible, and the combination of these things makes it dissimilar enough from a sword to require a different word.

  83. MMcM: That’s quite a different thing, they’re not speaking of a specific weapon and I’d say that’s a matter of some artistic license here. Looking at a blade in front of your eyes and saying that’s a foil, or a sword, doesn’t matter – that wouldn’t feel right at all.

  84. Michael Chabon’s character Zelikman in Gentlemen of the Road does very well with a thin sword-like weapon akin to a medical instrument.

  85. I’ve seen period movies where duellers ca 1700 fought with (buttonless) foils. The one I rememer the name of is The Saragossa Manuscript (from Poland.) I understand it to be strictly a duelling weapon, for affairs of honor.

  86. marie-lucie says:

    In the movies, they would not use foils with buttons because that would not be realistic. But those duels are carefully staged by fencing masters so that the duelling actors will not actually kill or wound each other, regardless of what is supposed to happen in the story.

  87. he would not think, in my opinion, “that’s a sword”.
    You are wrong. As Anatoly said in the post that started all this off, English uses only the one word for both concepts. You are free not to believe it, but that is the fact.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    a thin sword-like weapon akin to a medical instrument.
    Would that be a stiletto?

  89. It was a one-of-a-kind weapon.

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