This is a tangled tale that will teach you nothing useful, but I have to share it because it took me so much time to untangle; its moral (like that of many of my posts) is that the internet is a good thing, which you already knew. At any rate: I’m reading Platonov’s first novel, Chevengur (I wrote about his later The Foundation Pit here), and I’m exhilarated by his creative use of language; that creativity also means I’m spending a lot of time looking things up, and sometimes it takes me a long time to find out what I want to know. This is one of those times. Platonov refers to a “пал-брица” that is apparently necessary to the functioning of a mill—in the section I’ve just reached, he says that some villagers were repurposing military equipment for civilian use, one example being “из замков пушек делали пал-брицы для мельничных поставов” [from the (firing) locks of guns they made pal-britsy for millstones]. So what are these pal-britsy? Well, the word wasn’t in any of my dictionaries, presumably because it was pretty technical. When I googled it, it seemed to occur only here, which was a bad sign. But Google Books found a snippet from E. A. Yablokov’s На берегу неба that told me it was an искажение (distortion/perversion) of параплица [paraplitsa], other distortions of which were порхлица [porkhlitsa] and поролица [porolitsa], and a параплица was a piece of metal that was used to connect a vertical shaft or spindle with the horizontal millstone. This was excellent, and I really had all I needed to understand the passage, but I also wanted to know what it was called in English, for which it seemed I would need a large technical dictionary from an era when people needed words for millstone accessories. Lo and behold, Google Books turned up just such a thing, P. P. Andreev’s Dictionnaire technologique français-russe-allemand-anglais, contenant les termes techniques, employés dans líndustrie, les sciences appliquées, les arts et métiers (publié par La Société Impériale Polytechnique en Russie, Saint-Petersbourg 1881), which on page 52 has the entry “Anille, Nille f. Meun. [pièce de fer encastrée dans la meule courante et le gros fer] порхлица, порплица, параплица; die Haue, Kugehaue; rynd.” And that last “rynd” gave me what I needed; a brief session with the OED told me the preferred spelling was rind, and Webster’s Third New International told me the preferred American usage was millrind, which they defined as “an iron support fixed across the hole in the upper millstone of a grist mill.” So there you have it, and if I were trying to translate the book my only problem would be coming up with a convincing deformation of millrind. There are probably not many people around any more who would know what country folk used to call them.
Now if only I knew what отпузырьтесь (in “Ребята, идите отпузырьтесь на ночь”) and котма (in “Я, земляк, котма качусь… Стану отдыхать – тоска на меня опускается, а котма хоть и тихо, а все к дому, думается, ближе”) meant, I’d be a happy man!


  1. Could “отпузырьтесь” have something to do with making one’s belly less bubble-shaped by taking a pee?

  2. John Emerson says:

    I say this from time to time, but I don’t think people realize yet how much Google, Google Books, and the internet will transform scholarship. Things that used to require a first rate college library, and/or a personal library painfully assempled over a period of years, now can be done from home more or less from scratch.
    I don’t mean to say that there aren’t big holes in the system, but it’s really amazing what resources are there.

  3. As for “котма”, it might be a dialect present participle of “катиться”, so that “котма / катьмя катиться” is a pleonasm akin to “ползком ползти”. Then the person in the second passage is happy when going home, “even if it’s by rolling slowly”.

  4. @отпузырьтесь
    Or perhaps something to do with emptying one’s bladder?

  5. chemiazrit says:

    Or perhaps something to do with emptying one’s bladder?
    As if emptying one’s bladder were any different from “taking a pee”? But, yes, surely it’s referencing the мочевой пузырь.

  6. Seems like that’s not so much a present participle as an instrumental on the model of дверима or костьми.

  7. The big hole in the system is that I can’t get access to JSTOR.

  8. dearieme says:

    I hope that next time you’re in Suffolk you’ll pay a visit to this device and deploy your vocabulary.
    You’d also get to see an attractive town AND Sutton Hoo: a treble whammy.

  9. As if emptying one’s bladder were any different from “taking a pee”?
    Different from ‘making one’s belly less bubble-shaped’.

  10. John Emerson: the internet now enables scholarly research to be done almost immediately that simply couldn’t have been done before, not without years of tedious toil. One instance: a mass of 19th century British regional papers are now available via Gale (warning: paywall may apply) which allowed me to find out in about 15 minutes, for example, that the first use of the expression India Pale Ale looks to have been in a Liverpool newspaper in 1835 (predating the OED’s current earliest reference by two years). How long would I have had to spend at Colindale (home of the British Newspaper Library) spooling through microfilm to get the same result? Half an hour (minimum) per newspaper per year, 40 years to cover, 30 (approx) regional newspapers to look through, I make that about four months …

  11. Those explanations make sense, and now I’m a happy man—thanks to all!

  12. John Emerson says:

    Yeah, the robber barons at JSTOR etc. are the fly in the ointment. Their paywalls are almost entirely exclusionary; no one’s going to pay those prices very often. If there were just one of them, I’d be willing to pay for a subscription, but there are many, Taylor and Francis comes to mind. And I don’t believe that money ever reach the authors.

  13. kotma is perhaps from “tokma” which is that, prostonarodnoe or mestnui dialect for tol’ko just written in a not correct order of letters in the word, maybe that was the person’s way of talking
    if i read the word like that, substituting kotma with tol’ko, it makes sense, that sentence
    i would never reread Chevengur and Kotlovan by my own good will unless i want to be like deeply depressed

  14. Oh. I didn’t know they were doing it to make money.

  15. But is it /rɪnd/ or /raɪnd/?

  16. Anyone who wants access to specific JSTOR (or Muse or what have you) articles for personal use, feel free to ask me at

  17. Wow. Thanks, John.

  18. But is it /rɪnd/ or /raɪnd/?
    Either, apparently, though the latter is preferred.

  19. I can get JSTOR through the Chicago Public Library (in theory at least, I’ve never actually tested this) but the catch is you can’t get it from your home screen, you have to actually travel to a library where they have it. In my case it’s not the one I can walk to but another one a ten-minute (and $2.25 OW) bus ride away.

  20. Seems like “rynd” — being an older spelling — is a pretty good translation to me.
    The OED’s millrind entry got revised last year: “The iron fitting supporting the upper millstone of a corn-mill, and carrying the eye which rests on the end of the mill-spindle.”
    I still couldn’t really work out what this was — and Google images brings back mostly heraldic results (
    (And for “millrind” to be a heraldic charge makes you realise how familiar this now-incomprehensible term/thing must once have been…)

  21. The OED’s millrind entry got revised last year: “The iron fitting supporting the upper millstone of a corn-mill, and carrying the eye which rests on the end of the mill-spindle.”
    Thanks, that fits perfectly with the Russian definitions. I too looked unsuccessfully for an image in the hope of getting a clearer idea; there’s probably some book Google has scanned with images of mill parts, but I can’t take the time to try to find one.

  22. (I do wish they’d use “grain mill” instead of the UK-centric “corn,” though.)

  23. Photos of millstones (spelled rhynd there).

  24. Yes, corn is a terribly confusing word.
    No, it really is.

  25. Photos of millstones (spelled rhynd there).
    MMcM, you’re a treasure. And I’d definitely use the evocative rhynd if I were doing a translation. Sure, it’s pronounced the same, but you can’t have everything.

  26. I love that broken-up millstone that’s a paving marker. It reminded me of Lutyens & Jekyll’s small bull’s-eye circles dotting a piece of paving, a path that were made using the concentric top edges of broken clay flower-pots (I can’t find any pictures on the internet, unfortunately).

  27. was made

  28. No, I’ll re-write it.
    I love that broken millstone that’s now being used as paving. It reminds me of a lovely little device Lutyens used in a garden he designed with Gertrude Jekyll. He placed small bull’s-eye decorative circles in an area of sandstone paving. He made them from the concentrically-placed rims of different-sized broken clay flower-pots, filling the gaps with sand. I can’t find any pictures on the internet, unfortunately.

  29. “котма” is an example of an obscure and not very productive dialect form (from “катить”). The only example of such form preserved in literary Russian that I can think of is “плашмя”, which is fossilized/lexicalized.
    Other examples are “стоймя”, “лежмя”. In particular there’s “лежмя лежать” – the same pleonastic construct as “котма / катьмя катить(ся)”.
    This form is probably related to present passive participles formed with -м- (that my books on history of Russian trace back to IE middle voice participle, but I’m not a linguist to go any further into that subject).

  30. Thanks, that’s an excellent explanation.

  31. Andrew Dunbar says:

    There are pictures of both the object and the heraldic charge right on Wikipedia.

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