Robert Irwin has an interesting TLS review of Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950, by Marwa Elshakry, about the reception of Darwinism in the Arab world (thanks for the link, Paul!). Most of it is not of particular LH interest, but I was struck by this:
For a long time, the reception of Darwinism was bedevilled by the need to find either neologisms or new twists to old words. As Marwa Elshakry points out, there was at first no specific word in Arabic for “species”, distinct from “variety” or “kind”. “Natural selection” might appear in Arabic with the sense “nature’s elect”. When Hasan Husayn published a translation of Haeckel, he found no word for evolution and so he invented one. Tawra means to advance or develop further. Extrapolating from this verbal root, he created altatawwur, to mean “evolution”.
Who cares if there’s a “specific word in Arabic for ‘species’” (an infelicitous phrase, it seems to me)? Russian, for example, gets along without one perfectly well: вид [vid] means ‘species’ and род [rod] means ‘genus,’ and both are ordinary words meaning ‘kind, sort.’ Context, as always, is all. I note that English does not have a “specific word” for family (the rank above genus); we make do with an ordinary word for a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, and nobody seems the worse for it.
Incidentally, Darwinism was popularized quite early in Russia, in an 1864 article by the radical critic Pisarev, Прогресс в мире животных и растений [Progress in the world of animals and plants].
(By “popularized” I mean “introduced into the tiny world of the intelligentsia”; relatively few Russians would have heard of Darwin’s theories for decades, and most of those who did disapproved of them, just as in other countries.)
Update. It has been brought to my attention that the struck-out statement is simply not true; a well-informed correspondent writes:
Darwin was widely publicized and very popular in Russia (which already had a well-developed pre-Darwin evolutionary tradition). Leftists liked him for the obvious reasons, and even liberals and conservatives almost all praised his scientific theory (even Dostoevsky accepted the part about evolution). What Russians did not like was the Malthusian elements of Darwin’s theory — the notion of constant population pressures upon limited resources and of individualist struggle. This they often saw as a transparent projection of British cultural values upon nature.
Live and learn!