RUSSIAN ARCHAISMS.

Anatoly’s latest post is about a usage he ran across in his rereading of War and Peace; Prince Vasily is talking about his sons, and says, “Ипполит, по крайней мере, покойный дурак, а Анатоль — беспокойный.” What he means by this is “Hippolyte is at least a quiet fool, but Anatole is an unquiet [restless] one,” but since then покойный has lost the sense ‘quiet’ and now means only ‘late, deceased.’ Anatoly points out that the ‘quiet’ sense was unusual even in 1805, when the scene is supposed to take place, and had become vanishingly rare by the 1860s, when Tolstoy was writing; his question is whether Tolstoy meant it as a pun on the prince’s part or simply as an archaism. It’s an interesting question, and the resulting thread is interesting too, not least for this striking example (pointed out by kraiukhin) of change in meaning: Lomonosov uses “распущенный подонок,” which now can mean only ‘dissolute scum/riffraff,’ in the earlier sense ‘dissolved precipitate.’

Comments

  1. Well wuddayaknow. It never occurred to me that Lomonosov the grammarian (and poet, it seems) was the same person as Lomonosov the scientist. What is more, he also made mosaics.

  2. rootlesscosmo says:

    But there’s a song title with this word–I don’t want to stumble over the Russian name but it’s usually translated as “Quiet Nights,” isn’t it?

  3. John Emerson says:

    The Borodin who composed “In the Steppes of Central Asia” was the Borodin who first described nucleophilic displacement of chlorine by fluorine in benzoyl chloride (the Borodin Reaction) and learned how to combines two carbonyl compounds to form a new β-hydroxy carbonyl compound (the Aldol reaction).
    Because of “In the Steppes of Central Asia”, he’s probably the most famous of all organic chemists.
    If not him, who?
    Michel Chevreul? Friedrich Wöhler? Friedrich August Kekulé? Archibald Scott Couper? William Henry Perkin? Gustaf Komppa? Paul Ehrlich?
    Borodin lived in an enormous, chaotic apartment with 20 or more friends and relations. One corner of it was his study.

  4. Chevreul’s color theories were the inspiration for the Delaunays, who were recently featured at Tom Clark’s and (then AJP Crown’s). But art- and margarine-historians still probably aren’t enough to beat classical music fans.
    At Notre Dame, Knute Rockne was a lab assistant to Fr. Nieuwland, whose research led to neoprene.

  5. But there’s a song title with this word–I don’t want to stumble over the Russian name but it’s usually translated as “Quiet Nights,” isn’t it?
    I have no idea what song you’re thinking of; can any Russians help?

  6. The only song that comes to my mind is by a legendary Russian rock singer Viktor Tsoy – Спокойная ночь (Quiet night) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hce8z2h0CoI

  7. Maybe подмосковные vs. спокойные вечера :) ? Sound-alike hypothesis…
    BTW I got dinged on anachronistic usage of “podonok” on some Very Important Examination Assay, when my grader noted that in XIX c. it should have meant “dredges” quite literally. I don’t think I’ve used the word since, as its only appeal was in its archaic feel – and it turned out to be a trap.

  8. rootlesscosmo says:

    @Steven Lubman:
    Russian rock singer Viktor Tsoy
    Maybe, but I have a vague memory of a traditional song, with “НОЧИ” rather than “НОЧ” in the title. I wish I could be more specific–sorry.

  9. My inner database returns just two classic hits with the plural “nights” :)
    Vysotsky’s “Я сегодня очень-очень сексуально озабочен” (you can see the rhyme already), and Okudzhava’s Дежурный по апрелю

  10. If not him, who? … Paul Ehrlich?

    Yes, Ehrlich. The man cured syphilis! I have the impression that Ehrlichiosis is reasonably well-known in the US, too—is that impression wrong?

  11. John Emerson says:

    Ehrlich cured syphilis, and so did penicillin, but for that reason no one cares about syphilis any more.
    Kekule is famous because his benzene ring discovery was sort of spacey and mystical.
    I’d still put my money on Borodin.

  12. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But the mosaics, nobody’s trumped those yet.

  13. Good old Wikipedia has a list of chemists famous for other things. I expected to find Primo Levi there, and I would have expected Morley (of Michelson-Morley) if I had thought of him. But I certainly didn’t expect Marion Barry, Angela Merkel, or Margaret Thatcher!
    (The main part of that article lists several hundred world-famous and groundbreaking chemists, but abstains from declaring a Most Famous Chemist.)

  14. Ah, yes, Maggie Thatcher the chemist. The generally repeated tale is that while working as a chemist she was responsible for discovering how to pump more air into ice-cream to bulk it out, a story that is TGTG (Too Good To Google).

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    For an organic chemist whose fame among non-chemists is based on his actual discoveries in the field, perhaps Albert Hofmann?

  16. John Emerson says:

    Hoffman, definitely, though mostly concentrated within a certain group, if you know what I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that. My five minutes of research were confined to the 19th century and the Wiki page.
    Chemists just don’t seem to get famous through chemistry.

  17. John Emerson says:

    Oddly, Wiki did not include Borodin on the list of chemists famous in other areas, but I fixed that.

  18. This business of chemists famous for other things reminds me of reading an interview of Jared Diamond recently. The subject of the dichotomy (right word?) of science and the arts came up.
    Diamond said that the major difference is that scientists are interested in the arts, but those in the arts are generally not interested in science.

  19. There is a joke about professors at a small college comparing notes at the end of term about various students. One announced, to general hilarity, that a student named Cicero had failed Latin. It was then announced that a student named Gauss had flunked elementary algebra — but this time, only the math and science faculty members laughed.

  20. Trond Engen says:

    When I was a student, somebody, I think it was the student paper, checked the circulation of the interdisciplinary magazine published by the humanities division, and it turned out that almost all of its readers were engineers.

  21. I don’t know anything about string theory, but I know what I like.

  22. Diamond said that the major difference is that scientists are interested in the arts, but those in the arts are generally not interested in science.
    It’s fuzzy (pure science or technology as well?) and unproven, but I agree. It’s because science subjects are less accessible to non-scientists than arts subjects are to non-artists. Either that or scientists are just smarter than artists, and I wouldn’t rule that out for some values of ‘smart’.
    Do chemists play other instruments or is it just the organ?

  23. Well, I changed my major long ago from chemistry to English, but I still maintain my (now 52-year) subscription to Scientific American. I believe Helen Vendler has the same sort of story.
    But humanists can certainly be clueless about science even when praising it. In 1957 Northrop Frye, trying to reduce criticism to an objective study whose “first postulate … is the same as that of any science: the assumption of total coherence” [!], quoted Eliot to the effect that “there are definite positions to be taken,” and commented: “There are no definite positions to be taken in chemistry or philology, and if there are any to be taken in criticism, criticism is not a field of genuine learning.” Reading this in grad school 16 years later, I was like WTF, as the youngsters say. I knew there were, of course, definite positions to be taken in chemistry, to say nothing of historical linguistics. So my scientific training definitely had an effect on my judgment of literary scholars.

  24. … change in meaning: Lomonosov uses “распущенный подонок,” which now can mean only ‘dissolute scum/riffraff,’ in the earlier sense ‘dissolved precipitate.’

    Uhm… I’m not sure you can speak of “earlier sense” here. Wasn’t that a neologism *invented* by Lomonosov? Some of expressions he coined caught on, some didn’t. Google for something like ломоносов терминология to get examples.

  25. Crown: Either that or scientists are just smarter than artists, and I wouldn’t rule that out for some values of ‘smart’.
    Is “wears bow-ties” a value of ‘smart’ ? I would have to disagree with you there: that seems to be a recessive trait in scientists that reappears every few generations, for instance in Feynmann.
    Is “smarty-pants” a value of ‘smart’ ? I’m not sure whether I would agree with you on that point.

  26. I don’t know about pants but yes, Feynmann always looked his worst in a bow tie and he grew both smarter-looking (thinner) and more arty (the drums) as he aged. But as a former wearer I can tell you that “wears bow ties” varies between being a value of ‘dork‘ and the values of one who enjoys a little nostalgia.

  27. I think that John McIntyre wears it well.
    But wasn’t “Chifferi” the bow-tie thread?

  28. No, I’m thinking of butterflies.

  29. Rodger C.: I think you seriously misunderstood Frye there; either that, or I seriously misunderstand you, which is always possible.
    By “assumption of total coherence” Frye means the assumption that there are no irreducible mysteries: given a set of phenomena, a rational theory (even if a statistical one) can be constructed to account for it, a rational theory which fits into place with other rational theories. By “no definite positions” he means that theories are always open to rejection when contrary evidence is found.
    In short, Frye is trying to distinguish his kind of literary criticism, which is a set of true/false statements about literature (as chemistry is a set of true/false statements about chemicals) from Eliot’s kind, which is a set of good/bad judgements about literature.

  30. Uhm… I’m not sure you can speak of “earlier sense” here. Wasn’t that a neologism *invented* by Lomonosov?
    I didn’t mean “earlier than Lomonosov,” I meant “earlier than now”; sorry that wasn’t clear.

  31. By “assumption of total coherence” Frye means the assumption that there are no irreducible mysteries: given a set of phenomena, a rational theory (even if a statistical one) can be constructed to account for it, a rational theory which fits into place with other rational theories.
    John, what is a “rational theory” in Frye’s view ? I was not aware that an arbitrary “set of phenomena” can be “accounted for”. How would one account for this set: {apples, bow-ties} ?

  32. @John Cowan: I understood Frye to be saying that literary scholarship could be reduced to something as free from fundamental controversy as he seemed to suppose chemistry was. I may be wrong about that, but I know I’m not the only person to read him that way.

  33. John Emerson says:

    Frye did not say “arbitrary set of phenomena” but just “set of phenomena”. He probably had some tacit qualification in mind in terms of how the set was defined.

  34. JE: What’s the diff between “given a set of phenomena” (without further qualification) and “given an arbitrary set of phenomena” ? I expect that when the tacit assumptions are hauled into the light, the whole will be more clearly visible as a tissue of logical positivist tosh. But maybe I’m jumping the gun – that’s why I asked what Frye meant here, or rather what John Cowan means with his paraphrase of Frye’s views.

  35. Cosmo,
    actually, the first song that comes up on Tikhaya Noch (Quiet Night) search is Silent Night (Stille Nacht) in Russian. There are numerous versions, including a ‘Red Army’ choir. Have a look at this Medvedev duo performance.

  36. покойный has lost the sense ‘quiet’ and now means only ‘late, deceased.’.
    I don’t quite agree with Anatoly here. Dictonaries still give ‘quiet, still, calm’ as the first meaning (I looked at Yandex Dictionaries) and rare usage doesn’t really mean archaic usage, or does it? I found a recent ‘kalambour’ (calembour, play on words) usage of ‘pokoyny’ to describe accidents with Russian tourists in Turkey: ‘pokoyny otdykh’ could mean both ‘quiet rest/holiday’ and ‘deathly holiday’. (LH filters don’t let me post a direct link for some reason).
    Yes, in modern usage spokoyny is preferred to pokoyny, perhaps to avoid the deceased connotation, but a native speaker would immediately recognise, without wincing, which is meant, quiet or deceased, from context. The ‘quiet’ sense has, I think, a stylistically stronger emphasis and survives because there are many derivatives of ‘pokoy’ (calm, quiet, stillness) – pokoitsya, uspokaivat’sya (get quiet, calm), spokoyno (quietly, calmly and imper. quiet!). Since Tolstoy doesn’t like Prince Vassily, I suspect he deliberately used this jeu de mots to show him as insensitive, because a joke involving deceased/quiet might be seen as tasteless or corny.

  37. dissolute scum
    I love a similar English pun:
    ‘If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the precipitate’

  38. Lomonosov uses “распущенный подонок,” which now can mean only ‘dissolute scum/riffraff
    This is right, but podonok survives, I think mostly in plural form podonki, in dialect and perhaps specialist usage. My uncle used podonki to describe the bits left in the tank after distilling moonshine (samogon) and my mother-in-law, a wonderful cook, used the word for scum forming on top of jam or soup when cooking.

  39. Happy Turkey Day all!
    This is right, but podonok survives, I think mostly in plural form podonki, in dialect and perhaps specialist usage. My uncle used podonki to describe the bits left in the tank after distilling moonshine (samogon) and my mother-in-law, a wonderful cook, used the word for scum forming on top of jam or soup when cooking
    I have a feeling that this kind of usage may be intentional wordplay or archaicizing by people who are too aware of what kind of associations the word would evoke. Like I sometimes use, to underscore the archaic and folksy nature of my tvorog (home cheese) making process, the verb “отсикаться”, “to drain till the last drops”. It’s funny, it’s archaic, and I wouldn’t have remembered it at all if it was not :)
    The scum on top of boiling bouillon or fruit preserve wouldn’t properly be “dredges” подонки anyway, but rather “foamy scum” пенки, as it isn’t at the “bottom” дно?
    Which reminds me of a wonderful meme-packed verse by Val. Berestov
    Что всего милее для тебя, мальчишка?
    В хлебе — горбушка,
    В капусте — кочерыжка,
    В варенье — пенка,
    А в школе — переменка!
    It’s so true and yet so hard to translate. “School recess” is more or less straightforward, but “cob” already makes be cringe, and what would be пенка and горбушка anyway?

  40. Oh, for горбушка the almighty Multitran gives end-piece and apparently Native English speakers can’t agree if a loaf has end-pieces or heels or even noses, or nothing at all (but round loaves in Russia also yielded a горбушка, despite not having any defined ends)

  41. yeah, what’s the equivalent of the wonderful gorbushka and kocheryzhka (cabbage heart) in English?
    Penki – yes, but when they’re lifted off they’re dropped onto the bottom (dno) of a bowl or a bucket.

  42. I’ve never known the objects in question referred to as anything but bread heels and cabbage hearts. (I always got the latter, raw and salted, as a treat, and was amazed when I found that in some other families they were thrown away. As for bread heels, don’t you know they make your hair curly?)

  43. Both google and multitran use only “cabbage stalk” for кочерыжка (which supposedly derives, along with кочан “cabbage head” and коченеть “stiffen”, from proto-Slavic “kochen” erect penis?). Google search for Cabbage Heart mostly returns references to …. CABG, coronary artery bypass graft :O
    Roger – no, I haven’t heard about curls before … does just work for the Irish :) ?
    Of course I realize why the much-beloved loaf-heel, cabbage heart, and jam foam were so dear to the growing child. Cuz they weren’t going to end up in a real meal on the family table and therefore, they were available between meals, just as Mom was cooking. A perfect Thanksgiving subject :)

  44. “Rational theory” is my expression, so don’t go blaming Frye for it. I mean by it to exclude such theories as “Water boils at 100 degrees because God in his inscrutable wisdom has made it do so.” Such a theory, Frye says, is the analogue in the natural sciences of a literary theory like “Hamlet ends with almost everybody dying because Shakespeare liked to kill off his characters.” They are (and this is a genuine Frye phrase) examples of the fallacy of premature teleology.

  45. “Water boils at 100 degrees because God in his inscrutable wisdom has made it do so”
    OK, I see what you mean now. I tend to take “rational” to imply, at the very least, “free of logical inconsistencies”. That’s what I understood you to be saying with “a rational theory which fits into place with other rational theories”.
    Unfortunately, that statement about water seems to be easily consistent with other statements in which God is invoked as a cause. On the other hand, “premature teleology” suggests that causal explanations become more reliable when they have grown a beard and conquered acne. That would imply “progress”, but I think Kuhn, Feyerabend et al demonstrated convincingly that this notion is dubious – and, I myself would add, suspiciously self-congratulatory.
    What I would urge against invocations of God as a cause is that they are arbitrary and unfalsifiable. But that is true of any axiomatic system free of inconsistencies. Outside of mathematical logic, “rational” is usually an honorific term, and to that extent irrational.

  46. And within mathematical logic, no notion of “rational” is used or needed.

  47. As for bread heels, don’t you know they make your hair curly?
    Where is that from? Not the same book that says certain activity can make you blind?
    Cabbage hearts! Yes, that’s how my grandmother used to make it for me too. My sister and I were forever inventing types of bread that would have more than just two gorbushkas/heels.

  48. Hippasus so upset Pythagoras and his companions by showing them that √2 was an irrational number that they threw him overboard from a ship, and he drowned.

  49. My mother, I’ll have you know, told me bread heels make your hair curly. There is at least one instance.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    Ефремов, professional vertebrate paleontologist and science-fiction author.
    When bread is actually good, with, you know, lots of rye in it, a thick, hard and crunchy crust, and opioids under the crust when it’s fresh, the ends are the best parts because they’ve got the most crust. And when you cut a circular loaf, you’ll get ends. Incidentally, I don’t know how they’re called in Standard German, and the term in my dialect doesn’t make etymological sense.
    I know a couple of artists who are very much interested in science, but they all hang out in one special place on teh intarwebz… I’m sure there aren’t many such people in the world.

  51. opioids under the crust when it’s fresh
    Are there still traces of Mutterkorn in industrially processed rye flour ? As there are still permissible amounts of bug legs and puppy-dog tails ?

  52. marie-lucie says:

    In French: bread “heel” (looking more like an elbow on French loaves): le quignon; cabbage heart or apple core: le trognon.
    I have never ever heard that eating bread heels would affect your hair or any other part of your body. Was the tale about making your hair curl intended to make a child eat or avoid the heel?

  53. “It’s enough to make your hair curl” = “it’s schocking”. A pity there isn’t an expression “it’s enough to make your goose bump” – rather ’70s disco, something Peggy Maclean might have sung (“Lady Bump”). Her real name is Gertrude Münzer.

  54. still permissible amounts of bug legs and puppy-dog tails
    Stu, you want a few bug legs and bees’ wings, it’s better than the alternative (filtration). See the US honey discussion.

  55. That’s an interesting article. I myself have no objection to harmless processing artefacts like bug bits in flour and wings in honey. Such objections are merely aesthetic and ignernt, and as you know I don’t do aesthetics (although I do do ignernt).

  56. “it’s schocking”
    Somebody has spent too long in Deutschland.

  57. @Marie-Lucie: It was evidently meant to induce me to eat the bread heels, a taste I’ve never lost, though my hair now is more fuzzy than curly, as in Ginsberg’s poem.
    Totally off topic, but I don’t think I ever thanked Hat for his illuminating answer, that obviously took some legwork, to my question about a semantic distinction in “Notes from Underground” that turned out to have been introduced by Constance Garnett.

  58. You’re welcome, and here‘s the thread if anybody wants to follow along at home.

  59. oh, that’s a very interesting comparison (Dostoyevsky in Garnett and Katz versions). I’ve missed that discussion.
    They are both right, because khotenye (хотенье) is a verbal noun from to want/хотеть-khotet’, which can mean both ‘choice’ and ‘desire’, or need, e.g. ‘which do you want/choose, Putin or Gorbachev? – I want/choose…’ The colloquial ‘khotenye’ denotes fickleness, impulsiveness and suddennes, which neither desire, nor choice clearly capture, I think. There is a proverb “На всякое хотенье есть (должно быть) терпенье” – ‘for every want there’s a wait’.
    Thanks for bringing this up!

  60. Lomonosov uses “распущенный подонок,”
    this reminded me of Ivan Barkov, a contemporary of Lomonosov and a legendary figure in Russian literature. He parodied Lomonosov’s classicistic odes using vernacular Russian. He employed themes and language so bawdy that his work hadn’t been published until 1990s, but widely circulated in hand-written copies and influenced ‘proper’ writers.

  61. Yes, forty years ago we used to pass around samizdat copies of Лука Мудищев in Russian class. Good times!

  62. David Marjanović says:

    Are there still traces of Mutterkorn in industrially processed rye flour ?

    Apparently, but the Pffft! of All Knowledge says Mutterkorn doesn’t contain opioids – it contains alkaloids and lysergic acid derivatives.
    Incidentally, it has Wikipedia articles in 28 languages, including Erzya, Latin and Sater Frisian, but not English. WTF.

  63. Mutterkorn doesn’t contain opioids – it contains alkaloids and lysergic acid derivatives.
    Incidentally, it has Wikipedia articles in 28 languages, including Erzya, Latin and Sater Frisian, but not English. WTF.

    Because it is listed under Ergot in English (wiki-linked with a near-synonym Claviceps in German).
    According to Canadian Standards, high-grade rye must not contain more than 0.05% of ergot. Third-grade may have as much as 0.33%.
    Lysergic acid derivatives have a certain counterculture cachet … but I don’t think they have anything to do with a fact that a bite of good rye crust instantly lifts your spirit when you are tired and hungry :)

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