An acerbic and amusing Moscow Times column by Michele Berdy starts with her “daily dose of nuts”: a video of a Russian schoolteacher telling her students that Holy Rus was “inhabited by godlike men called богатыри (bogatyrs, mythic warriors and heroes). We know they are godlike, she explains, because of their name, богатырь. And then she deciphers it: с Богом на ты (on a first-name basis with God).” Upon investigation, she discovers that “It’s a Thing. All kinds of armchair folk etymologists are insisting that godlike creatures called богатыри once lived in what is now Russia”:
What’s an armchair folk etymologist? It’s someone with no specialized knowledge of the language or its history, who looks at a word and makes up stories about its meaning. Sometimes this is charming. I know someone who grew up in the Urals and thought, when he was little, that faraway Moscow was the place where the 100 most important people in the country lived — because he parsed the word столица (capital) as сто лиц (100 people).
But he was 8 years old. Here’s what someone identified as a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences writes about the word богатырь: Бога ты то есть, Богу ты принадлежишь. (You are of God, that is, you belong to God.) Завершающее Р — это звук грозы и гнева, но гнева праведного, львиного. (The “r” at the end is the sound of threat and anger, but it is righteous anger, the anger of a lion.) Впрочем, поскольку Бог благ, и гнев Его направлен лишь на грех, этот звук смягчён: РЬ. (And besides, because God is good and His anger is only directed at sin, the sound is lightened with a soft sign at the end of it.)
She gives the actual etymology (it’s a borrowing from Turkic), then concludes:
So what’s the problem? Why are so many people obsessed with proving that богатырь is not a borrowed word?
And then I realized what it is. Some people don’t want mythic ancient Russian heroes to have a name borrowed from another language. So they are manufacturing a “native Russian” etymology.
It’s импортозамещение (import substitution)!
Thanks for the link, Jeff!