THIRSTY.

I woke up last night wanting a drink of water, and it popped into my head to wonder what the Russian word for ‘thirsty’ was. I drew a blank, which alarmed me. ‘Hungry’ is golodnyi, ‘thirsty’ is… ? It wasn’t just that the word temporarily escaped me, which happens now and then; it was as if there were empty space where the neurons containing that word should be, which was alarming. I got my drink and headed for the bookshelves. It turns out (as I knew perfectly well, somewhere in there) that there is no Russian word for ‘thirsty’; you say you want to drink (which is what came to my mind when I was scrabbling for the adjective: khochetsya pit’). Isn’t that an odd asymmetry? ‘Hungry’ and ‘thirsty’ seem like such a natural pair; it’s like having a word for ‘left’ but not ‘right.’ Language is stranger than is dreamt of in Chomsky’s philosophy.
Addendum. In the comments section Avva brings up the symmetrical absences of solnechnyi zaichik (meaning ‘reflected sunlight (e.g., on the wall)’; the Russian translates to “sun bunny”) in English and of “dust bunny” in Russian; for those who read Russian, there is a discussion of the subject in progress at his site.

Comments

  1. I’ll have you know I was flabbergasted to find out English has no single word or convenient idiom for “solnechnyj zaichik”.

  2. True, and it’s worse than the situation I described, because of course Russian handles thirst perfectly well, just without an adjective, whereas in English you point and say “Look at the… that… those…. Isn’t it lovely!”

  3. Would one of you kindly make an attempt (however feeble) at “solnechnyj zaichik” for those of us out of the loop?

  4. Sorry about that! Solnechnyye zaichiki are bits of reflected sunlight.

  5. Well, English got its revenge with “dust bunnies”. Although perhaps they’re somewhat less lovely to look at 😉

  6. I should explain that solnechnyi is the adjective from solntse ‘sun’ and zaichik is a diminutive of zayats ‘hare’ (stress on the first syllable in all these words), so that the English equivalent would be “sun bunnies.” Alas, it doesn’t exist in this context.

  7. Too bad; I quite like it. Thanks for the translation!

  8. Me too. Hey, let’s start using it! Whenever you see them, say to the person you’re with “Look at those sun bunnies!” We could end up introducing a valuable new lexical item into English, as well as making it slightly easier to learn Russian…

  9. I could swear I’ve read the word “sunshard” to refer to broken-up (but not diffracted) sunlight. Can’t name a source, though (could even be a fever-dream).

  10. Anonymous says:

    Colloquial Russian doesn’t have a word for thirsty. Literary Russian has zhazhdushchiy and alchnyy.

    Yesterday I discovered a 1960s song about Brezhnev by the poet-songwriter Yuly Kim, which has the words “Moi brovi zhazhdut krovi” (my eyebrows are thirsty for blood); it will be somewhat awkward, but you could also say “Moi brovi, zhazhdushchiye krovi, ochen’ pyshnyye” (my eyebrows, which are thirsty for blood, are very luxurious).

    I think you can also say “alchnyy do slavy” (thirsty for fame) and other figurative expressions with alchnyy/alchnaya/alchnoye/alchnyye.

  11. Ilya Vinarsky says:

    That was me.

  12. Ilya Vinarsky says:

    Another odd assymetry:

    Russian has a native Slavic word for both the male and the female sexual organ. English has a native Germanic word only for the female one.

  13. Ilya Vinarsky says:

    asymmetry

  14. “Cock” and “prick” are both native Germanic; I think the difference is rather that Russian has a single (colloquial) word whereas English (for whatever reasons) has several, none clearly preponderant. But in general Russian has a much richer stratum of obscene language than English.

  15. Michael Davies says:

    The thing I’m still confused by in French is how there can be no word for “kick” or “to kick”. “To kick” is “donner un coup de pied”.

  16. I came upon this discussion today when I was translating a passage from a Slovene novel that mentions “sončni zajčki”; the standard Slovene dictionary explained what this was but I didn’t know if there was a phrase for this in English. Googling “sun bunnies” brought me here. In the process I also discovered a few videos of cats and dogs chasing “sun bunnies”, so I wondered if maybe this term is in fact used by some in English. A second look, however, revealed that one of the video posters has a Russian name, another possibly Baltic, and a third name may have a South Slavic derivation. But now I’m wondering if the presence of cognates for the same term in Russian and Slovene suggests that these “sun hares/rabbits/bunnies” may in fact originate in Proto-Slavic or even Proto-Balto-Slavic? Are there similar terms in all the Slavic languages, in Latvian and Lithuanian?

    By the way, although I have only rarely posted here, I follow your website faithfully.

  17. I came upon this discussion today when I was translating a passage from a Slovene novel that mentions “sončni zajčki”; the standard Slovene dictionary explained what this was but I didn’t know if there was a corresponding phrase in English. Googling “sun bunnies” brought me here. In the process I also discovered a few videos of cats and dogs chasing “sun bunnies”, so I wondered if maybe this term is in fact used in English. A second look, however, revealed that one of the video posters has a Russian name, another possibly Baltic, and a third name may have a South Slavic derivation. But now I’m wondering if the presence of cognates for the same term in Russian and Slovene suggests that these “sun hares/rabbits/bunnies” may in fact originate in Proto-Slavic or even Proto-Balto-Slavic? Are there similar terms in all the Slavic languages, in Latvian and Lithuanian?

    By the way, although I have only rarely posted here, I follow your website faithfully.

  18. When I was sick as a child I would watch the patterns of sunlight on my wall, and my mother called them sun birds. But references to sun bird and Sonnenvogel don’t seem to lead anywhere, only to various commercial products and some actual birds.

    We’ve discussed elsewhere the fact that English has a lexical gap for ‘die of thirst’ corresponding to starve.

  19. When I was young, I was bothered by / curious about the fact that Danish has mæt for the state of having eaten enough, but no corresponding adjective for the absence of thirst. My grandfather tried to tell me that sat had that meaning, but that was a non-starter as far as I was concerned. (Also, looking it up now, the senses given are the same as for mæt, but use in the reinforcing rhyme mæt og sat seems to have led some people to infer that it’s about food and drink respectively).

    By the time I discovered that English has neither, it was just one of those things. (I know that ‘full’ is used when politely refusing a second helping, but the sensation of being full isn’t the same as not being hungry).

  20. Lars, there’s also sated.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    In French I don’t think there is a word for patterns of sunlight on a wall, but “dust bunnies” are called moutons ‘sheep’, as in Il y a des moutons sous le lit ‘There are dust bunnies under the bed’.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks Juha for the list! LH has mentioned some of the words here at times.

  23. sated: I know that this is ultimately from L satis ‘enough’ (or a closely related word) — but the dictionary gives senses of more than enough: full, replete, stuffed, surfeited. When you can’t get another bite down.

    My father told me that there should always be room for a steak minute (with fries) when you’re done eating — that’s when you’re mæt. When you don’t need more.

  24. Yeah, I don’t think “sated” is right, and English could definitely use an equivalent.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    My grandfather tried to tell me that sat had that meaning, but that was a non-starter as far as I was concerned. (Also, looking it up now, the senses given are the same as for mæt, but use in the reinforcing rhyme mæt og sat seems to have led some people to infer that it’s about food and drink respectively).

    A borrowing of German satt? (In turn possibly a borrowing of Latin satis, “enough”.

  26. English has “slaked” to denote having drunk enough. The verb “slake” has the same primary transitive senses as “sate”: Her desire was sated/slaked, or He was sated/slaked. However, unlike “sate,” “slake” has a particularly tendency to indicate the quenching of thirst. It also has a separate meaning of applying water to lime to make it soft and crumbly, although I don’t know how the two meanings have interacted historically.

  27. Can you really say He was slaked, Brett? I don’t think people can be slaked, only thirst, or maybe things that are being compared to thirst, like desire in your example.

  28. borrowing: Yes, but cf. ON saðr according to the ODS. I think that’s supposed to be an independent cognate, since lost, since /ð/ > /t/ doesn’t really happen in Danish. Also E sad, OE sæd is quoted with an obsolete sense of ‘overfull’.

  29. @Kieth Ivey: “He was slaked” sounds idiomatic to me. It’s certainly much less common than “His thirst was slaked,” but it still would consider it unremarkable.

  30. David Marjanović says:

    So there’s a doublet between an inherited form and a Latin borrowing, it seems!

  31. It could be two independent borrowings from Latin, if OE got it before the Norse invasions and ON borrowed it, and then Danish got it from German — but Gothic has saþs it seems, so yes.

  32. Just came across something which is related to the hungry/thirsty thing.

    In Russian you have the pairs

    есть/кормить
    пить/поить

    The first pair is eat/feed, the second is drink/??? Is there an English word that means “make/give someone drink”?

  33. No, and I’ve noticed that disparity too. You can say “to water cattle,” but for humans you have to say something like “give them something to drink.”

  34. German pairs with English in this case. There is essen / füttern “eat / feed”, but of the corresponding pair trinken / tränken, tränken can only be used with cattle.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Is there an English word that means “make/give someone drink”?

    Not in modern English, but I think that the morphologically (no longer semantically) corresponding word is drench, which currently means something like soak. So drink/drench is morphologically the pendant of German trinken / tränken. In both languages the causative version has changed or at least restricted its meaning.

    In French the causatives are phrases with faire or donner: manger/faire manger/donner à manger and similarly boire/faire boire/donner à boire. The faire words imply an active role for the subject of the verb, as in faire manger le bébé ‘to feed the baby’ (eg with a spoon, or at least actively supervising the child), while donner implies that food or drink is made available to the eater or drinker, who is left free to partake of it, as in donner à manger au chat ‘to feed the cat’ ( eg by putting food in the bowl).

    There is a French verb abreuver meaning ‘to give drink to’, but it is rather high register. The derived noun un abreuvoir is normal register for a ‘drinking trough’ used for large animals. In older times towns and cities had public abreuvoirs fed by running water, for people to take their horses to.

  36. If you type “abreuve” into Google, the first suggestion is “abreuve nos sillons,” and indeed I associate the verb exclusively with La Marseillaise.

  37. Similarly, I associate the Russian verb воспрянуть ‘to leap up’ exclusively with the Internationale (“Воспрянет род людской”).

  38. marie-lucie says:

    LH: If you type “abreuve” into Google, the first suggestion is “abreuve nos sillons,” and indeed I associate the verb exclusively with La Marseillaise.

    In this case it is a poetic usage, but the verb could also be found for instance in a technical description of the norms for horse farms, but perhaps not in the everyday language of people looking after horses.

    A pronominal form s’abreuver can be used for what horses or cows can do independently if they have free access to an abreuvoir, but also humorously for what people do in a bar (compare English “waterhole” for context). In any case the word belongs to an educated vocabulary.

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