VAMPIRES AND BORDERS.

Yesterday I posted about the German word Handy; today, serendipitously, I have happened on another interesting etymology. I was reading about the history of vampires and wanted to find out where “Medvegia,” the site of a famous early-18th-century case was, and the search took me to N. K. Petersen’s website Magia Posthuma (“My primary aim is to understand what happened in the 17th and 18th century cases of vampirism, how people viewed and debated these occurrences, and how they are related to the general evolution of ideas, society, and religion”), whose May 10 post discusses precisely that. But he also delves into something else. The post title is “An der Türkischen Granitz,” a quote from “the official report about the Medvegia vampire case, Flückinger’s Visum et Repertum“: “Über die so genannten Vampirs, oder Blut-Aussauger, so zu Medvegia in Servien, an der Türkischen Granitz, den 7. Januarii 1732 geschehen.” Now, when I looked at that word Granitz, I thought “How cute, the German speakers down there in regions abutting Slavic territory borrowed the Slavic word for ‘border’!” The Russian word for ‘border’ being granitsa, this was an easy conclusion to leap to, and as it turns out a correct one. What I didn’t immediately realize (being more an aficionado of Slavic than German) was what Petersen saw: “it occurred to me that Granitz must either be a variant or possibly a misspelling of German Grenze.” I slapped my head and got out my German etymological dictionary: sure enough, Grenze is from Polish granica and was “verbreitet durch Luther.” Anybody know what word Grenze replaced?
The Slavic word, incidentally, is related to German Granneawn,’ Old English granu ‘mustache,’ and Old Irish grend ‘beard, hair, bristles’ (máolais an greann adhuathmar bái fuirre ‘lowered its horrible bristles,’ Bethada náem nÉrenn, Betha Abáin annso sis 149b). And the Wikipedia entry on Arnold Paole (“Arnont Paule in the original documents; an early German rendition of a Serbian name or nickname, perhaps Арнаут Павле, Arnaut Pavle”), one of the first attested alleged vampires, says his native village of Medwegya is “also rendered as Metwett; likely a German rendition of Serbian Medveđa, not to be confused with the modern Southern Serbian town of Medveđa), located at the Morava river near the town of Paraćin.”

Comments

  1. Grenze replaced das Gemerke. Interestingly, I came across the Russian phrase «Граница (между странами)» a week or two ago and wondered then if they borrowed „die Grenze”, only to come across the same information you just posted :-) .

  2. Serendipity strikes again! Thanks for the info on the earlier word.

  3. The Yiddish word is ‘grenets,’ which cannot be said to be either Slavic or Germanic in origin. Another such Yiddish word is ‘di bord’, meaning beard; on the surface it would appear Germanic, but its feminine gender (German has masculine ‘der Bart’, while the Slavic words for beard, which are obviously cognate with the Yiddish word, e.g. Russian/Ukrainian ‘boroda’, are feminine) shows that the Yiddish word is both Slavic and Germanic at once.
    On a related note, a professor of mine once mentioned the conjecture that the Germanic words for thousand may be borrowed from a Slavic word for hundred.

  4. Doc Rock says:

    You are aware of Richard Burton’s 1870 translation of the Hindu classic, Vikram and the Vampire, I presume?

  5. And Medvegia comes from medved?
    Its interesting. I just have read “Empire V” (V. Pelevin), where he speculates about the world “medved”. He writes that people where frightened to call the bear a bear, so they called it “the one who knows honey” – med-ved. But the real name was “Ber”, it can be found in the word “ber/loga” (a place where bear sleeps), and it looks quite like english and german (der Bär) words. So, your text has finally embarassed me…
    Does a bear have any connection to beard?
    PS The book is about the vampires.
    But Pelevin is known for the strange jokes.
    PPS Sorry for mistakes, i’m russian.

  6. “gemerke” — would that be related to “Marches”?

  7. Ben, the Germanic, as represented by English thousand, and OCS тъісѫшти clearly both go back to a common ancestor (something like *tusantj-). But, as the form is represented in Finnic (tuhat) with an ancient shape, it must have been solidly rooted in Proto-Germanic, and I don’t think it’s credible that it was borrowed from Slavic, since at this point in time the Slavs hadn’t even encountered the Germans. More likely, Germanic and Slavic adopted the word from the substrate.

  8. P. Spaelti says:

    “Gemerke”? More straightforwardly “Mark”, which is listed in Duden. In Switzerland “March” is still used, besides “Marchstäi” a Borderstone. Apparently “Mark” goes back to an IE root that gives us “margin” as well.

  9. Yes, Mark was the standard word. You also get Mark Brandenburg, and the Welsh marches. I think gemerke is just a variant.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    So that’s why Brandenburg had a Markgraf, one of whom commissioned Bach to write the Brandenburg concertos.
    The word “marche” also exists in French, with this now archaic meaning.

  11. In addition to what Christopher said (nice to see you back, btw :o), þūsundi also shows up in Gothic, which is probably well before any Germanic-Slavic language contact, too.
    Interestingly enough, the word “hranica” has another meaning in Czech/Slovak: “funeral pyre” or “stake” (as in “I take ‘Dealing with witches and heretics for $100′, Alex”). It is derived from piles of wood or stones used to mark borders. My etymological dictionary (of Czech) is unclear as to what came first.
    And finally, “granica/hranica” is already a derivation in OCS, the original word apparently being *granь or *grana meaning “sharp sprout” (HR etc. “grana” = “twig, branch”) or something sharp (still in CZ/SK “hrana” = “edge, ridge”) and is related to German “Granne”, “grün”, “Gras” and even English “grow”.

  12. parvomagnus says:

    My guess is, just from the ge-, that “Gemerke” is a collective noun derived from the mark/marches base, like Gebuesch from Busch, ‘shrub’ to ‘shrubbery’. As for bear, I read somewhere, though I can’t remember where, that it might be related to Latin ‘ferox’, the idea being that it was a sacred animal to the old Germanic tribes, and so they avoided calling it by its name, using instead something like “ferocious beast” or some such. If that’s true, perhaps the Slavs did the same thing twice.
    Perhaps those developments took place before the Germans and Slavs seperated culturally; aren’t the Germans supposed to have migrated to the Danish regions from the Baltic originally? My memory of all that is fuzzy, and consists mostly of lots of competing theories.
    The OED puts “thousand” to some old, common word that meant “a whole lot”, and only later developed a specific quantitative reference.

  13. It’s remarkable that there is a relationship between the meaning “stick” and “border” associated with the word hranica, since there is a similar association with the word pale, as in “beyond the pale”. Why is this?

  14. It’s a pretty straightforward connection: stakes were driven into the ground to define boundaries. The OED entry for pale begins: “A stake, fence, or boundary, and related senses.”

  15. “Beyond the Pale” is a historic reference to Ireland, when there supposedly was some kind of palisade around the English settlements.
    “Another such Yiddish word is ‘di bord’, meaning beard; on the surface it would appear Germanic, but its feminine gender ”
    It could still be solidly German. Foreigners don’t always learn a language accurately, or borrow from it accurately.
    “Apparently “Mark” goes back to an IE root that gives us “margin” as well.”
    Is it related to “marg” in Hindi, a path, as between fields? That should be “marj” I suppose, so maybe not.
    “the original word apparently being *granь or *grana meaning “sharp sprout” (HR etc. “grana” = “twig, branch”) or something sharp ”
    ‘gra/inneog’ – hedgehog in Irish. It even has the palatalization to boot.

  16. Bear can’t possibly be related to ferox; that violates Grimm’s Law. In fact it’s simply “brown”, PIE *bher-. On the Slavic side, the bear is not the honey-knower but the honey-eater, medu-ed-, where CSl. *medu ‘honey’ < PIE *medhu- > Eng. mead.
    The Baltic languages have forms from *tlakis ‘shaggy’, and there’s a suggestion that the original PIE form *r.ktos might have meant ‘destroyer’, Skt. raks.as.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    sure enough, Grenze is from Polish granica and was “verbreitet durch Luther.”

    So late, and the vowel steamrollering was still applied? — Is there a way of telling if it’s from Polish or from Lower Sorbian? One of the two Sorbians was actually spoken by part of the population in Wittenberg in Luther’s time.

    it can be found in the word “ber/loga” (a place where bear sleeps),

    This just cries for a folk etymology from a dialectal German Bärenlager.
    The whole mark-/merk- business is about marking.

    On the Slavic side, the bear is not the honey-knower but the honey-eater, medu-ed-

    Why can’t it be the honey-knower? Eating would require that the meaning became obscure so early that the /u/ turned into [w] and was saved as [v], instead of disappearing as ъ AFAIK ought to.

    and there’s a suggestion that the original PIE form *r.ktos might have meant ‘destroyer’, Skt. raks.as.

    For the sake of nitpicking, that must be *h2r.ktos — the Hittites have been kind enough to write the laryngeal down in hartagas “bear”.

  18. marie-lucie says:

    Bear can’t possibly be related to ferox; that violates Grimm’s Law.
    No it doesn’t. PIE *p gives Latin p, Germanic f, as in Latin pater, English father, but PIE *bh gives Latin f, Germanic b.
    For instance, the Latin equivalent of the verb to bear is ferre (root fer-), both from PIE *bher (a different root from that of ‘brown’) and the Latin equivalent of bloom is flos, floris ‘flower’, both from the PIE root *bhel (English flower is an adaptation of French fleur, which is derived directly from the Latin word).
    However, Latin f can derive not only from PIE *bh but also from PIE *dh, so I suppose (without looking it up) that Latin ferox, a derivative of ferus ‘fierce, wild, etc’ is from *dher rather than *bher.
    (Purists, forgive me if I did not use the right vowel length, but the point here is about the consonants).

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