Anatoly sometimes introduces his posts with “(вряд ли кому-то будет интересно)” [unlikely to be of interest to anyone], and I could say the same of this post, but sometimes when I’ve figured out some obscure linguistic fact, I can’t resist putting it out there, and who knows, maybe someone else will get something out of it. So: I’ve been reading Narezhny’s Два Ивана, или Страсть к тяжбам [The two Ivans, or A passion for lawsuits] (see this post on Narezhny), and I got to a passage where Khariton, who is involved in the tangle of retaliations and lawsuits with the titular Ivans, is drunkenly exchanging Bible quotes with his pal Дьячок Фома [D’yachok Foma], the sacristan. At first they are bellowing «Блажен муж, иже не идет на совет нечестивых!», which is a slight variation of the opening of Psalm 1, “Блажен муж, иже не иде на совет нечестивых” (or in the old spelling “Блаженъ мужъ, иже не иде на совѣтъ нечестивыхъ”), in the King James Version “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.” A bit later the household is frightened by a loud «Векую смятошася язьщы, вскую поучашася, тщетным?», and this is the point at which I had to call for help. Fortunately, the internet was at hand!
The first problem, which unnecessarily increased the difficulty of solving the puzzle, is a typo that apparently crept into the text at some point; the first word should be Вскую [vskuyu], just like the fourth, so my time spent trying to figure out how the first person singular of вековать [vekovat’] ‘to spend one’s time/life’ fit in was time wasted. But what was vskuyu? It turns out it’s a Church Slavic word for ‘why,’ and the line is a variant of the beginning of Psalm 2, “Вскую шаташася языцы, и людие поучишася тщетным?”—in the King James Version, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” But why does vskuyu mean ‘why’? Vasmer tells me the answer:
вску́ю “почему”, церк. (также у Салтыкова-Шадрина), др.-русск., ст.-слав. въскѫѭ – то же, из *vъz- (см.воз-) и kǫjǫ – вин. п. ж. р. от кой, ст.-слав. кыи.
In other words, въз [vъz] is an OCS preposition meaning ‘(in exchange) for,’ and the last part of the word is the accusative of кыи (later кой) ‘which.’ So it’s basically the same formation as modern зачем [zachem] ‘why,’ with за [za] ‘for.’ Isn’t that neat?
I also like very much the proverb I found in Dahl: По бороде блажен муж, а по уму вскую шаташася: ‘By his beard he’s “Blessed is the man,” but by his mind he’s “Why do the heathen rage.”‘