ZOLA/PEPEL.

Russian has two words that are defined as ‘ash(es)’: зола [zolá] and пепел [pepel]. It recently occurred to me that I didn’t really know what the difference was, so I turned to Anatoly, saying in an e-mail: “I thought the difference might be that зола was in larger clumps, perhaps preserving a bit of the wood structure, but no, as far as I can tell through googling they’re both the gray, dustlike substance left after complete burning. Is зола used more for wood and пепел for cigarettes? Is there some other contextual difference in usage?” He wrote back that he had consulted with his wife and they had decided that “the meanings definitely overlap, but in most situations there is a clear choice of a term to use, thanks to idiomatic phrases”; he agreed that зола was “possibly (but, I would say, not necessarily) the more complex object of the two, retaining some structure, color or flakiness.” But he too felt uncertain, and said he’d ask the readers of his blog. Well, he’s done so, and the results are most interesting. It looks to me like there are basically two schools of thought among those who think there is a difference. One was expressed by dmpogo, who wrote “зола – это не совсем до конца прогоревшая древесина … А пепел – уже совсем до конца” [‘зола is wood that hasn’t completely burned, while пепел is burned to the end’]; this was backed up by someone who agreed and added “зола еще ‘хранит’ огонь, а пепел уже нет; золу можно раздуть до огня, а пепел – нельзя” [‘зола still ‘holds’ the fire, but пепел doesn’t; you can blow зола into flame, but not пепел’]. The other popular view was very different; in the words of cartesius, “пепел – то что сохраняет частично форму сгоревшего предмета: сигареты или бумаги, а зола -пылеобразная, тот же пепел от бумаги, если его растолочь в бесформеную массу” [‘пепел is that which keeps in part the form of the burned substance: cigarettes or papers, while зола is like dust, that same пепел from paper, if you crush it into a formless mass’].
It’s very interesting to me that native speakers can disagree so completely about the meaning and use of such common words, and of course it was pleasing to learn that my own confusion was not due to my being a foreigner!


(Incidentally, зола is not a homonym of the name of the writer Emile Zola, because in Russian that gets palatalized to Эмиль Золя [emíl’ zolyá].

Comments

  1. i second “зола еще ‘хранит’ огонь, а пепел уже нет; золу можно раздуть до огня, а пепел – нельзя” zola is one step before becoming pepel
    i wouldn’t imagine anything about the form of the burnt objects based on the words

  2. That was my feeling too, so I’m glad to have more support for it.

  3. Yeah, I agree with you and read.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    I wonder how the l the name Zola came to be palatalized. Was it to avoid the homonymy with the ashes word? or did/do Russian speakers somehow perceive the sound in French as having a front rather than back resonance? Is that typical of the treatment of borrowings from French in Russian?

  5. marie-lucie says:

    the l the name Zola
    I meant the sound l in the name Zola

  6. Is that typical of the treatment of borrowings from French in Russian?
    I think so yes. For example La fleur is transcribed – Ля Флер, and c’est la vie is се-ля-ви.

  7. It seems to me that we have somewhat the same issue in English between cinders and ashes. Cinders is/are defined variously with some of the same inconsistencies as you have found in Russian.
    A typical online definition
    “Cinder
    1.
    a. A burned or partly burned substance, such as coal, that is not reduced to ashes but is incapable of further combustion.
    b. A partly charred substance that can burn further but without flame.
    2. cinders Ashes.”
    Note that 1a. and 1b. are in contradiction.
    (Incidentally, Wiktionary translates cinders as “gar'” in Russian.)

  8. I have similar problems with friche and jachere in French. The Tresor de la Langue Francaise Informatise – http://atilf.atilf.fr/tlf.htm – gives as first meanings: for friche “abandoned land” and jachere “land left fallow for a season.”
    But it also gives secondarily friche as an synonym for jachere, quoting Balzac, no less:
    Terre abandonnée, mal entretenue. Synon. friche, lande. Au sortir de ces bois frais et touffus, une jachère crayeuse où sur des mousses ardentes et sonores, des couleuvres repues rentrent chez elles (BALZAC, Lys, 1836, p..
    Which confirms why I have always been a bit confused by the two terms.
    Marie-Lucie to the rescue !
    (Apologies for the lack of accents but I’m working on a laptop and all the NumLock business becomes tiresome….)

  9. It seems to me that we have somewhat the same issue in English between cinders and ashes.
    For me, and I suspect for most English speakers, the distinction is very clear: cinders are lumps, whereas ashes are soft and fine and puff up when you blow on them. I can’t imagine a situation in which I would be unsure which word to use. (I just asked my wife, and she agrees.)

  10. Hey, it could be worse. Imagine explaining the full differences between ale, properly so called, and beer, properly so called. To say nothing of the weirdness of a language that has gorse, furze, and whin as interchangeable names for the shrubs of the genus Ulex.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    Paul, I personally would not normally use those words by themselves but only preceded by a preposition: une terre en friche, un champ en jachère. Une terre en friche is a piece of land which could be cultivated but is not at the moment, probably because it has been abandoned or there is no one able to take care of it. Un champ en jachère is a field undergoing the resting phase of a three-year rotation, something that used to be a common practice before the use of modern fertilizers: cereal cultivation was alternated with grass or another green fodder crop, and with a resting (fallow) period. La jachère was the name of the practice, not of the land. Either Balzac was not familiar with the meaning of the word, or, more likely, it had another significance in the region he knew: the land he describes does not seem to be fit for cultivation at all. As for une lande, it means “moor”, a type of land that is unsuitable for cultivation (the word would seem more suitable for what Balzac describes). The region of France called les Landes (on the Atlantic coast, between the Garonne river and the Pyrenees) has sandy soil (with high dunes along the coast) and was practically a desert for centuries, until someone planted pines there, which gave the region a considerable economic boost.

  12. With overlapping terms, you run into regional preference and idiolect. Our Russian instructors at DLI provided various explanations of the difference between деревня and село, all expressed with the conviction that there was a clear distinction – which there probably was, for each of them as an individual. It’s another matter for the language learner.

  13. “cinders are lumps, whereas ashes are soft and fine and puff up when you blow on them.”
    Tha sounds about right; that’s why ‘cinders’ can be extended to volcanic cinders and the burnt solid residue of ore refining.
    ‘Ashes’ on the other hand can refer to “ashy skin” (the dead skin cell residue is visible if you’re dark-skinned) and to the color of something. That feels more powdery to me.

  14. Yes, деревня and село are another puzzle, but there I think history is to blame. Before the Revolution the distinction was clearer; according to Dahl, a село had a church and a деревня didn’t, although “in the south and west they call a деревня a село,” so there was a dialect difference as well. But of course with the Revolution the church distinction became irrelevant, so the words got mixed up.

  15. A.J.P. Crown says:

    ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust’, what is that supposed to mean?
    Cinders reminds me of Blaise Cendrars. Does anyone know why he took that name? I see from Wiki that he was born (as Frédéric Louis Sauser) in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, where they make watches, as was Le Corbusier one month later, both in 1887.

  16. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Cinders and embers are nearly interchangeable for me (but not quite, I wouldn’t use ’embers’ for something airborne). Wiki-geologists have their own criteria for what a cinder is.

  17. marie-lucie says:

    I understand cinders to be grey but embers to be still red and therefore able to be rekindled and to start a new fire (there can be “glowing embers” but not “glowing cinders”). Am I right?

  18. Bill Walderman says:

    “Is that typical of the treatment of borrowings from French in Russian?”
    “I think so yes. For example La fleur is transcribed – Ля Флер, and c’est la vie is се-ля-ви.”
    Russians seem to assimilate French and German “l” to the Russian palatized “l” but English “l” to the unpalatalized consonant. My great-uncle, who was born in Odessa, wrote our family name with a myagkiy znak, but my Russian teachers in the US(native speakers) wrote it without the m.z.

  19. “I understand cinders to be grey but embers to be still red and therefore able to be rekindled and to start a new fire (there can be “glowing embers” but not “glowing cinders”). Am I right?”
    Yep

  20. David Marjanović says:

    It’s very interesting to me that native speakers can disagree so completely about the meaning and use of such common words

    Happens all the time in German, though there I’m of course mostly talking about regional differences.
    ————-
    The unpalatalized /l/ of Russian is velarized; foreign unvelarized /l/ is therefore always interpreted as palatalized.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    I guess Russian speakers treat the French, Spanish etc “light l” as their palatalized consonant, and the English (especially American) “dark l” as their unpalatalized one. But everyone else seems to treat Russian palatalized l’s as “regular l’s”, without palatalization, for instance in the name of Alaska (which has palatalized l in Russian) not Alyaska as one might expect.

  22. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
    “…if the whiskey don’t get you, the women must.”

  23. Marie-Lucie, many thanks. You confirm what I thought, before I delved into Le Tresor de la Langue Francaise. A little learning ….just complicates matters unnecessarily !

  24. Zola to Zola, Cendrars to Cendrars.

  25. Zola to Zola, Cendrars to Cendrars.

  26. A.J.P. Cendrars says:

    I know if I changed my name to Blaise Cendrars you would all be asking me why.

  27. Blaise Cendrars says:

    … it’s a slow day at Language Hat.
    I suppose you’re all out shoveling snow.
    Except Siganus Sutor. He’s out chasing octopuses.

  28. If cinders can’t be powdery and puff to the blow, then why is the fairytale called Cinderella instead of ‘Asherella‘?
    For what it’s worth my dictionary says calls cinders “slagger” and in turn

    slagger sb.pl.
    1. (af metaller) slag sg.;
    2. (af kul etc.: mindre) cinders; (sammenhængende masse) clinker sg.;
    3. (fig.) dross sg.

    agreeing with LH.
    The fairytale in Danish, though, is Askepot, and there is another one with a male protagonist who similarly ashy called Askeladen.

  29. mollymooly says:

    Cinderella’s ugly sisters called Emberella (too fiery) and Ashella (not shapely enough).

  30. We burn wood for heat so I have a bit of first-hand experience with this subject! I agree with A.J.P. Crowne that cinders and embers are close… as I see it, on a practical level, embers can often be rejuvenated into a heat-producing fire (with the help of paper and/or kindling) but cinders probably couldn’t because, if they are still burning at all, there is only a touch of fire left in the middle.
    One other note: The Russian version of Cinderella is Золушка.

  31. Peplushka would sound weird i find,
    that was just purely phonetical preference perhaps, no?

  32. @read
    In Ukrainian, as a matter of fact Cinderella is called Попелюшка (Popelyushka).

  33. Popelyushka otoh sounds musical, yes

  34. If cinders can’t be powdery and puff to the blow, then why is the fairytale called Cinderella instead of ‘Asherella’?

    Because the name is French in origin.

  35. Artifex Amando says:

    In Swedish Cinderella is called Askungen (my apologies for not having the knowledge to transcribe into any phonetical script), and when I was a kid I was really confused by the name, because it can be read as Ask-ungen (the Ash-kid, not gender-specific, actually) but also As-kungen (the Carcass-king)!
    However improbable the second reading was, I still thought of it whenever hearing or reading the name.

  36. “I suppose you’re all out shoveling snow.”
    The snow is melting like crazy–water pooling on the sidewalks because the ground is still frozen, flooding to follow. I’m coming down with killer flu. The vitamin C and Airborne tablets have given way to Nyquil and Dayquil to get through class, but I think Doctor is the next stop.

  37. It’s also balmy here in Wobegon.

  38. It’s also balmy here in Wobegon.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    Cinderella: yes, this must be an adaptation of the French Cendrillon, from cendre(s) ‘ash(es)’ (the origin of cinders), itself from a Latin word. In Italian it is la Cenerentola where cenere has the same origin. But is the tale just pan-European, or basically Germanic and adopted into the rest of Europe? I haven’t read the Grimm Brothers in German, what is the name in German?

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Viele Danke, LH.

  41. The tale itself, however, is not so Germanic.

  42. Imagine explaining the full differences between ale, properly so called, and beer, properly so called.
    Jeez, John, don’t get me started … I’m in the middle of preparing a lengthy post on just that subject for my own blog, which ranges across 1200 years or so, drags in Icelandic, Irish and Old Prussian, to name only three, details how the two words have changed their meanings back and forth over the centuries and proves, to my personal satisfaction at least, that they’ve never been complete synonyms, whatever the OED says …

  43. These are important questions, zytho. Please inform us when it’s published.
    I’m a bit worried that maybe I’ve been drinking ale all this time when I thought I was drinking beer, or vice versa. Don’t spare me the truth.

  44. These are important questions, zytho. Please inform us when it’s published.
    I’m a bit worried that maybe I’ve been drinking ale all this time when I thought I was drinking beer, or vice versa. Don’t spare me the truth.

  45. Mustn’t forget the burial of the Viking woman with all her beer-making implements.

  46. Or was it ale.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    I think I should have used a final n: Viele Danken.
    My German (never very good) is extremely rusty, so I was pleasantly surprised that I could follow most of the German article on Aschenputtel, but the English one (linked by Lukas) gives even more information. It looks like the tale is pan-Eurasian rather than Germanic or even pan-European. A similar tale is even mentioned for North America, but that could be due to European influence (since a number of European tales were transmitted through French-speaking employees of the fur trade).

  48. In China tiny feet are a fetish, to the point of bringing on the brutality of footbinding. Maybe the “tiny feet = beautiful” motif is hardwired in the reptile brain.
    One of my nieces was obsessed with shoes at age 4 or 5. If people came over and took off their shoes, she’d always try them on — all of them, even if there were 20 people. She was easy to buy gifts for — used shoes at the Goodwill for a dollar.
    In Taiwan I met a tall, jolly, athletic Sino-Australian woman with largish feet. She was quite attractive, but in Chinese terms sort of a monster.
    Knowing Asian-Americans (etc.) of 100% Asian descent in Asia should cure people of racism. They just plain don’t seem Asian at all. Their whole body type is different, to say nothing of their personalities and behavior.

  49. In China tiny feet are a fetish, to the point of bringing on the brutality of footbinding. Maybe the “tiny feet = beautiful” motif is hardwired in the reptile brain.
    One of my nieces was obsessed with shoes at age 4 or 5. If people came over and took off their shoes, she’d always try them on — all of them, even if there were 20 people. She was easy to buy gifts for — used shoes at the Goodwill for a dollar.
    In Taiwan I met a tall, jolly, athletic Sino-Australian woman with largish feet. She was quite attractive, but in Chinese terms sort of a monster.
    Knowing Asian-Americans (etc.) of 100% Asian descent in Asia should cure people of racism. They just plain don’t seem Asian at all. Their whole body type is different, to say nothing of their personalities and behavior.

  50. A.J.P. Crown says:

    John, what does that last paragraph mean? I don’t understand any of it, but it sounds interesting.

  51. These are important questions, zytho. Please inform us when it’s published.
    Seconded!
    John, what does that last paragraph mean?
    I think he’s saying that Asians should be cured of racism by seeing that Asian-Americans do not look/act like them, but that’s just my guess.

  52. In Taiwan I had two (actually three) Asian-American friends of 100% Japanese or Chinese descent who were clearly Americans in their body language, posture, movements, body type, manners, etc. They really had no “Asian” (or “Chinese”) behavioral traits at all, and even physically their bodies had developed differently (thicker-bodied, more muscular, a bit stiffer). Culture even changes your body. (Racism asserts hereditary behavioral traits.)

  53. In Taiwan I had two (actually three) Asian-American friends of 100% Japanese or Chinese descent who were clearly Americans in their body language, posture, movements, body type, manners, etc. They really had no “Asian” (or “Chinese”) behavioral traits at all, and even physically their bodies had developed differently (thicker-bodied, more muscular, a bit stiffer). Culture even changes your body. (Racism asserts hereditary behavioral traits.)

  54. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yes, John. I remember meeting Asian-Americans and African-Americans when I was twelve, in the boy scouts, they seemed sooo American to me (English).

  55. David Marjanović says:

    Viele Danke, LH.

    That would be the grammatically correct plural of the expression itself if it’s considered an unanalyzable exclamation*, but it’s not what anyone says. What’s said is the singular of the noun: vielen Dank.
    * Of course it’s short for ich danke “I thank”, but that’s not something most native speakers are aware of.

    The tale itself, however, is not so Germanic.

    As a rule of thumb, all of Grimm’s Fairytales are French…

    I’m in the middle of preparing a lengthy post on just that subject for my own blog, which ranges across 1200 years or so, drags in Icelandic, Irish and Old Prussian, to name only three, details how the two words have changed their meanings back and forth over the centuries and proves, to my personal satisfaction at least, that they’ve never been complete synonyms, whatever the OED says …

    No wonder there’s no trace of ale in German.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    Vielen Dank, then, David. I had just finished reading the Wiki page on Aschenputtel in German and rashly felt like dredging out something I thought I remembered. I’ll be more careful in the future.
    What is the puttel in Aschenputtel?

  57. What is the puttel in Aschenputtel?

    The Grimms say it’s related to Hessian putteln “to wallow”, as in “Chickens and doves wallow in dust.”

  58. Sometimes she’s also called Aschenbrödel. There’s a Czech children’s film called “Tri orísky pro popelku” that’s very popular in Germany and is shown on TV every Christmas. It’s been translated as “Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel”.

  59. A.J.P. Crown says:

    They show it every Christmas in Norway too. It’s really wonderful, with very good music. In fact,our television was broken for the latter half of last year but my fourteen-year-old daughter made us get it fixed just so that she could watch that one film at Christmas (or so she said).

  60. Here’s how it was used where I was growing up: zola would be something _without_ any shape. It’s the powder that you would see if you broke some cinders. Cinders would always be called ‘ugli’ or ‘ug’ol’ in singular. Zola is something associated with a fireplace or a fire, or a burnt building. Pepel always refers to paper or cigarette ashes. Zola is a simple folk word; Pepel – a poetic, romantic word. Zola would not be used in a poem unless you were trying to be folk-sy, but Pepel might be used metaphorically or, in a poem, might be used for something you would call zola in every-day speech. Zola is always the powder and of wood origin, Pepel is always of paper origin and may or may not retain some paper / cigarette structure.
    So in a way both of those opinions cited are right to some extent. This usage is from the north by the way.

  61. Thanks very much, that may be the best explanation so far!

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