Bradshaw of the future is a language blog whose clever modus operandi is to take two words you’d never have guessed were related and show you how they are; the latest post, for example, derives arsenic from Middle Iranian *zarnīk– from Old Iranian *zarna– “golden” from Proto-Indo-European *ǵhel– “to shine,” whose suffixed o-grade form *ǵhol-to– became Polish złoto “gold” and złoty “golden” (cognate with Russian золотой), whence we see that arsenic is a cousin of zloty. I’ve just discovered a similarly unexpected pairing. In my reading of Bulgakov’s Мастер и Маргарита (The Master and Margarita) I hit the bizarrely un-Russian word баккуроты bakkuroty in chapter 26; Pilate reads from Levii Matvei’s alleged records of Yeshua’s words: «Смерти нет… Вчера мы ели сладкие весенние баккуроты» (‘There is no death… Yesterday we ate sweet spring bakkuroty‘). Google informed me that Bulgakov had gotten this word from F. W. Farrar‘s Life of Christ (1874); Farrar writes (on p. 400) of “the delicious bakkooroth, the first ripe on the fig-tree, of which Orientals are particularly fond.” Now this bakkuroth (to give a more modern transliteration) is the plural of בכורה bakkurah, which my Bantam-Megiddo dictionary translates ‘early ripening fruit’ (you can read a discussion of it in Hans Wildberger’s commentary to Isaiah 28-39, p. 11, [28:4b]); it is related to bekhor ‘first-born, eldest’ (unrelated to Modern Hebrew bakhur בחור ‘(young) fellow’—thanks, Tom!), and is from the Semitic root *bkr (*bukur-, *bak(u)r-) ‘first-born’ (see p. 94 of Wolf Leslau’s Comparative Dictionary of Geʻez s.v. bakwara for Semitic and Ethiopic cognates). An Arabic derivative of the root is al-bakura, the source of English albacore. Isn’t that fun? And now that I’ve done all that work, I see that Balashon scooped me over four years ago (though without the Bulgakov connection); you can read more commentary, and see a nice illustration of an albacore tuna, there.

Oh, I should add that the Burgin/O’Connor translation I’m reading to my wife at night renders баккуроты simply as “figs.” I recognize that this is easier on the reader, but I’m not sure I approve, since the vast majority of Bulgakov’s readers would have had no idea what he was talking about (and in fact there’s a Q&A page headed Что такое баккуроты? ‘What are bakkuroty?’).


  1. Actually, on the albacore connection, both you and Balashon were sorta scooped over by Lameen.

  2. Always a problem for translators. You don’t want the readers to be confused by things obscure to them of which the writer assumes knowledge as a result of sharing a common culture with the readers. But how to deal with things of which the writer does not (or should not) assume knowledge? To explain or not to explain, that is the question.
    The locus classicus is characters speaking in a different language. Tolstoy could assume that most of his readers understood French (or am I wrong about this?), whereas most modern anglophone readers will not. What about Cormac McCarthy and his untranslated Spanish, or Tolkien and his untranslated Elvish? The latter is universally left alone, Tolkien having expressed his own wishes with significant fervor (and besides, there’s obviously no independent source of knowledge about Elvish, as there is about Spanish or French). Does anyone translate McCarthy, and what do they do with the Spanish?

  3. Bit of a keen linguist (for want of a better word), was Canon Farrar. I have his Language and Languages. It has some fun pages, e.g. on onomatopoeia: “Who would assert… that ‘taratantara’ is not as much an imitation of the trumpet as the Hebrew Chatzotzrah [he gives the Hebrew, reassuringly], or the German Kling-klang as the Hebrew Tziltzal, though they have not a letter in common? The Greeks used both [kugx] and [blwps] (compare our ‘flop’) to imitate the sound of the clepsydra, for which sound Naevius invents the word ‘bilbit amphora'” And so on.

  4. Very interesting! The original, complete with Hebrew and Greek, can be seen here, along with the splendid line of Latin poetry “glut glut murmurat unda sonans.”

  5. marie-lucie says

    Very interesting. I would never have guessed that albacore was from Arabic, being stuck on the Latin-looking alba, but it makes perfect sense.
    Bulbul, thanks for linking to Lameen, who also has a nice piece on the speech(es) of Tunisians currently in the news.
    glut glut murmurat unda sonans.
    In French, the sound of natural running water (as in a small creek) is glouglou.

  6. In German, Gluck Gluck is the sound of a liquid being swallowed.

  7. Bradshaw’s blog looks really interesting – thanks!

  8. One of my favourite pairs is ‘apricot’/’precocious’, especially as both words are in the same language. Both started life as Latin praecox. Another nice one is French ‘chaume’ (/ʃɔm/), meaning ‘thatch’ and the colloquial Egyptian/Lebantine ‘alam, meaning ‘pen’, both from the Greek κάλαμος

  9. In French, the sound of natural running water (as in a small creek) is glouglou.
    Also, I believe, the sound of wine being poured from a (preferably) French bottle …

  10. Like bakkuroty, apricot contains a root meaning “early-ripening”. Like albacore, it also contains the Arabic al.

  11. j. del col says

    Fig trees produce two crops (sometimes three). The first crop is the breba.

  12. In Sartor Resartus Professor Teufelsdruck drinks a beer called ‘Guck, guck.”

  13. marie-lucie says

    French ‘chaume’ (/ʃɔm/), meaning ‘thatch’
    Unless you are from the South (in which case you might say /ʃɔm∂/), the standard pronunciation is /ʃo:m/.

  14. Lovely post and discussion; these far-flung cognate pairs are fascinating. A small quibble, though: Hebrew “bakhur ‘first-born, eldest'” should be bekhor (בכור), and is not related to bakhur בחור ‘young man’; the middle consonant of the latter word was originally a voiceless pharyngeal fricative, though this has merged in standard modern Hebrew with the old fricative allophone of the voiceless velar stop.

  15. Tom: Thanks very much for the correction; I’ve amended the post accordingly.

  16. In Sartor Resartus Professor Teufelsdruck drinks a beer called ‘Guck, guck.”
    Akshully it’s Professor Teufelsdrockh, and the brand of beer is Gukguk:

    Lifting his huge tumbler of Gukguk, [*] and for a moment lowering his tobacco-pipe …
          * Gukguk is unhappily only an academical-beer.

  17. My thanks to the Grumbly one. I’d been working from memory from three decades ago or more.

  18. Either there is an umlaut — Teufelsdröckh — or Wikipedia is wrong.

  19. Either there is an umlaut — Teufelsdröckh — or Wikipedia is wrong.
    I suppose you mean the Wedia articles on Sartor Resartus and Thomas Carlyle, which have Teufelsdröckh. Howsomever, there was no Umlaut-ö in the two editions of Sartor that I’ve seen – the one I read (downloaded HTML from Project Gutenberg) and a printed one somewhere. At the time I wondered if Carlyle’s printers didn’t have an “ö” in their kit bag of types. Or perhaps later anglophone printers who issued the book were missing “ö”, “ü” and “a”, or thought their readers couldn’t handle them.
    There are other orthographical infelicities in the German quotes in Sartor:

    Horet ihr Herren und lasset’s Euch sagen
    Mochte es (this remarkable Treatise) auch im Brittischen Boden gedeihen!
    he stood up in full Coffee-house (it was Zur Grunen Gans, the largest in Weissnichtwo, where all the Virtuosity, and nearly all the Intellect of the place assembled of an evening)

    Some may be assignable to the printers, some even to Carlyle himself. Although he translated Goethe, Musäus, Tieck, Jean Paul, Hoffmann, Fouqué etc etc (scroll down to the excerpt from the Oxford Companion to German Literature), that doesn’t imply that he himself spoke or wrote German impeccably. The Wedia article doesn’t even mention his translating activity, and contains only the vague remark (“important”, “proponent”, “bear fruit”):

    Carlyle is also important for helping to introduce German Romantic literature to Britain. Although Samuel Taylor Coleridge had also been a proponent of Schiller, Carlyle’s efforts on behalf of Schiller and Goethe would bear fruit.

    Around the turn of the 19th century there was considerable leeway as to the use of “ö” in names and words. A familiar example is Goethe – sometimes the name appears as Göthe. In any case, I assume one of the reasons for Carlyle’s spellings Teufelsdrockh, Teufelsdröckh or Teufelsdroeckh was to create an impression of Teutonic learnèdness – even though the “h” after “ck” is phony. There was never a word whose ending was spelled “ckh”, that I can think of. Rath (Rat) yes, “Dreckh” no. It wouldn’t make phonetic sense. Perhaps he expected that Scottish readers would imagine the sound would be like the Scottish final “ch”.

  20. Corrections: …there was no Umlaut-o… were missing “ö”, “ü” and “ä”

  21. Professor der Allerley-Wissenschaft, or as we should say in English, “Professor of Things in General,”
    Is there a German version of Sartor Resartus? Weissnichtwo. It must be a translator’s nightmare.

  22. It must be a translator’s nightmare.
    Undoubtedley. John Cowan above pointed out that similar difficulties will confront translators of War and Peace.
    One problem with translating Sartor Resartus into German is that all the jokey “Teutonic learnèdness” in the English text would vanish. The book would simply appear to be a Report on the State of the Nation.

  23. There should definitely be an umlaut on the o; see the title page of the 1849 third edition (well within the author’s lifetime).
    similar difficulties will confront translators of War and Peace.
    The two cases are quite different; the French in W&P is, as it were, an overlay that can be removed without significant loss to the novel, whereas the German and fake German in SR is of the essence—without its effect, as you say, the book collapses.

  24. The two cases are quite different; the French in W&P is, as it were, an overlay that can be removed without significant loss to the novel
    But surely not if it were to be translated into French ? How would you render the “upper-class people speaking French” atmosphere of the Russian original, so that the francophone reader of the French translation sensed something “equivalent” ?

  25. see the title page of the 1849 third edition
    The title page of the HTML Gutenberg edition I referenced says “1831”. Maybe whoever created that HTML didn’t know how to type umlaut letters.

  26. marie-lucie says

    How would you render the “upper-class people speaking French” atmosphere of the Russian original, so that the francophone reader of the French translation sensed something “equivalent” ?
    When I read some Dostoyevsky in French years ago, the sentences which were in French in the original were written in italics (as explained in a note at the beginning). Of course, that did not explain the cultural background of the use of French.

  27. there’s obviously no independent source of knowledge about Elvish,
    That’s because he’s just left the building.

  28. Tolkien is dead, but Frodo lives.

  29. How would you render the “upper-class people speaking French” atmosphere of the Russian original, so that the francophone reader of the French translation sensed something “equivalent” ?
    But that’s not vital. A general note explaining that some of the dialog was in French in the original and what this implies would do the trick, and even without any note or understanding of that fact, the novel would be just as good. I don’t think that’s the case with SR, though I could well be wrong.

  30. narrowmargin says

    Anybody know why the Scottish pronunciation stresses Carlyle’s name on the second syllable?

  31. In Modern Hebrew there is still the word ביכורים (bikurim), which is widely used in the context of the summer holiday of שבועות (shavu’ot): the bikurim are the first harvest of the season, and they are displayed ceremoniously in the holiday celebrations, particularly in the more agricultural areas of Israel.
    You children and animals are also traditionally “displayed” at the celebrations, and often groups of children perform in song or dance.

  32. It’s not just the Scottish pronunciation; all British pronunciation stresses the second syllable, as far as I know. It is first and foremost a town in Cumberland, in N.W. England, on the Scottish border, but the spelling there is “Carlisle”. The Wikipedia etymology says:

    Around the 11th and 12th centuries, however, surviving documents show the place name spelt Caer (castle) Luel or Llewelyn. Luel, and its variants are Cumbric personal names, and it has been proposed that this was always the basis of the local name, which had been preserved by the continuity of Cumbric-speaking peoples in the area, from before the Roman imposition of a Latinised version. The fact that Cumbria (from Cymru or similar roots) was held by the Celtic kings of Rheged in the 9th century may have stimulated a revival of the Cumbric language and reinstatement of earlier Celtic place-names. Cumbric is no longer spoken, but the surviving Welsh language has Caerliwelydd as the modern name for Carlisle. Scots Gaelic has Cathair Luail as the modern name.

    I don’t know whether it’s correct, but it would explain the emphasis on the second syllable.

  33. narrowmargin says

    OK. I just remember my source making the distinction between the Scottish pronunciation of that name (second syllable) and the English pronunciation (first syllable).

  34. marie-lucie says

    Very interesting derivation.
    Modern Standard English tends to stress the first syllable of disyllabic and trisyllabic words, and many words have alternate pronunciations because of that tendency (a change in progress, apparently, which was discussed here not too long ago). Another instance with Car- is Carmichael which can have its stress on the -i- as in Michael or on Car-.

  35. Don’t listen to me. On reflection, your source may not be completely wrong. Some people do pronounce it with the emphasis on the first syllable. When I was very young, I knew an old lady* from Carlisle, and I’ve always pronounced it the way she said it which was stressing syllable 2.
    *(mid forties)

  36. Trond Engen says

    There’s a thing about girls from Carlisle:
    They find pitch on the front to be vile.
    If you’re not thus inclined
    and accenting the hind,
    the release makes the onset worthwhile.

  37. What?
    Trond, are there any structural engineering limericks? A Vierendeel truss from Baku… (and probably including something about the ultimate moment)?

  38. Trond Engen says

    I haven’t heard (or written) any structural engineering limericks. Or any other kind of structural engineering verse. I probably could — and should — have done it when I was in school. Now I can’t see the oddities anymore. But I’ll be thinking about what to do with A Vierendeel truss from Baku. But it’s no help that I hardly know the basic terminology in English.

  39. Trond Engen says

    And… Writing about my actual subject when I can play aimlessly with with what others share of theirs? At the risk of exposing the gaps in my professional knowledge?

  40. There’s no necessity to restrict yourself to writing in English is there? A structural-engineering limerick in German would be ideal.

  41. For what it’s worth, Wikipedia says that Carlisle is generally pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, but that in Carlisle it is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable.

  42. Hmm, interesting. I can’t deny it; I’ve never been there.

  43. David Marjanović says

    Dröckh is a perfectly appropriate way-over-the-top spelling of Dreck, a pejorative for “dirt” that used to be used as a euphemism for “feces”. The good professor is named “devil’s crap” in just enough disguise to be printable.
    The ö is a hypercorrectivism for the fact that southern dialects unround ö and ü; such hypercorrectivisms are fairly common in place names and surnames.
    kh occurs in various names, like Stürgkh (I’m not kidding) and Khol (Andreas, very conservative Austrian politician, not to be confused with Helmut “German unity” Kohl).

  44. Siganus Sutor says

    About the semitic root b-k-r: cf. the name of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph.

  45. “the delicious bakkooroth, the first ripe on the fig-tree” – are you sure 😉 ? At today’s local anti-Westboro Church counter-protest, the following sign has been spotted: GOD HATES FIGS! Matthew 21:18-22 LOL

  46. The protesters don’t seem to have paid attention to what is written there – it shows God loves figs so much that he (in the person of his son) threw a tantrum at a fig tree for not bearing any.

  47. John Cowan says

    Okay, GOD HATES FIG TREES, then. But “Pinch the head / Suck the tail / Burn in Hell / God hates shrimp” is much better.

  48. When I was a teenager in Oregon, that state was a major battleground in the gay rights movement. An ultra-right-wing group, the Oregon Citizens’ Alliance, had originally risen to prominence in the state as an anti-abortion-rights pressure group. They ran several candidates for office as independents when the Republican gubernatorial and Senate nominees were pro-choice. However, they eventually shifted to focusing on anti-gay ballot measures, first at the state level, where they consistently failed, then at city and county levels in more conservative parts of the state, where they enjoyed sporadic success.

    At the time, Oregon had not yet gone to all-mail-in balloting, but the state was part way there. Initiative votes were mostly conducted by mail, and each registered voter got a hefty election information packet in the mail. Anyone in the state could pay to place a one-column argument in favor of or against any given ballot measure. For the later OCA measures, there was a guy who would pay for multiple parody arguments “in favor,” (placed under the name of the “Special Righteousness Committee,” playing on the OCA’s “Stop special rights for homosexuals!” slogan). One year, he ran several “pro” arguments, railing against, not homosexuality, but other things prohibited by Leviticus, shellfish and left-handedness among them.

  49. I had assumed thus far that albacore was some kind of “white-hearted”.

Speak Your Mind