Thanks to the comments on Dmitry Pruss’s Facebook post, I went to Wiktionary and learned (or re-learned) that the familiar Russian word чемодан (chemodan) ‘suitcase’ is “Via a Turkic medium, from Persian جامه‌دان‎ (jâme-dân, ‘suitcase’)” [literally ‘garment-holder’]. And they add this very interesting fact: “Note that this Russian term has later become the source of re-borrowing into modern Persian چمدان‎ (čamedân) and many Turkic languages.” In the FB thread, Jamile Modarress Woods wrote “Chamedan is the name of a BBC program about Iranian exiles.” Reborrowings are fun.

And the post itself featured the marvelous Russian palindrome “чемодан… а надо меч” [a suitcase… but a sword is needed], illustrated by an image of Julius Caesar being attacked by a horde of assassins. Sadly, no one thought to photoshop in a suitcase.

Addendum. I won’t make a separate post of it, but the immortal Yuz Aleshkovsky has turned out, alas, to be mortal after all; he died today in Tampa. Here’s my post about him.


  1. I liked this “(or re-learned)”.
    I remember that I definitely looked it up in a dictionary and I think I did it after a conversation with an Iranian friend. But I forgot about it completely. Thank you for adding (or re-adding) one more item to my usual list of -an re-borrowings (sarafan, stakan,… )

    I guess caravan can’t be reborrowed. I hope balagan can. (Seriously, why they all end in -an? dastarxan…)

  2. I can’t resist: in Estonian there’s the alliterative compound sumadansõna ‘portmanteau, blend’ (‘suitcase word’; sõna ‘word’), with sumadan from Russian чемодан (there’s also the synonym kohversõna with kohver from German Koffer ‘suitcase’, but of course that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely). Anybody know any other languages where portmanteau is a compound with ‘suitcase’?

  3. That’s great!

  4. I definitely relearned it.

    “Chamedan is the name of a BBC program about Iranian exiles.”

    Must plug Dovlatov’s Чемодан/Suitcase right here.

  5. Ha, that means I relearned it as well!

  6. Hebrew chimidan is the standard term for what in the US is called a duffel-bag, i.e. a soft suitcase with handles, favored by soldiers for their personal things.

  7. a soft suitcase with handles, sounds like you’re describing a gym-bag link from here.

    For me/Brit English, a duffel-bag is cylindrical, top-entry with a draw-string/rope, the draw-rope attaches at the base so you put it over your shoulder, no carrying handles. (That’s the smaller version for carrying sports gear; I guess a bigger/military-issue might have a grab-handle, as illustrated on wp.)

    IIRC seeing Israeli servicemen on the buses, yes they had duffel-bags as I described; no I wouldn’t call those suitcases, no they didn’t carry them by handles. (What scared me was the nonchalance with which they threw their semi-automatics up on the luggage racks alongside the bags.)

    Hmm on further research, there’s a heck of a lot of images claiming to be ‘duffel bags’ that I would call ‘long bags’ or ‘gym bags’. Cambridge dictionary has an illustration that’s a rucsac (a strap over each shoulder) that doesn’t even look like their description right alongside. As a kid, I had series of increasingly large duffel bags for carrying stuff to school — all with the defining quality of a draw-rope that went over one shoulder only.

  8. While both the drawstring version and the “gym bag” versions fit within the scope of duffel bag for me, the prototypical duffel is definitely the latter. In fact, I would probably call the former a “drawstring bag,” rather than a “duffel bag.” (There is also the term sea bag for the drawstring version, although it’s not really a part of my active idiolect.) Moreover, the prototypical military duffel bags seem to have changed over my lifetime. When I was a kid, I remember sometimes seeing soldiers carrying drawstring bags with their stuff, but when I see them at the airport nowadays,* they essentially always have the gym bag type of luggage, although naturally theirs are very heavy-duty versions.

    * I am pretty much guaranteed to see multiple United States Army personnel any time I go to the local airport, since there is a sizeable base in town—Fort Jackson—one of the main functions of which Basic Training. So there are a lot of soldiers coming and going all the time.

  9. I’ve tried looking up Щимадан щурт с ним, замук мидный жалко!, but to no avail. It is a mock Kazan Tatar for a suitcase/valise with the handle torn off. It’s both difficult to carry and hard to throw away.

  10. This is what The G produces for צ’ימידן chimidan.

  11. i’d hazard a guess that the ivrit comes via yiddish, which has טשעמאָדאַן / tshemodan (with final stress) for suitcase/valise*, presumably direct from russian (or perhaps ukrainian/belarussian/misc-east-slavic, unless there’s a polish cognate in the mix).

    * as well as װאַליז / valiz and סאַקװױאַזה / sakvoyazh – equally transparent loans.

  12. The palindrome is at least several years old, but as we all see, the time itself is swiftly flowing backwards. You may remember the classic warning,

    Может статься, что завтра стрелки часов
    Начнут вращаться назад,
    И тот, кого с плачем снимали с креста,
    Окажется вновь распят.

    Sorry, I just couldn’t figure out how to paste a suitcase clip art into an image on my phone

  13. Chemodan, Vokzal, [Rossiya, Izrail, etc] was a common refrain among the various nationalists post the breakup of the USSR.

  14. juha, I think you are mixing up two things. This mock-Tatar accented phrase says “suitcase is not a big deal, brass lock is the real loss”. And another one is a common Russian saying “like suitcase with no handle, hard to carry, but throwing out would be a loss”. They share words “suitcase” and жалко, which doesn’t have a good English translation suitable for all contexts.

  15. @Brett There is also the term sea bag for the drawstring version,

    Yes, or ‘kit bag’ for “pack up your troubles” — I see wp redirects to duffel.

    This is what The G produces …

    Thanks @Y, not a duffel bag among them (by my sense). Most of those I’d call ‘hold-all’s. There’s a few rucsacs (two shoulder straps). I see no draw-string closings.

  16. @AntC: Kit bag is not part of American English, nor is the sense of kit meaning “clothing; garments,”* although the terms are somewhat familiar from the song. For a while, there was a shop at the southeast corner of the main square in Bloomington, Indiana that sold sundry British items, which they advertised to passers-by with a number of distinctly non-American but still fairly comprehensible terms, including “kit” and “tuck.” Moreover, I did not know that kit bag referred to a specific form of bag, although I think I would have typically imagined a prototypical kit bag as a drawstring duffel.

    * Actually, there is one situation in which the relevant sense of kit is part of my active vocabulary. It’s a term for the equipment loadout of a video game player character. I picked it up playing an online MUD in the 1990s, and while it seems to have become less common in the age of MMORGs, it is still in use.

  17. Вещевой мешок обычно закрывается с помощью затягивающего шнура, клапана или ремня. Объем вещмешка составляет около 30 литров. Впервые был принят на вооружение Русской императорской армии в 1869 году[1] и использовался до 2015 года. Официально назывался в ВС Союза ССР — Мешок вещевой из палаточной ткани с водоупорной пропиткой с наружным карманом и ремнями для крепления шинельной скатки[2] и входил в состав комплектов полевого снаряжения для сержантов и солдат мотострелковых частей Сухопутных войск[3].

    [2]Приказ Министра обороны СССР № 191, от 26 июля 1969 года, «О введении в действие Правил ношения военной формы одежды военнослужащими Советской Армии и Военно-Морского Флота».

  18. Just for fun – the English word that share roots with chemodan is pajamas.

  19. Thanks — I knew jâme was reminding me of something, and that was it!

  20. Trond Engen says

    Hey, I was opening this thread to finally record my three-day-old revelation of a pajamas.

  21. You snooze, you lose!

  22. January First-of-May says

    Anybody know any other languages where portmanteau is a compound with ‘suitcase’?

    Wikipedia claims this for at least French and German…

    ObFavEtym: the linguistic meaning of portmanteau originates from Humpty-Dumpty’s explanations of words from the first stanza of Jabberwocky.
    (AFAIK the same term was later used by Carroll elsewhere to explain a word from the second stanza.)

  23. Hey, I’m the Ob- guy around here … but I share.

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