I’ve finally gotten far enough into Grossman’s Life and Fate (see this post) to get hooked (with books that long, I find it usually takes a hundred or so pages); the Russian is quite readable for me, but every once in a while I hit a mystery that can only be resolved by an appeal to Sashura, who (I keep telling him) is as good as a university education—he gives explanations that leave me feeling as if I’ve learned a whole new aspect of Russian or Soviet life. The most recent example is when I got to the middle of Chapter 21 and Mashchuk said of Neudobnov: “Одно время думали, что он членом коллегии будет” [‘At one time it was thought he’d become a member of the collegium’]. I asked Sashura “What коллегия is he talking about?” I had gone to the Russian Wikipedia disambiguation page and found a whole bunch of different senses, but the only one relevant to the USSR was Военная коллегия Верховного суда СССР (Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR), which didn’t seem relevant. Sashura wrote back:

Figuratively, it means ‘he was thought he’d make it to the top’. [In the context of the chapter] it’s Коллегия НКВД [the Collegium of the NKVD]. It refers to the structure of Soviet – and Russian – ministries. Ministries and other government agencies have colleges or collegiums normally comprised of the minister, deputies and heads of the most important departments. I’ve looked up the Foreign Ministry, its коллегия now has 23 members. The collegium is where important decisions are discussed and approved (it’s called пройти коллегию), then, depending on the subject matter, executive decisions are made by the minister or relevant deputies and heads of departments. Moving and appointing cadres (кадры – workers in position of special responsibility or sensitivity) was also decided by коллегии. Sometimes the party would appoint a person to sit on the collegium for political control and liaison, but without any direct functions within the ministry. Коллегия is a way of diffusing personal responsibility and also of political control. In practical individual terms making it to the коллегия meant having all the perks of the ruling class, good food from special distribution centres, better doctors, better clothes, a better apartment, a dacha, access to better курорты [health resorts] and a personal car with chauffeur. But it also limited personal freedom. … The word is obviously of Latin origin, but was borrowed into Russian from Swedish when Peter I radically reformed the State replacing numerous приказы [offices, departments] with a few коллегии (ministries) that existed until Alexander I replaced them with министерства based on the French ministère. But коллегия as a substructure survived.

I had known about Peter’s “colleges,” but I thought they were purely of historical significance—I had no idea they’d survived as a substructure into modern times. It’s actually somewhat shocking to me that I was a Russian major in college and have been reading up on Russian and Soviet history and culture for years, and yet I knew nothing about this. As I wrote Sashura, “My God, the Soviet Union was a complicated place. No wonder Kremlinologists were a little nutty.”
Since then, I’ve found a decent brief definition in the American Heritage Dictionary: “An executive council or committee of equally empowered members, especially one supervising an industry, commissariat, or other organization in the Soviet Union.” But it needs Sashura’s fleshing out to be truly comprehensible, and I’d really like to read more on the system; anybody know of a good source?

Addendum. I’ve found an interesting discussion on page 59 of Paul R. Gregory’s Restructuring the Soviet Economic Bureaucracy (Cambridge University Press, 1990):

Each industrial ministry, for example, has a well-organized collegium (kollegiia) whose structure is specified by ministry law and whose members are appointed by higher authorities. … The ministry collegium has the right to inform higher authorities of differences of opinion with the minister, but the decisions are still made by the minister and by no one else. The existence of a consultative body apparently prevents the edinonachalnik from shifting blame to the consultative body.
The Soviet press is full of complaints about the boring and useless meetings of ministry collegiums, but respondents assess the meetings differently. In some ministries, collegium meetings were forums for resolving major policy issues, reprimanding ministry officials, and discussing key personnel matters. A number of respondents attended ministry collegium meetings, in either management or technical capacities. They presented different versions of the importance of such meetings. One regular participant referred to them as “gab sessions” in which collegium members sat around and complained about supply problems. Another described them as often heated discussions of basic ministry policy and felt that important matters were resolved. Several respondents noted that an invitation to a nonmember to appear before the collegium evoked foreboding. Collegium meetings were an occasion for publicly reprimanding ministry officials whose work was deemed poor. Personnel matters were also discussed in the collegium. It is therefore understandable that an invitation to appear was not greeted with enthusiasm.


  1. The most poetically acclaimed collegium must be инюрколлегия, of Galich’s song fame. After the original инюрколлегия, many top-tier legal firms proudly include the word “collegium” in their names. Note that the “international law collegium” of Galich’s ballade was a non-government entity even then, unlike all of the countless ministerial / departmental collegiums persisting at all levels of ex-Soviet bureaucracy.

  2. anyhow you interface ate up my original link to the verse (on a supposedly-banned site narod dot ru which I couldn’t even spell in the text of the comment???) and then swallowed the substitute too. Even though the substitute didn’t even have the “offensive” “narod” (it was Something is amiss with the anti-spammer, Language…

  3. My apologies—I must have been getting a bunch of spam from and added it to the MT-Blacklist in frustration. I’ve removed it now.

  4. Yet another German word in Russian: курорты [health resorts] for Kurorte.

  5. There is a Gorki-Haus in the курорт Bad Saarow, and a Hotel Maxim in the курорт Marienbad.

  6. If narod dot ru gave you too much grief with spam, then heck, why not have it banned. What surprosed me was that your script recognized the offensive string in the body of the comment, but removed, in addition, all the rest of http references! Guilty by association yeah?
    Grumbly – BTW the only official name for “firewall” in Russian is, you guessed it, brandmauer :). But the illegitimate English word seems to be winning.

  7. What’s the difference between a Wand and a Mauer?

  8. A Wand [wall] is thin and interior. A Mauer [masonry structure] is thick and exterior – either free-standing or house-bound. A Zaun [fence] is a free-standing exterior wall.

  9. the only official name for “firewall” in Russian is, you guessed it, brandmauer
    !?? I’ve never seen Brandmauer used in the IT sense. It means only “firewall” in the fire protection sense.
    Speculation: there are relatively few English-Russian dictionaries available or in common use in Russia. It is easier to find English-German dictionaries. So in order to translate “firewall”, an average Russian looks it up in the English-German dictionary.

  10. I left a word out by mistake: “A Zaun [fence] is a free-standing exterior thin wall”.
    A Maurer is a mason / bricklayer. A Freimaurer is a freemason.

  11. @MOCKBA: About the stress in курорт – is it on the first syllable, as in German ?

  12. Брандмауэр_Windows – yes, funny as it may seem, but a German wiki entry lists the same as a firewall.
    No Stu it doesn’t have anything to do with dictionaries. From the point of view of the authorities, brandmauer is a Russian word (albeit of German origin) and firewall is an English word (nor Russian) for a concept which already has a name in Russian. It’s all about timing of borrowing … whichever borrowed word has become Russian earlier, is officially right. Since bricklaying predated computer technology, the formerly German word has got into Russian first, and it wins.
    курорт – no, the stressed syllable is the last one, faux French way

  13. When I was a Cub Scout the leader of our pack or troop or whatever it was happened to be both a mason by trade and a member of the freemasons. His name was Mr.Mason.

  14. @Stu: there’s a very pretty Russian Orthodox Church in the Kurort Bad Ems, left over from its glory days in the mid 19th century.

  15. Also: does Russian take over the unwritten glottal stop in German before the o in Kurort?

  16. Брандмауэр_Windows – yes, funny as it may seem, but a German wiki entry lists the same as a firewall.
    I don’t understand that sentence, could you please explain ? Perhaps the “Брандмауэр_Windows” was intended to provide information. It appears in your comment in the same font as a href link, but there is no link.
    I should have written “dumb and silly speculation”. What I actually had in mind is how much the importation of new concepts is subject to fashion.
    Germans in IT tend to import the word along with the concept, so they say “firewall” instead of Brandmauer (or Brandwand). As a result, they don’t have to think much about what “firewall” means when they encounter it in an English or German IT article.
    Unfortunately, they often don’t know what the word (here “firewall”) means in the non-IT sense (wall to prevent a fire spreading), so in a sense they don’t actually understand it. They miss out on the connotations and original meanings of the word, the reasons why it was chosen for use in a different context (here IT).
    Things are probably harder for French IT people, by contrast, because they must learn one word for reading English IT articles, and another word (or phrase, more often) for the same concept when reading French IT articles. On the upside, the French equivalents are intelligible in themselves, since they are paraphrases of the English originals.

  17. When the Chinese take over the world and start inventing things instead of pirating them, we will have to import their words, I guess. “I’m gonna go buy me one of those shong-dong woo-fees”.

  18. Bill Walderman says

    The stress in Russ. kurort is on the second syllable. Russian often places the stress in German loan words and names on the last syllable, as if they were French words. For example, “indentation” is ab-‘zats. The composer is Mo-‘tsart, if I’m not mistaken.

  19. Bill, what about Gary’s question as to the “glottal stop” (if that’s what it is) after Kur, giving Kur:Ort – instead of “Kurrrrort”.

  20. Брандмауэр Windows – just a wikipedia link but I must have pasted something wrong.
    Of course Russian word usage is based on the French model (if the Academie didn’t approve it, then it isn’t a word).
    This said, sometimes the “related concepts” look even more different than “a firewall in a building” vs. “a firewall between computers”, and the language minders fail to recognize the equivalency. Like English “splicing” (for biomolecules or computer files”) has been approved despite the pre-existence of a cognate Dutch borrowing for sailboat ropes (Russian “сплесневать”).
    And sometimes it us just expedient to import the same thing twice, maybe with different connotations. Like Linus Pauling, of two Nobels fame, has been known in Russian as “English” Лайнус Полинг and as “German” Доктор Паулинг at the same time (the former a “good” peacenik, the latter an “evil” creator of an anti-Marxist theory of chemical bonds)

  21. Моцарт is MO-tsart, stress on the first syllable, with a very short ‘tutting’ ts sound.
    Абзац also means paragraph, not just indentation. These days it’s set automatically, but with manual typewriters it had to be five space bar hits, according to what they taught us at typing classes.

  22. Alexander Galich’s song ‘The Ballade of the Added Value’ can be listened to here. The song is wonderful, we used to sing it by the bonfire.
    But Mockbar, the In-yur-kolleghiya (Foreign Judicial Collegium) there roughly corresponds to ‘partnership’ as in lawyers’ firms structure, not consultative bodies withing ministries.

  23. Kurort
    There is no glottal stop in Russian курорт. It’s pronounced kooh-RHORHT. The original German word just fitted nicely with Russian pleophony.

  24. LH, thanks for the kind words, but surely one man can’t be a university, nor an island.
    On kollegiya, I’d like to add another good Russian word коллегиальность – collegiality, collective decision making. It existed in the language probably as long as kollegiya, but became popular in the 50s-60s as a term counterbalancing ‘personality cult’ (Stalinism) and Khruschev’s ‘voluntarism’ (волюнтаризм). The insistence on collegiality, I think, changed the importance of collegiums (collegia?) within the ministries under Brezhnev and later.
    The Cambridge book is very interesting, thanks for mentioning it. Voslensky in Nomenklatura has a few passages on kollegiya, but he doesn’t seem to look at it in detail.
    And kollegiya (redkollegiya – редколлегия – редакционная коллегия – editorial board) is a very important body in Russian media structure. It’s where editorial policy is discussed and decided. Usually it’s the Editor, deputies and department chiefs. In a daily publication they would sit at an appointed time to discuss what the lead story would be and how to angle it.

  25. редколлегия … In a daily publication they would sit at an appointed time to discuss what the lead story would be and how to angle it
    This is done in German media houses, at least some of them. Is this not the case in America as well ? I have seen these meetings in television documentaries on magagines such as Emma, Spiegel,and some women’s magazine. Also at the taz, a daily newspaper.

  26. an “evil” creator of an anti-Marxist theory of chemical bonds
    What do chemical bonds have to do with Marxism ? Is this an example of historical materialism run wild ?
    1. Theories are the deterministic product of economic and physiological activity
    2. Marxism is known to be necessarily the right way to understand economic activity
    3. So chemistry must result in that same way of thinking, otherwise we would have a “contradiction”

  27. Clarification:
    3. So chemical theory must explicitly reflect that way of thinking, otherwise we would have a potential “contradiction” between physiology and ideology

  28. I suppose Marxist theory can account, in Marxist terms, for Marxist theory. It can be applied to itself, and so meets the basic criterion for a “super-theory” (Luhmann). Thus it has an edge over psychoanalytic theory, which doesn’t account for, say, the motives of psychoanalysts – at least not in the same terms as it accounts for those of psychoanalytic patients.

  29. In other words, Marxists thrive on self-referentiality and don’t charge fees. That explains why there are more Marxists than psychoanalysts, who indulge in autoanalysis only behind closed doors.
    Lucy with her “The doctor is in” sign is notorious for not examining her own life, not even outside the office. In view of her authoritarian tendencies, however, she may be a crypto-Communist.

  30. Sashura: I was also taught the five spaces before the start of a paragraph in (English) typing class (and two after a full stop). Curious. I wonder if that exists in other languages.
    Stu: The daily editorial conference was/is SOP in all media organisations I worked for. It is simply necessary operational planning, allocating staff and news space, etc. At the AP, for example, it’s at the New York HQ a set time every day with a very broad conference call bringing in a wide range of its news hubs. All very disciplined and quick usually lasting (IIRC) at most 15 minutes, but it covers the major stories in all fields, not just the lead (as I believe it does in most publications).
    The question of “how to angle the lead” is very much dependent on the organisation – it can be purely technical, or political.

  31. Stu, I remember reading that analysts (at least the Freudian ones at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, who are my idea of an analyst) are analysed themselves – I think maybe twice, though I can’t remember why. My source for this is Janet Malcolm’s book, that I lent to someone and they never returned, called…I can’t remember.

  32. … I think it must be Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession. A jolly good book, if there ever was one.
    I always leave two spaces after a full stop, but they are sometimes condensed to one by the machinery inside my computer.

  33. The daily editorial conference was/is SOP in all media organisations I worked for.
    Thanks, Paul. Anything else would have surprised me. I asked merely because Sashura wrote: “редколлегия … is a very important body in Russian media structure”, as if it were some kind of homegrown-in-Russia, ideological “collection decision-making” thing like the others he mentioned.

  34. @AJP Bishop of Poitiers: have you considered booking as Saint Jérôme at some point ? He created the translation of the Bible known as the Latin Vulgate, made friends with a lion and wore a red cardinal’s hat after he died. Also, he has an o-circonflexe in his name, which I have always thought to be very chic.

  35. He’ll have to wait his turn. Wikipedia, my guide in all things religious, says the depiction of St Jerome in a cardinal’s outfit is anachronistic – and anyway, he played for the orioles. I see no reason to add an acute or a circumflex to St Jerome’s name. He wasn’t French, was he?

  36. True, the rebuttal of Linus Pauling’s “evil pseudo-scientific theory” came from the same fellow who also infamously critiqued Marr’s Japhetic theory of language, only exactly a year later.
    But I don’t think the denunciation of Pauling had anything to do with historical materialism, or even has much food for linguistic thought? Rather, the campaign was rooted in “diamat”. Linus Pauling’s hunch was that when the internal bonds within an object can be described in two alternative ways, then the reality may need to be described as a superimposition of the two (say AB..C has a tight link between A and B, and a loose one with C; while A..BC is the other way around … but the reality is “both at the same time”). Not sure how one can apply this to language or culture, though.

  37. He wasn’t French, was he?
    He is in the French WiPe, which I often consulted recently while reading Huizinga’s Déclin du moyen age.

  38. but the reality is “both at the same time”
    Aha, bourgeois fence-sitting !

  39. diamat
    For those not steeped in Marxism-Leninism, this is the standard Russian abbreviation of “dialectical materialism.”

  40. Diamats are a cadre’s best friend.

  41. Ah, that’s where the two spaces come from! I do copy-editing to a house style that demands one space after full stop, and it was a bit of a pain to remove double spaces that many writers put in their copy. Until I figured out how to remove them automatically.
    I did typing courses twice, but I don’t remember the double space rule for Russian typing. Those typing rules must go back to when Remingtons and Underwoods (ремингтоны и ундевуды) just appeared?

  42. diamat…the standard Russian abbreviation of “dialectical materialism”
    I’ve noticed that the US military do this kind of Soviet thing all the time now: Seal Team 6, which stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound, is known officially as Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or Devgru. Gru? I’ve also noticed that this kind of lame, doesn’t-quite-work name is typical. Why not choose something like “Navdev”, or even better, real words like “Seal Team 6”?

  43. It is the question whether the US or Soviet military, or that of some other country – if indeed the military was involved at all – was historically the first to employ abbreviations extensively. Medieval logicians made up abbreviations like Barbara and Celarent to denote the various types of (valid) Aristotelian syllogism.

  44. All I’m saying is – a billion here and a billion there – you’d think the US military could afford to employ someone with enough linguistic expertise to invent names that worked properly.

  45. What do you mean by “work properly” ? I suspect soldiers themselves actually like abruptly abbreviated tags such as “Devgru”. They’re organic in a sense – like a cow whose head has just been blown away by a tank gun.

  46. from the Russian milspeak I most fondly remember гроб <= гражданская оборона “civil defence”. The acronym literally means “coffin”
    @Grumbly Stu re: bourgeois fence sitting, it’s too easy for us now to dismiss Stalin’s attempts to make himself the top authority in culture and science as laughable. Especially since relatively few victims lost their lives in the 50s, compared the previous blood-soaked decades. But these campaigns were just as cathartic and scary, making people choose between betraying friends and loosing livelihoods. There was a lot of human drama and a lot of real courage involved.
    Of course some of the denounced theories ended up still being studied and applied for military uses (e.g. radiation biology applications of banned genetics). Strugatsky Brothers later famously alluded to this in their Обитаемый Остров, a fictitious world where a pseudo-scientific enemy theory of spherical Earth had a practical application in ballistic rocketry.

  47. Like so many linguistic phenomena we think of as typically Soviet, those ugly stump compounds actually predate the revolution. To quote The Russian Language in the Twentieth Century by Bernard Comrie, Gerald Stone, and Maria Polinsky (see this LH post):

    The First World War played an important role in increasing the number of acronyms, particularly in military language; the acronyms and stumps were needed to speed up communication (via telegraph) between the units. Some of the new acronyms were not particularly euphonic, which did not add to their popularity, e.g. наштаверх (начальник штаба верховного главнокомандующего) ‘Chief of the Military Operations Headquarters’; for some reason, the acronyms in the navy were much more accepted, and some of them have been in use since the First World War….

  48. @Stu, for me as a native German speaker, a Zaun can’t be a wall. Zaun connotes a lightweight grid-like structure that you can see through. Wikipedia says:

    Ein Zaun besteht gewöhnlich aus Holz, Metall (festem Guss- oder Schmiedeeisen oder auch biegsamen Draht) oder Kunststoff. Aus Stein oder Beton errichtete Abgrenzungen heißen Mauer.

  49. it’s too easy for us now to dismiss Stalin’s attempts to make himself the top authority in culture and science as laughable. Especially since relatively few victims lost their lives in the 50s, compared the previous blood-soaked decades. But these campaigns were just as cathartic and scary, making people choose between betraying friends and loosing livelihoods. There was a lot of human drama and a lot of real courage involved.
    I don’t understand a word of that. “Relatively few victims lost their lives in the 50s”: what does that have to do with whether or not we dismiss Stalin’s absurd pretentions ? In any case, Stalin died in 1953, so he didn’t have that much time in the ’50s to have a lot of people killed.
    “These campaigns were just as cathartic and scary”: which campaigns ? “There was a lot of human drama and a lot of real courage involved”: I can well imagine there was. But that is 100% compatible with dismissing Stalin’s ideas as harebrained.
    I suppose it is embarassing and depressing to realize that millions of one’s countrymen died for nothing but a bunch of pigheaded ideas. But it’s no worse than the millions who died for the Baby Jesus, or because they were Indians, Jews, Armenians etc etc.

  50. @Emma: for me as a native German speaker, a Zaun can’t be a wall
    But a native German speaker has no privileged knowledge about the correct use of the English word “wall”! 😉 Seriously, though, what I wrote involved a bit of combinatorial horsing around with the word pairs thin/thick, interior/exterior. Note also the pun on “house-bound”:

    A Wand [wall] is thin and interior. A Mauer [masonry structure] is thick and exterior – either free-standing or house-bound. A Zaun [fence] is a free-standing exterior thin wall.

  51. Dunno about this Zaun, but having worked as an architect in Germany I’d say the best way to explain the Wand, Mauer distinction is to translate Wand as “partition”. The only prob. is that the only people who use words like “partition” are architects and contractors. Mauer of course means ant, in Norwegian.
    Thanks for that, Language; very interesting. I’d always just assumed it was Soviet.

  52. A Zaun is a fence, no more and no less. A Wand is a wall in two senses: the same two senses that the English word “wall” has.
    1. A partition
    2. One side of such a partition: “Paint the wall fuchsia”
    What is this about “mauer” meaning “ant” in Norwegian ? Do you know the etymology ?

  53. I meant to write: “the same two senses that the English word ‘wall’ has when it means Wand“.

  54. Right. It’s “a wall” when you can only see one side of it, because you can’t see how solid it is. But it helped me understand the German distinction. For example die Chinesische Mauer or Berlin Mauer: why not the Berlin Wand? Answer, because you’d never think of such an object as “a partition” in English (even though it was partitioning the city). When Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, you’d never say the partitions came tumbling down; ergo, in German they’re probably Mauers (die Mauern).
    As for Norwegian mauer, it’s actually spelt maur (one maur, several maur), but pronounced pretty similarly. Trond has corrected me before on that. According to Wiktionary, it’s from Old Norse maurr. Cognate with Danish myre, Swedish myra, Ancient Greek μύρμηξ (murmēks), Serbo-Croatian мра̑в / mrȃv.

  55. Berlin-er Mauer.

  56. the popularity of abbreviations must have had something to do with the telegraph and Morse code. Just as in or time early computers required shortened file-names.
    It weren’t just Germans and Russians, the French are famous for their alphabet soup, and Smith-Cumming, the founder of the British Secret Intelligence service, referred to himself as ‘C’.

  57. I think attacks on Pauling in the early 50s had little to do with diamat or marxism. They were mostly motivated by the communist party decision to use Russian nationalism as a tool in the cold war. Any attempt to accept an idea not originating in the Soviet Union could be put down as ‘nizkopoklonstvo’ (kowtowing) to the West. In Pauling’s case it was because his chemical theories were purported to undermine the Russian chemist’s Butlerov earlier theory of how chemical compounds were structured.
    But official attacks were taken with a healthy degree of cynicism among the intelligentsia. It is from that time that the famous ironic quip dates: ‘Russia is the birthplace of elephants’.

  58. Sash, it’s one thing to call the head of the SIS “C”, but take a look at this list of children’s names. The Soviet Union just loved acronyms as does, currently, the US military. Not that I’m trying to make a political point out of it; it just seems to have been a craze for both parties, and I wonder why. Morse code and WW1 messages may have started it, but why were people using acronyms to name their children? Look at this one:
    Кукуцаполь: Кукуруза – царица полей, which apparently translates as Kukucapol, from the acronym Kukuruza – carica polej, or “Corn is the Tsarina of the fields”.
    That’s just an acronym fixation, acrofix as it’s called by the US seals.

  59. Sashura, kowtowing before the West is also a mere pretext rather than a true cause for attacks on science. If a Western concept or invention was truly needed, surely the govt. would have found a Russian to have invented the same thing (as it happened with aviation invented by Mozhaisky or with railroads invented by Cherepanov, or, as a joke has it, with X-ray invented by Ivan “I can see through you” the Terrible). General relativity or quantum theory may have been foreign-born and not quite orthodox dia-materialistic too, but they were too important for weaponry to be touched. But biological or linguistic theories were fair game.
    Re: Кукуцаполь, all these made up names are mere historical curiosities, never in wide use. But acronyms in Russian are ancient, from traditional tilde-topped icon and lubok abbreviations. The poets of Silver Age added to word-building frenzy too.
    @ Language re: navy acronyms being more accepted, here’s one naval term for you to decipher: замком по морде LOL

  60. my favourite acronyme name is
    Dazdraperma – Даздраперма
    The recent film Stilyagi has the main character named Mel(s), also an acronym.

  61. Bathrobe says

    So where does the Indonesian penchant for ugly abbreviations come from?
    And while we’re taking about walls and ants, isn’t Zaun cognate with English ‘town’?

  62. Joe Mauer and Gregg Zaun are professional baseball players — catchers, both of them. I looked at a web site to see if there had ever been a player named Wand, but there was nobody between Bill Wambsganss and Lloyd Waner.

  63. Here’s one called Yagacroc, is that what you mean? Is lubok itself an acronym? How did it work with icons?

  64. Ø, there are a couple of them named Wendell; maybe it’s from Wände.

  65. my favourite is Даздраперма
    You’re 3 days late with that one, Sash.

  66. Wendell; maybe it’s from Wände.
    A Wendeltreppe is a spiral staircase. A Windeltreppe is a staircase made of diapers.

  67. Windelschwindel?

  68. David Cameron’s wife, they say, is called Sam-Cam.
    no worries about Dazdraperma, May is full of them, today is the old Soviet Press Day.

  69. You can’t climb the same Wandeltreppe twice.

  70. You can’t climb the same Wandeltreppe twice.
    Nice one, empty. But just a small Hinweis to polish up your mot
    Wandeln has a transitive meaning “transform”, and an intransitive one “stroll” (I mean the verbs in each case). There is no word Wandeltreppe in common use, but it would be a good description of a magic staircase that changes your shape when you climb it – or changes its own shape like Proteus.
    There are, however, two existing words Wandelhalle and Wandelgang, a semi-open hall or mall-like promenade, respectively, where people can stroll. So you could say: “You can’t enter a Wandelhalle twice”, which reminds us of the river which you can’t step into twice.

  71. Alzo:
    you can’t go home again – Thomas Wolfe

  72. You know, I was striving for a lame pun to follow up your wendel/windel with wandel, and I had to look it up. I sort of knew wandeln was about walking (not to be confused with wandern, though) — because my son sang a solo in his school concert in which one urges one’s darling not to go out and wandeln in the grass and get her precious feet wet, the grass that is damp with my dears, and was asking me for help with the German — but when I looked it up yesterday the first thing I saw was wandeln alteration, oh yeah, like Verwandlung, right, and I forgot all about strolling. My vague thought is that you wander up the stairs and get lost in some neverland. I was also thinking of Tevye’s plan, in “If I Were a Rich Man”, about having a stairway that goes nowhere just for show.

  73. Anyway, thnks for the Hinweis. Better a Hinweis than an Einwand. That reminds me, Stu (or maybe David), do you know anything about an old saying among Doppelkopf players, something about what the Mensch im Mauer says? (I forget, is this the thread with the walls in it?)

  74. i don’t know anything about card games, but I happen to know that mauern in that context means to chicken out, i.e. play defensively even with a good hand. In everyday German it also means “stonewall” or “refuse to provide information”, but Duden strangely doesn’t list that meaning. From somewhere I got the idea, years ago, that mauern in this sense was calqued on “stonewall” (in the early ’70s), but it could just as well be the other way round – or perhaps they have nothing do to with each other.

  75. Windelschwindel?
    That could mean either a diaper scam, or an attack of vertigo on having to change the baby yet again.
    Isn’t German cute ? Why do I like these things in German, and yet get irritated as all-get-out when the French do them ? Answer: because my French is not good enough, so I get confused and am not as pleased with myself as I would like to be.
    This is an element of basking-in-one’s-own-footlights about all this, admit it !

  76. There is an element …

  77. How on earth do they get Schwindel to mean vertigo? I find that confusing and irritating.

  78. So if you try to get a day off work because you’re pretending that changing diapers gives you vertigo, is that a Windelschwindelschwindel? How absurd of the Germans, we would call that a diaper-vertigo scam.

  79. The OEtymD says that English swindler is an 18th-century import from Germany.

  80. En svindel means a fraud, in Norwegian, but I can’t see whence it came.

  81. The OEtymD says that English swindler is an 18th-century import from Germany.
    Things went in both directions, it appears. According to Duden:

    Schwindler: [älter = Fantast, Schwärmer, beeinflusst von engl. swindler = Betrüger]

    MW says:

    swindler: back-formation from swindler, from German Schwindler giddy person, from schwindeln to be dizzy, from Old High German swintilon, frequentative of swintan to diminish, vanish; akin to Old English swindan to vanish

    Schwindeln originally meant “to lose consciousness” [in Ohnmacht fallen], which resembles “having your head swim” as a result of being talked into a corner by a smooth operator.

  82. My head is swimming, I’ll tell you that.

  83. Vexercise is no substitute for sport, Hat. I’ve noticed that you often sit silently with a beer in hand, watching the young’uns run around commenting.

  84. David Marjanović says

    Wand: the generic term. From winden – wand – gewunden “wind – wound – wound”, dating from the times when house walls were wickerwork covered with loam (…well… a mixture of loam, straw, and crap). Also used in mildly metaphorical ways like Körperwand “body wall”.
    Mauer: the product of masonry. Made of stone, brick or concrete. Very restricted metaphorical uses, for instance in football.
    Wall: meaning unchanged from Latin vallum – an elongate mound.
    Zaun: fence; what Emma said.

    Also: does Russian take over the unwritten glottal stop in German before the o in Kurort?

    Hm… Stu, do you have a glottal stop there? The entire word is non-rhotic – [ˈk(ʰ)uːɐ̯ɔɐ̯t] – because the first /r/ is at the end of a morpheme, but does anyone insert a glottal stop? In my limited experience, northern Germans insert one in front of every stressed syllable that would otherwise begin with a vowel, others (typically ignored in descriptions of German pronunciation) only in front of every connected utterance that would otherwise begin with a vowel.
    There are Poles (Silesians?) who put a glottal stop in front of every vowel-initial syllable; I suppose that’s because the stress (almost) always falls on the second-to-last syllable, which means that several different syllables of a root can be stressed or unstressed in different grammatical forms. Example I’ve encountered: nauka [naˈʔuka] “science”, nauk [ˈnaʔuk] “of sciences”, naukowy [naʔuˈkɔvɘ] “scientific and masculine”.

    Sashura: I was also taught the five spaces before the start of a paragraph in (English) typing class (and two after a full stop). Curious. I wonder if that exists in other languages.

    When I grew up, even the typewriters had a tabulator key which is supposed to be pressed once at the beginning of each paragraph (yes, Absatz). Two spaces after a full stop is English-only, and nowadays possibly informal-American-only.

    but the reality is “both at the same time”
    Aha, bourgeois fence-sitting !

    It just so happens to be exactly what quantum physics says.

    Diamats are a cadre’s best friend.


    And while we’re taking about walls and ants, isn’t Zaun cognate with English ‘town’?

    Awesome idea! Probably it is. 🙂

    Stu (or maybe David), do you know anything about an old saying among Doppelkopf players, something about what the Mensch im Mauer says?

    I don’t even know that game. (Is it the same as Bavarian schafkopfen = Austrian schnapsen, which I have at least seen?) But a masculine Mauer is surprising; despite its derivation from the Latin murus, the word is feminine, so I’d expect in der Mauer “in the wall”. Of course, “in the wall” is still strange.

    from Old High German swintilon, frequentative of swintan to diminish, vanish; akin to Old English swindan to vanish

    Huh. So schwindeln is from schwinden (I should have guessed, but never did), and somebody surreptitiously undid the High German consonant shift here. I had no idea.

  85. Doppelkopf: A trick-taking game for four. I sort of learned it about 25 years ago from some Germans. We were whiling away our evening hours at a math conference. I was given to understand that this is the sort of thing German students stay up late doing. Many strange rules. It’s been a long time, and I was drinking at the time, you understand, so my memory is unreliable. A sort of Noah’s ark deck: two of everything. It was a little hard to remember which cards outrank each other. The only card higher that can top the jack of diamonds is the other jack of diamonds, IIRC. You have a partner, but who it is depends on the deal. The two people who turn out to have the queen of clubs are partners, and if those two are the same person then partnership is determined somehow by bidding.
    There was a sort of rule of thumb about which card not to lead, something like “Nie unter dem Karoer Bauer, sagt der Mensch in Mauer”. Yes, it’s come back to me: this guy to whom the rule was attributed was the fossilized specimen called Homo heidelbergensis, and I have just now figured out that, contrary to my earlier impression, it’s not that he was unearthed in a city wall but rather in a village called Mauer.

  86. Stu, do you have a glottal stop there [Kurort]?
    As I had indicated, I don’t know if “glottal stop” correctly describes what happens between “Kur” and “ort” when I say Kurort. It was Gary who introduced the topic. Anyway, since I am not a native speaker, my speech patterns are not clubbable, i.e. nothing to shake a stick at.

  87. “Sir John, Sir, is a very unclubable man.” —Sam: Johnson

  88. Yes, but then my pun would not have worked.

  89. (*reconsiders*) Oh all right, you win.

  90. The U.S. Navy (and the Marines) historically used stump compounds because they were more intelligible on their faces than acronyms (see this post-WW2 list), so we get things like OpNav, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. On the other hand, the Chief himself (the highest-ranking naval officer) is the CNO; on the gripping hand, stump compounds can create unfortunate results like AssCom (not in the above-linked glossary) for “Assistant Communicator”.
    The Army and the Air Force have never gone in for stump compounds, seeing them as a purely squid convention.

  91. John Cowan says

    A Maurer is a mason / bricklayer. A Freimaurer is a freemason.

    That’s why in the early pages of Finnegans Wake the hero, called there “Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand”, is known as a “freemen’s maurer”. However, the Tim Finnegan of the ballad is what Freemasons call an “operative mason”, like Empty’s Mr. Mason above: “to rise in the world Tim carried a hod.”

    purely squid convention

    I have heard two etymologies of squid ‘sailor’: that they eat squid (something no Marine would tolerate), or that their top speed is 15 mph (as opposed to the Air Force, who go rather faster).

  92. David Marjanović says

    Homo heidelbergensis

    Oh. The rule is a lot Older Than Dirt, then.



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