A couple of years ago I posted about Bradshaw of the future, “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 example I gave there was Russian баккуроты [bakkuroty] from Hebrew בכורה [bakkurah], ‘early ripening fruit,’ and English albacore. Now I’ve got another example, which (bizarrely enough) also involves fruits. I’m reading Gogol’s story “Старосветские помещики” (Old World Landowners), which opens with a description of an elderly Ukrainian couple and their old-fashioned household, and when I got to the sentence “Пульхерия Ивановна совершенно удовлетворялась этим ответом и, приехавши домой, давала повеление удвоить только стражу в саду около шпанских вишен и больших зимних дуль” [Pulcheria Ivanovna was completely satisfied with this answer and, when she got home, merely gave instructions to double the guard in the orchard around the black cherries and the large winter duli] I had to look up the last word, dulya in the singular, which I was familiar with only as a synonym of kukishfig sign‘ (Tatyana Solomatina, in Мой одесский язык [‘My Odessan language,’ 2011] writes of that “combination of three fingers”: “в одесском языке ― дуля, в русском ― кукиш или фига” [in Odessan dulya, in Russian kukish or figa]); it turns out that it has a literal sense ‘kind of pear (Pyrus communis)’. Of course I looked that up in Vasmer to learn the etymology; it’s from an older Slavic *kъdunja, from Latin Cydōnea (māla), which means it’s an etymological doublet of English quince. And Latin Cydōnea is borrowed from Greek Κυδωνία, the name of a town in Crete, the modern Khania, where I spent some happy days back in 1988, looking at the Venetian walls and the harbor and drinking good Greek wine. Ça vaut le détour.

(Not worth a separate post, but check out Liberty with a llama on her head!)


  1. Bill Walderman says

    Liberty with a llama on her head — a visual malapropism.

  2. The Bulgarian дюля is quince rather than pear, and for quinces, the etymology is more or less transparent (and discussed at LH before) – even though the ancient Greek city of Cydonia is actually not attested by any archaeological data … but gotta trust Plinius on that (“mala, quae vocamus cotonea et Graeci cydonia, ex Creta insula advecta“).
    But Vasmer’s leap from quinces to pears was questionable even for himself. And indeed, Ukrainian is famous for its colorful names, and Dahl mentiones that pear-fruit were known not only as “dulya” but also as “kukish” too. So both folk-names must be making the same frivolous comparison of pear’s shape with an obscene fig-gesture; and most probably, quinces have nothing to do with it,

  3. I’m confused—are you saying his etymology is wrong? If so, do you have an alternative explanation for *kъdunja? It’s not unheard of for etyma to provide words for different things in different languages; in fact, it’s extremely common.

  4. LH, there is no disagreement about kъdunja -> English quince, Bulgarian dyulya etc. As to Uk. “dulya” pear Vasmer himself left room for doubts.
    Indeed, Vasmer begins his suggestion that Ukrainian dialectal word for pear is of the same stem with a qualification “possibly”.
    Furthermore, Vasmer suggested that Polish “dula” might have been an intermediate form, but “dula” isn’t commonly used in Polish. It could have been an Ukrainism rather than an old Polish word for “pear”?
    Have you noticed that Dahl lists all three words, дуля, кукиш, & груша, as synonyms? That’s why I suggested that both dulya and kukish (both meaning fig-sign) could have been used as affectionately funny names for pears.
    No disrespect for Vasmer or for quinces.

  5. PS: In Russian “дуть” is a standard euphemism for “to pee”, so I wouldn’t be surprised if дуля stood for a peeing-implement

  6. PPS: Dahl
    ДУ́ЛЯ ж. дерево и плод Pyrus communis, его назыв. также грушей и кукишем

  7. Also melocotón, Spanish for ‘peach’.

  8. I believe that κοδύμᾱλον is thought to be the oldest form of the Greek word for “quince”. Hesychius gives this word, and it is attested in Alcman. According to P. Chantraine in his etymological dictionary, κοδύμᾱλον is a remaking (influenced by μᾶλον, μῆλον “apple, tree fruit”, whatever the source of that word) of a loanword of Anatolian origin. Later Κυδωνία (μᾶλα) “quinces” would be a further folk-etymological remaking based on the name of the city. (I have often heard it repeated that the element kodu- is specifically Lydian, but I remember that when I looked, I was not been able to find the ultimate source of that statement–though it goes back at least a century, to an article in Indogermanische Forschungen–nor could I find an attestation in the Lydian corpus.) By the way, I have really enjoyed the recent string of posts relating to interesting words and expressions you have encountered in your Russian reading. Keep them coming–Language Hat is like a modern-day Deipnosophistae.

  9. Fascinating—thanks for the further info! Boy, the mention of Chantraine and Indogermanische Forschungen takes me back…

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