Cyclamen and Treacle.

Occasionally I pull a book at random from my shelves and open it to a random page just for the hell of it; today it was my paperback copy of Sologub’s Мелкий бес (The Petty Demon; see this post), and when I opened it my eye fell on the word дряква [dryakva]. I couldn’t remember what it meant, so I looked it up, and it turned out to mean ‘cyclamen.’ The normal Russian word for that pleasant plant is цикламен [tsiklamen], and in fact дряква is so rare it only turns up in three entries in the Национальный корпус русского языка (National Corpus of the Russian Language) — I found a 2013 blog post by plantarum that regrets its desuetude:

Но до чего же русское название этого растения мне нравится. Дряква. Прелесть, да?
Повторять и повторять. Дряква… дряква… Ну что ж ты дряква у меня такая…

But the Russian name of this plant truly pleases me. Dryakva. Delightful, isn’t it?
You can say it over and over. Dryakva… dryakva… You’re my sweet dryakva

At any rate, I wondered where it came from, so I looked it up in Vasmer, and found:

дря́ква, дрия́ква – растение “Cyclamen europaeum, цикламен”. Заимств. через польск. dryakiew, род. п. -kwi “териак”, перенесено также на лекарственные растения из ср.-лат. thēriacum, греч. θηριακὸν (ἀντίδοτον), буквально “противоядие, средство против звериного яда”; см. Бернекер 1, 232; Лопацинский, PF 4, 765; Брюкнер 99.

So it’s from an obsolete Polish word dryakiew meaning ‘theriac, antidote to poison.’ Which means it’s etymologically the same word as English treacle. Talk about semantic divergence!


  1. I didn’t know дряква or териак—very interesting, including the connection to treacle! Even after the explanation, I wouldn’t have guessed that дряква was likely to be used as metonymy for Russia, but in the first of the three entries from the corpus, if I’m reading the context right, “из картвельских кущей в нашу дрякву” is just a fancy way of saying “from Tbilisi to St. Petersburg,” a trip the narrator has just made in an hour on some kind of anti-gravity ship.

  2. I momentarily confused it with Neznayka’s рвакля. But isn’t cyclamen just a “pig’s root” in Russian?

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    So “treacle” is Greek … one to add to my list of deep-cover sleeper-agent Greek loans (bishop, blame, devil … treacle.)

  4. January First-of-May says

    I momentarily confused it with Neznayka’s рвакля.

    Perhaps the most interesting part in the Neznayka scene is figuring out what (real) word Tsvetik did mean (or, at least, could have meant) by his puzzle; my best guess is сакля “a kind of primitive building in the Caucasus”, which is conveniently one of the few five-letter options that weren’t discarded in the text.

    (Realistically the best rhyme would probably be спектакля “performance (gen.)”, but I’m not sure if non-nominative forms were allowed as options. I’m not sure what kind of verse would require the word пакля “oakum, tow” in the first place, anyway.)

    (Oakum and пакля previously on LH. The hits for “tow” are mostly in other meanings and/or typos, but this one seems to be relevant.)

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