My wife suggested I take a break from the depressing reading I’ve been doing (Andrew Meier’s excellent but bleak Black Earth), so I pulled Flashman off my shelves. It was recommended to me many years ago by my friend Dave, and it seemed just the sort of rollicking nonsense to lighten my mood. Not only is the plot fun (although larded with the casual misogyny of an earlier day), but the dialogue is full of delightful archaic words. The first that struck me came on page 44: “‘Deloped, by God!’ roared Forest. ‘He’s deloped!'” The OED explains that to delope is “Of a duellist: to fire into the air, deliberately missing one’s opponent.” A very useful word back when duels were a common occurrence. Once the (anti)hero gets to India, there are plenty of words straight out of Hobson-Jobson: rissaldar “A native captain in an Indian cavalry regiment” (from Persian risāla ‘troop of horse’), huzoor “An Indian potentate; often used as a title of respect” (from Arabic ḥuḍūr ‘presence (employed as a title)’), and the like. And while we’re on the subject of loanwords from Arabic, I ran across a surprising one the other day: Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, means ‘little horseshoe’ and is a diminutive of nal, Turkic ‘horseshoe,’ itself from Arabic نعل na’l.


  1. Being a resident of Nalchik, I can tell you that there is a dispute as to whether Nalchik should be translated from Turkic or Circassian (it is a Circassian town), in which the word means ‘the-place-where-horses-loose-shoes’ (before becoming a built up area it was mostly dump clay).

  2. I’m delighted to have a reader in Nalchik! But surely the Circassian word must be borrowed from Turkic?

  3. ‘Horse-shoe’ looks like a borrowing from Turkic, however many things about Circassian are not yet researched. For example, a few Hattie (not to be messed up with Hittie) texts can be read in modern Circassian and that made some linguists raise the question of renaming Adyga-Abkhaz language group into Hattie-Adyga-Abkhaz. Hattie empire was located in modern-day Anatolia (Turkey), just a few hours drive from Circassia, and it existed long before Turkic languages appeared in the region.

  4. rootlesscosmo says

    If Iived there I would be sorely tempted to greet visitors with “Welcome to Nalchik, malchik!”

  5. rootlesscosmo says

    If Iived
    “If I lived,” sorry.

  6. John Emerson says

    And how is Lyudmila?

  7. David Marjanović says

    The Wikipedia article on the Hattic language. Doesn’t say much about the West Caucasian connection, but mentions it. The talk page, though, mentions typological features that are also found in West Caucasian.

  8. John Emerson says

    The present Udi language, related to Lezgian, is though to be a descendant of the language of the Caucasian Albanians. That area of the world is linguistically fascinating. (Wixman’s book on Soviet language policy is recommended just for its language inventory.

  9. From the Wikipedia article:
    “According to some specialists Hattic is related to the Northwest Caucasian (Circassian) family. [2] [3] Some striking parallels also point toward a possible genetic link to the Abkhaz-Adyghean languages [4] [5]”
    Huh? What’s the difference between “the Northwest Caucasian (Circassian) family” and “the Abkhaz-Adyghean languages”?

  10. John Emerson says

    Probably one of those famous composite Wiki articles. I love Wiki but the plurivocality makes some articles strange to read.

  11. John Emerson says

    We regret the error.

  12. John Emerson says

    We regret the error.

  13. I prefer pluvivocity, when the rain talks to you.

  14. David Marjanović says

    Huh? What’s the difference between “the Northwest Caucasian (Circassian) family” and “the Abkhaz-Adyghean languages”?

    There is none. I’m too lazy to fix this tonight anymore, though.
    (Interesting that I overlooked this yesterday. Maybe I actually should have gone to bed. Hmmmm.)

  15. I would like to post something off topic if I may.
    Today is the 144th anniversary of the Circassian genocide, the largest ethnic cleansing of the 19th century.

  16. Sure, we welcome off-topic comments here at LH, and its well worth remembering such tragedies.

  17. John Emerson says

    I had not known about the Circassian genocide. Just recently I was reading about Kalmyk history ca. 1720, at that time the Kabardians seem to have been loyal allies of Russian. It’s a terrible story.

  18. John Emerson says
  19. The little valley mentioned below is where they are going to host the winter Olympics in 2014. It is in fact a huge graveyard where people weren’t properly buried (if you dig there you stumble into human bones) and it is a symbol of Circassian genocide, like Auschwitz for Holocaust. IOC ignored this information. It doesn’t get more immoral than this.
    (this is from the John’s link):
    There remained only the small coastal tribes: the Pskhu, the Akhtsipsou, the Aibgo and the Jigit. In the course of
    May 1864 these tribes were annihilated almost to the last man, woman and child. Seeing this, Circassians
    gathered from all corners of the country in a frenzy of despair threw themselves into the valley of the Aibgo. For
    four days (7-11 May) the Russians were repulsed with great losses. Heavy artillery was then brought up and
    began to belch fire and smoke into the little valley. Not one of the defenders survived. The capture of this little
    valley, lost in the mountains, was the last act in the long tragedy of the Circassian people. On 21 May the Great
    Prince Mikhail Nikolaevich gathered his troops in a clearing for a thanksgiving service.
    More information on this:

  20. This is a book about those events by Bagrat Shinkuba, one the most exciting reading experiences I ever had:

  21. Thanks very much, Ruslan and John. This is eye-opening stuff (and makes me respect the OIC even less than I already did).

  22. marie-lucie says

    This is horrible. I had never heard of it. How many other horrors have we forgotten?

  23. It wasn’t so long ago that the IOC was a nest of literal fascists. Who knows what other evil still lurks in their hearts?

  24. Hobson-Jobson doesn’t miss much, of course, but this site has a few more. It seems to have been set up specifically to support writers of historical fiction.

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