I recently read Marcel Möring’s novel In Babylon (translated by Stacey Knecht), and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys tangled family tales with supernatural/mystical elements but doesn’t worry overmuch about prosaic answers or how it all hangs together. My wife and I both felt let down, after initial enjoyment of the growing mystery and complexity, by how it just sort of petered out after a grab-bag of Major Events suddenly being tossed into the mix. But I’m not sorry I read it, because I learned a useful word from it. You know those dealies you open and close French windows with? You turn a lever, and a long rod goes into or emerges from holes at the top and bottom, fastening or freeing the door? Those are called espagnolettes, presumably because the French associate them with Spain, or did when they coined the word. Now you know (except for AJP Crown, who probably knew all along).


  1. I have also heard the term ‘espagnolette’ being used in (southern) France for the little weighted fobs that are attached to a pivot on the wall, next to the window, and are used to keep the shutters open.

    Like this one:×223.jpg

    I’m not sure how standardised the usage is, though. A quick googling shows that the standard terminology for that is ‘arrêt de volet’, which doesn’t sound very exciting.

  2. January First-of-May says

    The Russian term was apparently borrowed from French via German, and ended up as шпингалет.

    (I vaguely knew the word and the French form it was borrowed from, but your description made me think a long time before I recognized the very common lock type (then I looked in English Wikipedia, and realized why – the pictured image doesn’t look anything like the common version), and even as I didn’t know what the Russian word meant I didn’t think it referred to such a common object. But yes, apparently that’s it.
    Though I still would call such a lock – at least, in the common version – задвижка, or perhaps замок на задвижку.)

  3. Hm, the Russian word apparently refers to any door bolt or window catch; the English one is much more specialized (which is why I’d never seen or heard it). But espagnolette > shpingalet is a great etymology!

  4. This quote from Lyudmila Ulitskaya seems to suggest actual espagnolettes:

    Медные шпингалеты с длинными, во всю раму задвижками прекрасно работали, даром что было им лет сто, а вот сами рамы сгнили.

  5. The citations in the Национальный корпус русского языка suggest that it’s almost always used of windows (cf. phrases like “ручками от дверей, шпингалетами от окон”), though the earliest use in the corpus refers to a door; from Leskov, На ножах (1870):

    Тогда Ропшин отодвинул снизу и сверху шпингалеты и, собрав силы, налег ровно на оба края отвора: двери с шумом распахнулись и твердый парчевый покров тихо поехал с согнутых колен мертвеца на землю, открывая пред глазами Глафиры ракурс трупа.

    I’m curious about the colloquial sense ‘urchin, boy’ (per the Oxford dictionary); here are some examples:

    Trotsky, Моя жизнь (1929-1933):

    Его схватил за воротник агент ГПУ, некогда сопровождавший Л.Д. во время охотничьих поездок. «Ишь, шпингалет», ― воскликнул он нагло.

    Sasha Chorny, Солдатские сказки/ Катись горошком (1932):

    ― Шпингалет ты, я вижу…

    Belykh and Panteleev, Республика ШКИД (1926):

    Брызнул яркий свет из открытой двери, и обессилевшие, задыхающиеся шпингалеты, шатаясь, ввалились в коридор.

    It doesn’t seem to have been used since the early ’60s; is it completely obsolete now?

  6. I usually use Twitter search in such cases. It doesn’t seem obsolete at all. In about half of results, the meaning used is slang for ‘small kid’, the rest – “espagnolette”

  7. Ah, thanks!

  8. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    In Italian, the locking device that our gracious host describes, with a knob that activates a sliding bar which enters vertical holes, is called a cremonese. Instead, a spagnoletta is another locking device for the same kind of window, but with a lever that activates a rotating bar which ends in hooks that enter horizontal loops.

    Wikipedia, though not the OED, suggests the same distinction is observed in English between a crémone and an espagnolette. This probably explains why the Wikipedia image of an espagnolette looks unusual to January First-of-May.

  9. January First-of-May says

    No, it’s not that.

    The image that is given in Russian Wiktionary for шпингалет is this photo, labelled in English as a “door bolt”. My mother and grandmother, when asked, both pointed to our toilet door’s lock, which is similar.

    Both the crémone and the espagnolette are unfamiliar to me as far as the Wikipedia pics are concerned (though it appears that the former is pictured backwards – I’ve no idea what it looks like from the front side).

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