Another tidbit from Irina Reyfman’s How Russia Learned to Write: Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks (see this post): since her book has a great deal to say about the Table of Ranks, she provides a detailed version of it on pp. 188-90, and glancing over it, one of the first things I noticed was that in the 14th (lowest) class, under “Military ranks,” the first entry was “Warrant Officer (fendrik) in Infantry (1722-30). Fendrik! What a word! So I looked it up in Vasmer to see its origin, and it wasn’t there; it turns out that that’s because it’s not in Dahl, which is quite strange. But of course there’s a Russian Wikipedia article, which tells us it’s from German Fähnrich ‘color-bearer, standard-bearer,’ whose etymology is a bit confusing — German Wikipedia says “Das Wort „Fähnrich“ stammt vom althochdeutschen faneri, dem mittelhochdeutschen venre und dem frühneuhochdeutschen venrich ab und ist daher mit dem modernen Wort „Fahne“ im Sinn von Truppenfahne verwandt, die der Fähnrich einst zu tragen hatte.” So it’s from Fahne ‘flag,’ but I’m not sure what’s going on with those suffixes. Wiktionary adds the information that there’s an archaic form Fähndrich, which is presumably the ancestor of the Russian word.

I was also briefly perplexed by an entry in the 6th class, under “Court ranks,” where the first item is “Kammer-Fourrie (until 1884),” but it turns out the mysterious Fourrie is simply an error for fourrier ‘quartermaster’ (from Old French fuerre ‘fodder’; the two words are related). It’s probably a typo (though there are very few in the book), since on the next page she correctly has “Court Fourrier” under the 9th class.


  1. Lars (not the original one) says

    It’s been immortalized in a Danish Christmas song, “højt fra træets grønne top” in which one verse goes:

    “Denne fane, ny og god,
    giver jeg til Henrik,
    du er stærk, og du har mod,
    du skal være fænrik.”

  2. What is going on with the suffixes:

    According to Kluge/Seebold: “Mhd. venre, vener, vaner, ahd. faneri ‘Fahnenträger’ sind Täterbezeichnungen zu Fahne. Das Wort bleibt schweizerisch als Venner erhalten, wird sonst aber nach dem Muster Dieter zu Dietrich in Fähn(d)rich umgebildet.” It is also possible that Fähn(d)rich is a loan from Dutch vaandrig., which in its turn may be related to Dutch dragen “to carry”.

  3. Thanks!

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    Are there plenty of other options in Danish for words that rhyme with “Henrik,” or is there a shortage that gives rise to the use of an otherwise obscure term? Danish may not have joined English in borrowing “schmendrick” from Yiddish …

  5. Trond Engen says

    Looking for a way to contrive a new etymology for Fenrisulfr, my eyes fell on ON Feney “Venice” –literally “Swamp Island”.

  6. Trond Engen says

    The Norwegian army uses fenrik for the rank corresponding to second lieutenant in anglophone NATO countries.

  7. David Marjanović says

    Fähnrich is how the Starfleet rank of ensign is translated. It sounds rather silly.


    Day saved.

  8. a cognate of the “fahne” part is also hidden in italian gonfaloniere:

    Dal fr. gonfalon, dal francone *gundfano ‘bandiera di guerra’ •seconda metà sec. XIII.”

  9. PlasticPaddy says

    From Italian wikipedia:
    “Una particolarità del nome latino di Venezia è che esso è un pluralia tantum, si declina cioè al plurale Venetiae e non Venetia; questo forse perché la città veniva concepita come l’unione di più centri sorti sulle diverse isolette e poi fusisi insieme, o comunque costituita da una pluralità di elementi.”
    So Venice was like Athens a plural name and consists of several Islands, by which I must conclude that the Vikings never sailed there and took their ON name from ignorant landdwellers☺.

  10. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I’ve probably asked this before, but I don’t think I’ve had a plausible answer: why do so many cities have plural names, especially when translated? Lyons, Marseilles, Bordeaux (clearly plural in Spanish: Bordeos), Nîmes, Arles, Londres, Douvres, Bruxelles, Napoli, Athinai, Antwerpen, Algiers, Gênes. For Los Angeles and Baden-Baden it’s more or less obvious why they’re plural, but not so much for others.

  11. The original Old Russian form of Moscow is reconstructed as *Москы, *Mosky which kind of sounds plural too.

  12. Stu Clayton says

    Baden-Baden is not a plural, as far as I can tell. That would be Bäder-Bäder. It doesn’t even feel like a plural from within Teutonia. See the German WiPe article for the history of the name.

  13. ’Baden’ ist ein alter Plural von Bad

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    The word creates an almost irresistible urge to say: “Fendrik, schmendrik! abi gezunt …”

  15. Stu Clayton says

    Sure, I imagined that might be the case. I wonder why it’s not mentioned in the WiPe article on Baden-Baden. Obvious it ain’t.

  16. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Athel, I’m not sure in what sense the city names you mention are plural.

    In the case of Napoli, the etymology is transparent: Greek Νεάπολις, Latin Neapolis, Italian Napoli. As far as I can tell, all three names are feminine singular. Certainly the Italian is, though you might say that’s cheating because nowadays any city name is feminine singular in Italian; which is also handy because the masculine then denotes unambiguously the football club.

    In French, both Lyon and Marseille don’t have a final s. I don’t know if they used to but lost it, or if some Englishman decided it would be a cool addition in English. French Wikipedia does indicate that Bordeaux is a transcription from Occitan using the closest-sounding French word, which happened to be a plural: “La forme française de Bordeaux représente une francisation du gascon Bordèu en Bourdeaux ou Bordeaux par analogie avec l’ancien pluriel de Bordel « petite maison »”. On the other hand, it seems doubtful there’s anything plural about Nîmes (from Nemausus) or Arles (from Arelate).

  17. David Marjanović says

    German completely lacks city names that are plural either in synchronic grammar or transparently in form (baden today is the verb “bathe”; Athen with its final stress doesn’t sound like a plural either).

    In French, only those with a plural article are grammatically plural as far as I can remember right now, e.g. Les Lilas (artificially kept out of Paris; a terminal station of the métro is Mairie des Lilas).

  18. Remembering my father’s worktable where small items were kept in cigar boxes, I quickly located this:


  19. Graham Asher says

    “why do so many cities have plural names”?

    Some do because they are plural, and are a tribal name. E.g., Soissons in France <= Suessiones; South Mimms in England <= Mimmas.

    Other instances of archaic or obsolete final S in French names (but preserved in old-fashioned English usage) are probably the Old French nominative singular ending (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_French#Nouns), as a hasty guess on my part.

  20. Nosovich’s dictionary of Belarussian says


  21. The original Old Russian form of Moscow is reconstructed as *Москы, *Mosky which kind of sounds plural too.
    I’d rather assume it originally was a stem in long /u:/, which still decline Nom.Sg. -y, oblique -ov- in OCS (and IIRC also in old Russian, but I can’t check that now). These stems either acquired a new Nom. Sg. in -ovь , identical to the Acc. Sg. (svekrov’ “mother-in-law”, OCS svekry) or were replaced by formations in -va, e.g. bukva “letter”, originally buky (still in use as the name of Cyrillic letter “b”).

  22. Nosovich’s dictionary of Belarussian says

    …the (Bela)russian word is used to mock a dirty boy.

    I’d rather assume it originally was a stem in long /u:/

    Yes, that was my thought as well.

  23. John Cowan says

    Lyon is masculine (or at least I assume it is, I can’t find definite evidence) < L Lugdūnum < Gaulish Lugudūnon, so in Old French it would have been Lyons nom., Lyon oblique. As in the vast majority of all nouns, the oblique case was generalized, so the city became Lyon in Modern French, but both Lyon and Lyons in English (pronounced like lion(s) until very recently). WP.de says it was formerly Leyden in German, not to be confused with Leiden/Leyden in Holland < PGmc *līþa- ‘canal, improved waterway’.

    Marseille however has been feminine since Ancient Greek times, and the spelling Marseilles is now considered incorrect in English. I suspect it arose within English by analogy with Lyons and perhaps other masculine cities.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    In addition to the German-origin loanword, the Russian military has also at various points had an “indigenous” rank title (possibly a calque?) with the same guy-who-carries-the-flag etymology, viz. пра́порщик. I can’t find a quick answer to whether the German/Scandivanian words are a direct calque of the Francophone/Anglophone “ensign” or simply an independent invention from the same notion that guy-who-carries-the-flag could be transformed from a functional role into the title of a hierarchical rank.

  25. David Marjanović says

    Baden is more widespread, BTW; there’s one near Vienna. Many used to be plural Aquae.


    Al-Jazīra, “the island”, singular.

    Algeciras, though…

    Fendrich Cigar Company

    Oh, like Rainhard?

    (I just slapped the [[citation needed]] tag on him because that song of his was more chuckled about than actually popular even in the 1990s. By now I’m sure it has gone the way of all Austropop.)

    WP.de says it was formerly Leyden in German

    I had no idea.

  26. Lars Mathiesen says

    I don’t think there are any other rhymes for Henrik in Danish. The song was written by Peter Faber in 1848 and is about his own children and nephews/nieces — otherwise he could just have picked another boy’s name. It’s very possible that the Henrik in question did have military ambitions, though.

  27. Lars (not the original one) says

    @Lars Mathiesen, that is a very good point. He could’ve chosen other names if the song wasn’t about his own family.

  28. Kate Bunting says

    “The Norwegian army uses fenrik for the rank corresponding to second lieutenant in anglophone NATO countries.”
    That rank was originally ‘ensign’ because the most junior officer traditionally carried the colours in battle.

  29. In pre-nineteenth-centry English-speaking cavalry units, the lowest commissioned officer rank (traditionally responsible for bearing the troop’s colors) was the coronet. The name itself is a doublet of colonel.

    Coronets were eliminated in America shortly after the revolution and in Britain by the Army Reform Act of 1871, which is better known for definitively ending the simoniac sale and trade in army commissions. The coronet position was variously replaced by sub-lieutenant or second lieutenant ranks.

  30. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Brett, the virtually obsolete cavalry rank is normally spelled cornet. The OED also provides two 17th-century examples of the spelling coronet but explicitly marks it as erroneous. Another spelling, obsolete but not erroneous, is cornette as in French.

    Cornet and colonel share a lack of etymological connection to crowns and coronets.

    French cornette is simply a little horn (ultimately from Latin cornua, horns). The OED glosses: “The standard of a troop of cavalry. Originally a long pennon narrowing gradually to a point”.

    Colonel in both English and French is a learned spelling that reflects the etymology from Italian colonnello, the leader of a column or colonna (ultimately from Latin columna). The early French spelling coronel “was due to the dissimilation of l–l, common in Romanic, though popular etymology associated it with corona, couronne crown.”

  31. Many places in Lithuania have a plural form (-ai): Šiauliai, Trakai, Lazdijai, Druskininkai, …


  32. Well, apparently plural, anyway. See Giacomo Ponzetto’s comment above for the dangers of taking appearance for reality. I don’t know enough about Lithuanian to judge whether there is an alternative explanation, but I certainly wouldn’t assume anything.

  33. Trakai is plural in Russian and Polish – Troki (Trotsky’s surname derives from this town). Šiauliai was also plural in Russian – Shavli and Druskininkai too – Druskeniki.

    I have a vague feeling that Polish name for Lazdijai – Łoździeje is plural, but not sure.

  34. The name of the town was first recorded in chronicles from 1337 in German as Tracken (later also spelt Traken) and is derived from the Lithuanian word trakai (singular: trakas meaning “glade”).

    The first written mention of Druskininkai dates back to 1636. The name of the town suggests that the local population collected precious minerals.

    1. salt-dealer, salt-monger ; 2. salt-worker

    (žvirgždas) gravel

    The name of Zarasai is of Selonian origin.[1] Lithuanian linguist Kazimieras Būga explained its origins – in Selonian language the word lake was pronounced as ezeras or ezaras, plural form ezerasai. During the time it was shortened to Zarasai.

  35. Well, druskininkas means ‘1. salt-dealer, salt-monger ; 2. salt-worker’, trakas ‘1. glade; clearing; 2. undergrowth , underwood , underbrush’.

  36. David Eddyshaw says

    Kusaal has the occasional formally plural place-name, like Kɔlta’amis “Kultamse” (“Andira inermis trees”); but the question of whether they are plural syntactically doesn’t arise, as you would refer to a place-name with a proadverb like kpɛla “there” rather than a personal pronoun anyway.

  37. I don’t speak Lithuanian, but all the towns mentioned are grammatically plural in Polish as well (Szawle,Troki, Łoździeje, Druskieniki, etc.). Poland also has an abundance of Polish cities with grammatically plural forms – Katowice, Kielce, Gliwice, Tychy.

  38. Russia also has many plural place names, but most of them are usually small villages.

    The largest would be Mineralnye Vody, I guess (exact counterpart to Baden-Baden)

  39. David Eddyshaw says

    I think Hausa place-names are all construed as feminine singular, regardless of their formation: some of them (particularly those based on ethnonyms) are formally plural, like Adamawa.

    Latin and Greek have (morphologically and syntactically) plural place-names, of course. But everybody already knew that.

    The Hebrew for “Egypt” is formally dual.

    Incidentally, if Wikipedia is to be believed, the Semitic etymon is yet another place-name that comes from a word meaning “border”, like “Ukraine” and Cymru. There are a lot of us marginal people about.

  40. I’ve been compiling list of various regions and countries named “borderland”, but lost it somewhere.

    So here is something exotic – Yakutia (or Sakha in Yakut) region in Siberia means “people of the margin” in Mongol/Buryat.

    Plural by the way (note Mongolian plural suffix -ut).

  41. Roberto Batisti says

    Some names of Italian towns that synchronically look like plurals reflect in fact old locatives (singular by definition in Classical Latin): Firenze < Florentiae (nom. Florentia), Rimini < Ariminī (nom. Ariminum).

    These are today treated as feminine singulars like all city names, cf. Giacomo Ponzetto's post above.

  42. David Marjanović says

    The Hebrew for “Egypt” is formally dual.

    Upper and Lower Egypt. Not unlike the Kingdom of Both Sicilies.

  43. The largest would be Mineralnye Vody

    Unless you discount such colloquialisms as в Сочах. Anyway, I guess Naberezhniye Chelny is larger.

  44. But note that “fendrik” is a warrant officer rank – ie not a very junior officer (like “ensign”) but a very senior soldier.

    The rank of “colour sergeant” survives in British infantry regiments (as an alternative to “staff sergeant”) – the colour sergeant was the reliable senior NCO that you put next to the ensign who was actually carrying the colour, in order to make sure he didn’t get killed, or get lost, or run away, or lose his boots, or accidentally set fire to his hat, or do any of the other entertaining things that very junior officers do when left unsupervised.

  45. As they used to say in the Soviet Army – “kuritsa ne ptitsa, praporshchik ne ofitser” (chicken is not a bird and warrant officer is not an officer)

  46. @SFReader: However, in the United States Army, a “chicken” is an officer (O-6, to be precise).

  47. When I saw the name Andira inermis, I was curious as to why this species of Andira had to be specified as harmless. Turns out the cabbagebark tree is native to tropical America, where other members of the genus are used in folk medicine, but “[t]he treatments are toxic in high doses,” saith the Wiki.

  48. Utraque Sicilia, in English it’s known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies rather than Both. I don’t know whether Two really sounds better or if I’m just used to it (to the extent that it comes up, which is practically never).

  49. David Marjanović says

    Oh. Königreich beider Sizilien (cheating with the fact that the singular is already Sizilien).

  50. In Neapolitan it is ‘O Regno d’ ‘e Ddoje Sicilie, which is all that should really matter.

  51. When all of Italy south of the Papal States first became a united kingdom,* it was (logically enough) known as the “Kingdom of Sicily.” After the mainland and island parts were separated after the War of the Vespers, the northern state under the Angevins (the Capetian House of Anjou, not the earlier Plantagenet Angevins, who under John Lackland lost Anjou in 1204 to the French crown, which subsequently established the Capetian Angevins through an appanage granted to the king’s son) kept the “Kingdom of Sicily” name for what is normally now known as the Kingdom of Naples. (The truly Sicilian part was slated to be called the “Kingdom of Trinacria,” but that name never stuck.) The Angevins, and the Holy Roman Emperors who ruled Naples next, implicitly claimed Sicily by keeping it in the official name of the Kingdom

    Although both parts were, at certain times, part of the Aragonese (later Spanish) domain, the two halves of the former Kingdom of Sicily continued to style themselves each as the “Kingdom of Sicily.” They were distinguished as “Siciliae ultra Pharum” and “Siciliae citra,” which later came to be treated as official names when the two were under joint (or dynasticslly allied) rulership. The name “Two Sicilies” came about when the two states were formally reunited in 1816 and finally separated from Spanish rule, because both states had been known as “Sicily” for more than five hundred years by that point.

    * Much of southern Italy, on both sides of the Straits of Messina, had been under Byzantine control through the Dark Ages, before large areas were conquered by the Hauteville Normans. However, the Normans’ ability to maintain control was based on playing the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Roman Empire off against each other.** With the subsequent collapse of Byzantine sea power, the Normans were not able to keep the major western-European powers from exerting dominance over southern Italy, leading to the division of the Kingdom.

    ** When the Normans tried to carve out further territory on the east side of the Adriatic by direct conquest, without the two empires to draw into the conflict, they failed utterly. Bohemond of Antioch had been promised lordship over any new Norman conquests in Illyria, and it was because he realized that there was nothing there that the Normans were strong enough to hold that he joined the First Crusade and founded one of the crusader states.

  52. One universe away, the analogue of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth still exists and is called the Republic of the Two Crowns, though only since the end of the Second Great War when its various parts were reconstituted. The historic name before that was the Republic of Both Nations, though it has always been an elective monarchy. The modern Sejm has 714 members, 48 represented political parties (as of 2005, at least)< and no less than five chambers: for the Veneds (Romanized Poles), the Lithuanians, the provinces, the nobles, plus the Royal Council. The Republic was a glacis state between the West and fascist Russia until 1989, at which point it reinvented itself as a gigantic Switzerland. The capital Warsina has more conference centers than any other city on Earth.

  53. The distinction between private soldiers and officers (commissioned, warrant or otherwise) goes back to Shakespeare at least: “Art thou an officer?” Pistol asks the disguised Hal. “Or art thou base, common and popular?” But it’s a distinction that was also made of warships at least until Nelson’s time; ships are either flagships, carrying the commander of a unit of several ships, or “private ships”. No one refers to private ships now, so there isn’t a word for “ships in this unit that aren’t the flagship” which seems a shame.

  54. January First-of-May says

    Anyway, I guess Naberezhniye Chelny is larger.

    Larger, even, than my own first guess, Cheboksary (Чебоксары*) – though apparently, if the current trends continue, in a few years Cheboksary would be larger.

    *) as in the classic Russian bad pun – “which city name consists of a letter [variant: a revolutionary] and a body part of a Jew”

    Kingdom of the Two Sicilies

    Королевство Обеих Сицилий in Russian, also on the “both” side.

    I didn’t know the backstory, incidentally – very interesting!

  55. There is Akmenė city in Lithuania, this city name directly can be translated as bird “turnstone”

    But the real name of the city is derived from the word “akmuo” or river “Akmenupis” (approximate meaning – “river with a lot of stones”) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akmen%C4%97) which means “stone”

    So direct translation of the city name not always means real origin of tne name.

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