A correspondent wrote to ask about a word she remembered her late mother using. Her mother was born in 1921 and grew up in a part of Montreal that had a lot of immigrants; her family was Irish-Canadian but her best friend was Italian and her neighbors were Polish, Ukrainian, and Chinese:

Anyway, Mom learned bits and pieces of other languages, but the one she knew most bits of was Ukrainian. She and her brother and sister knew enough of it at the time to use it casually at home to keep things secret from their parents. And a word she said she used was “manigroola”. It was an insult, but I think not an obscene one. It kind of meant someone who was a bit of an oaf, with overtones of “just off the boat” or “greenhorn”.

I have to admit, I didn’t think I’d be able to help with this one; “manigroola” sounded like exactly the sort of half-remembered, mangled bit of verbal detritus that could come from anywhere and was maybe one of those family words nobody else uses. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be straight from Ukrainian: a Ukrainian-Canadian writer named Yakiv Maidanyk (1891–1984) wrote a comic play called «Маніґрула» (Manigrula, 1926). The problem is that I have no idea what this expressive-sounding word means; almost all the Google hits are for the play, and the few exceptions (“А цес манігрула каи, а хтож другий піде як не вуйко Штифан”; “Манігрула дурний! — наперебій загомоніли. — Нам ціну збиває!”; “Оцей, во, во, „манігрула”, буде щось говорити?”) don’t help pin it down. So: anybody out there know anything more? My correspondent and I thank you in advance!


  1. Some kind of diminutive of immigrant?

  2. Looks like Galician peasant’s attempt to pronounce unfamiliar English word “immigrant”

  3. Well, the /g/ says it’s a borrowing, but I have no ideas past that.

  4. It’s not in Академічний тлумачний словник української мови and appears mostly on Canadian web pages so I’m guessing it must be Ukrainian-Canadian slang. The use on this page:
    does seem to fit the meaing ‘immigrant’.

  5. Yes, I’m sure it’s Ukrainian-Canadian and apparently of limited circulation; my problem with the idea that it’s an attempt to pronounce “immigrant” is that the similarity between the two is so scant. Could be, of course, but we’ll probably never know.

  6. An interesting little puzzle. Hmm.

    One thing: Yakiv Maidanyk immigrated to Canada at the age of twenty, and seems to have lived in Brandon and Winnipeg (both in Manitoba): the latter is where his play “Маніґрула” was published. Since the play in question is a comedy and must have been meant for local audiences, the word must have been known to Ukrainian-Canadians in Montreal and Manitoba alike.

    Now, since in those days immigrants arrived by boat in Montreal and thence typically left for other parts of Canada by train (for the prairies, in the case of most Ukrainians), I have some difficulty imagining that a linguistic innovation could have arisen among Ukrainian migrants in Montreal and thence spread to the prairies: an innovation spreading from the prairies to Montreal is even harder to picture. I suspect that the word is an Old World one; in this light it is perhaps telling that the bulk of Ukrainian migrants to Canada came from what is today the Westernmmost parts of the Ukraine, making me suspect (since the /g/ does point to a loan) a Polish or (Austrian) German etymology.

  7. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    The play can be read here, seemingly in its entirety though it’s difficult for me to say since I know no Ukrainian.

    Michael Ewanchuk’s Spruce, Swamp and Stone: A History of the Pioneer Ukrainian Settlements in the Gimli Area (Winnipeg, 1977) can be read in PDF and on p. 267 cites the Canadian Ukrainian (June 2, 1915) translating the title into English as The Immigrant.

    The Canadian National Film Board has a short movie about Jacob Maydanyk.

  8. Etienne, I find that confusing. If the word developed in Montreal, could it not have been passed to prairie-bound Ukrainians from locals?

  9. If the word developed in Montreal, could it not have been passed to prairie-bound Ukrainians from locals?

    I agree, this seems natural to me.

  10. WiPe references a ‘Dictionary of Ukrainian Canadian terms used in East-Central Alberta in the 1920s, compiled by the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village’ but the link is dead.
    I’ve failed to find it after a brief search it but it must be online somewhere.

  11. That’s in the Wayback Machine, but does not have such an entry.

  12. Hat, John Cowan: now that I think about it you’re both right. My thinking was that, as there didn’t really exist a large Ukrainian-speaking community in Montreal (what attracted most Ukrainian immigrants to Canada in those days was the land available in the Western prairie provinces), once off the boat in Montreal migrants left by train, Westward-bound, almost immediately.

    To my mind this precluded any kind of significant linguistic diffusion among Canadian Ukrainians, but the more I think about it the likelier it seems to me that a term designating migrants is exactly the kind of word that could have been acquired by migrants in transit, in Montreal, on their way to the prairies.

    Which in turn makes me wonder: could /manigrula/ (does anybody know which syllable bears the stress?) be a phonological/morphological adaptation of…”Montreal” itself? To my mind that seems a likelier match than trying to derive it from “immigrant”.

  13. D’oh! Whenever I’ve tried web archive I’ve never found what I was looking for so I didn’t even think of trying that.

  14. I’m the original correspondent Languagehat mentions. My mother pronounced the word with stress on the first and third syllables.

  15. Michael Ewanchuk in Spruce, Swamp and Stone: A History of the Pioneer Ukrainian Settlements in the Gimli Area(pdf) cites June 2, 1915 issue of Canadian Ukrainian as follows

    A play, “The Immigrant” (Manigrula) by J. Maydanyk was staged. The play and the concert were done well. However, all the actors were local and district teachers. Mr. J. Maydanyk made the introductory remarks.

    And a few pages later

    We read in the records [apparently of the Dnister school district], however, that in 1916 under the leadership of the local teacher, Wasyl Rurak, Jacob Maydanyk’s play “The Crude Immigrant”, “Manigrula” and a moralistic one act play “Recompense” were staged.

  16. Obviously -ula part here is a diminutive, so we are left only with manigr- imitating immigr- with -ant ending replaced.

  17. Ian Press says

    I haven’t the foggiest idea, but the fact that it was used both in Montreal and Manitoba makes me think the ‘mani-‘ component might be related to either or both of them; the ‘-gr-‘ does suggest ‘immigrant’, and ‘-ula’ is a diminutive suffix.

  18. Well, at least we now know the meaning, even if the etymology is completely conjectural.

  19. Exactly! That’s a lot farther than I expected to get. (And it’s quite possible it has no etymology other than Maidanyk having made it up because he thought it sounded good.)

  20. Could it be a nickname of a character? There are several Yiddish words like this that arose as titles of comic plays: kuni-leml, shmendrik… In both cases these were the names of buffoonish titular characters.

  21. Maybe somebody who knows Ukrainian will take a look at Giacomo Ponzetto’s link and tell us.

  22. Thanks. I’ve read the play and sure enough on page 12 there is a phrase “kupu manigrantiv” (bunch of manigrants).

    As I said, Galicians simply couldn’t pronounce immigrant correctly and turned it into “manigrant”.

    And adding diminutive suffix gives as manigrula.

    Mystery solved.

  23. Another phrase which gives more context.

    “Kazhu vam, s tsii Kanadi vsio do gori nogami perevertalose. Pryide manigrant z krayu ta dovgo robit’sya nesmilym, nim te vse piznaye.”

    “I tell you, everything in this Canada is upside down. When a manigrant from our country comes, he is very timid for a long time, until he learns everything”

  24. Thanks, SFReader. Interesting too to see “kupa” used in that sense; I was teaching Yiddish to a Ukrainian speaker once, and she found the word “kupe” (heap) hilarious, because to her “kupa” meant only “dungheap.”

  25. concur: a Ukrainian friend just told me it’s a West Ukrainian dialect form for emigrant.

  26. A Thesis on “inter-language contacts and borrowings in Belorussian dialects” also lists манiгрант (manigrant) it as one of the Latinisms borrowed in relatively recent dialectal lexicographic forms. So the inversions of the first syllable of the word “immigrant” from the “difficult” vowel-consonant to an easier consonant-vowel “im => ma” must be relatively common in Slavic folk speech.

    лацiнiзмы, занатаваныя ў сучасных дыялектных лексiкаграфiчных крынiцах: аблакат, аматар, анжынер, армонiк, асустэнт, афiцына, барэт, батарэя, блакатар, бонба, блюска, валан, вецiнар, гумалястка, iнспекты, калежанка, камода, канаверт, канцэрвы, капсыль, кольба, кундуктар, ланкетка, манiгрант, нумаратар, спецыялiста i iнш.

  27. Ah, the vital missing link: from манiгрант to манігрула is but a short step. So that clears up the etymology — thanks!

  28. there is also a question of plural. My friend suggests it’s a collective noun.

  29. In this play the word is singular.

    toi manigrula, ty manigrulo, tsei manigrula Petro, etc. Manigrant is also singular everywhere, except in phrase “kupu manigrantiv” where it is in plural form.

  30. And suffix is probably pejorative, not diminutive.

    No doubt influenced by durila (idiot)

  31. Jeffry House says

    This thread is why I love languagehat (the website!). So interesting, everybody!

  32. David Marjanović says

    making me suspect (since the /g/ does point to a loan) a Polish or (Austrian) German etymology

    The mystery has been solved, but for the sake of completeness I’ll mention that there’s no German alternative: there’s no German word that’s more similar than, well, Immigrant/Emigrant, and most of Austria (including Austrian Standard German) doesn’t do voiced obstruents – a Ukrainian would first have to perceive the rather subtle difference between /g/ and /k/ (both voiceless, both unaspirated…) and then map /g/ to what is in Ukrainian a loanword phoneme, so probably not the first choice for anything.

  33. Well, almost. We still don’t know the exact source language (English or French?) and probably never will, as is the way with Wanderwörter like this.

  34. No doubt influenced by durila (idiot)
    Oh, of course! In the Flying Ship, a Russian version of the brothers Grimm tale The Six Servants, the magic servants are called Slukhalo (Hearall), Strelyalo (Shootall), Obyedalo (Eatall) Opivalo (Drinkall) and Kholodilo (Freezeitall). Ending -ila can be a variant.

  35. the magic servants are called Slukhalo (Hearall), Strelyalo (Shootall), Obyedalo (Eatall) Opivalo (Drinkall) and Kholodilo (Freezeitall).

    It is subtly different, as this “l(o/a)” suffix is a regular way to form nouns derived from verbs in Russian and other Slavic languages. Well-known мыло (soap but literally “washing implement”) or светило (celestial body or luminary but literally “illuminating object”) are derived this way. An underlying verb is pretty much required for such a schema. Of course дурило can be thought of as derived from the verb “to act stupidly”, or manigrulo, from “to immigrate”.

  36. Someone who actually knows/studied Galician/Western Ukrainian should chime in, but if extrapolated from Russian the suffix in manigrulo is a bit strange. Usually, Russian uses suffix -l- (among multitude of others) to form nouns from verbs. Examples given by Dmitry Pruss (мыть/мыло, дурить/дурило, светить/светило) can be continued by менять/меняла etc. But as you see, they all retain previous vowel and it is not clear how -u- got into manigrula in the first place. Suffix -ul is used to form nouns from adjectives in words like грязнуля, чистюля, but it is almost a kid-speak. Sometimes it leads to dropping preceding н: капризный – капризуля, which is a good news. The strange part here is why anybody would first form adjective from (im)migrant to make it back into noun later.
    But the strangest thing is how n got into manigr- and why i from migr- changed into a. It’s much more surprising IMHO than the suffix.

  37. In answer to D.O.’s point: if we take English MIGRANT and not IMMIGRANT as the source, the end result in Ukrainian is much more readily explicable. The stressed initial syllable, /maj/, would have posed a problem as most varieties of Ukrainian lack diphthongs with /j/ as their second element (plenty with /w/, of course). I suspect the choice of /n/ as the consonant to break up the /aj/ diphthong may have been encouraged by the allophonic nasalization caused in the English etymon by the initial /m/.

    Kate M., hat’s informant, has clarified that the word was stressed on the first and not the second syllable. Since in the English form the stress is carried by the syllabic part of the diphthong (/a/, not /j/) /’manigrant/ or /’mani’grant/, the “ancestral” form of /’mani’grula/, does seem to be as faithful a phonological adaptation as can be expected, in segmental features and stress alike

    The contrast with IMMIGRANT as an etymon is telling: to start with, we’d have to explain the loss of the (stressed!) initial vowel, and then how the second, unstressed schwa or /i/ became /’ani/. Any attempt to derive the word from French would pose similar problems.

    Indeed: problem solved.

  38. Suffix -ul is used to form nouns from adjectives in words like грязнуля, чистюля, but it is almost a kid-speak.

    OK, now we may be onto something. The same -ul / -ula is actively used for Russian nouns too, for diminutive / familiarizing / baby-talk purposes. E.g. сын => сынуля ~~ son => sonny; бабушка => бабуля ~~ grandmother => granny. But -ul is also used to derive Russian nouns from verbs without retaining the final vowel of the verb, e.g. свистеть / свистулька, висеть / висюлька, ходить / ходули.

    An equivalent suffix is widely used in Yiddish (-ele / -l) which generally is famed for its adoption of Slavic diminutive / endearing suffixes, so one has to assume that similar constructs abound in Polish and Ukrainian?

    we’d have to explain the loss of the (stressed!) initial vowel, and then how the second, unstressed schwa or /i/ became /’ani/.

    Oh, Etienne, Ukrainian formal “immigrant” stresses the final syllable, and in all the -ula words it is the suffix rather than the stem which gets stressed.
    So the transformation seems to be rather natural: immi -> m[schwa]mi spelled as mami -> dissimilation of repeated m’s into “mani”.

  39. A bit wider search show that many Galician -ul words are interpreted as Romanian borrowings; that -ulo is a diminutive suffix in Latin; and that a thesis on utilization of Ukrainian suffixes to confer negative feelings about persons explains -ula as a suffix which is simultaneously familiarizing and conferring negative connotation, e.g. не врубався шефуля. (or in another scholarly pub, “Суфікс -ул(я), часто підсилений демінутивним формантом -к, виокремлюється в прізвищах…” [Suffix -ul(a), often augmented with diminutive -k, is found in nicknames…] ). The author further cflaims that *-ulā is a PIE diminutive, and offers a wide variety of Slavic parallels: Russ. кривýля, сынýля; Bolgar. гразнýля, сынýля; Pl. krzywuła; Upper L.. kriwula; Lower L. кśiwula; Cz. křivule; Slov. krivul’a; Serb. кривуља; Croat.. gàgula, gromúla, pàpula; Sloven. кrivúlj

  40. Wow, well done!

  41. David Marjanović says

    An equivalent suffix is widely used in Yiddish (-ele / -l) which generally is famed for its adoption of Slavic diminutive / endearing suffixes

    Oh, that’s just the southern German diminutive.

  42. Thanks everyone! It’s great to have this odd bit of memory explained and verified.

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