More Chinese Poems.

Back in 2003, I posted about a site (still extant) called Chinese Poems. I was perhaps more enthusiastic than was strictly called for (“I won’t say it’s impossible to imagine a better Chinese poetry site, because the human imagination is limitless”); for one thing, it’s all images, so you can’t copy-and-paste anything, and for another, the selection is quite limited. I’ve now discovered a much more comprehensive site, Китайская поэзия, which has lots and lots of poems in characters and Russian translation; obviously it’s not much help if you don’t read Russian, but if you do, it’s a treasure.

Unrelated, but I recently had occasion to look up the Russian word марафет ‘the outer appearance of orderliness’ (also slang for cocaine), and I was struck by the etymology:

From Ottoman Turkish معرفت‎ (maʼrifet, “knowledge; connaissance, adroitness; skill, trick; method, means”), from Arabic مَعْرِفَة‎ (maʿrifa, “knowledge”). The central phrase for the meaning development is навести́ (navestí) / наводи́ть (navodítʹ) марафе́т, which was first applied by criminals to mean distancing oneself from the crime scene or putting forward an alibi, so as not to appear responsible. The sense “cocaine” comes from the effects of the drug when satisfying an addiction.

And if you go back to Arabic مَعْرِفَة‎ you find a list of descendants with such varied meanings as ‘trick, ruse, device, artifice’ and (in Greek) ‘widget, doodad, thingummy, thingy; gizmo, contraption.’ Наука умеет много гитик!


  1. Dmitry Pruss says

    Vasmer supports the Turkish-borrowing hypothesis, but I find it hard to believe because as i understand, the original 1910s-1920s meaning was narrowly dope. The only extant meaning is makeup, cosmetics, skin care. There is a Russian beauty product shop chain under this name.

  2. The basic concept of معرفة (ma’rifa) goes in another direction towards the spiritual in Sufism:

    “In Sufism ma’rifa (Arabic: معرفة‎, romanized: ma‘rifah, lit. ’knowledge’) describes the mystical intuitive knowledge of spiritual truth reached through ecstatic experiences, rather than revealed or rationally acquired.

    A seeker of ma’rifa is called ‘arif, “the one who knows”.[1]”

    Maybe there’s some linguistic connection between mystical ecstatic states and the states induced by drug use.

  3. Russian national corpus’s earliest citation for марафет is from 1924. I cannot understand what it means in context and I have a nagging suspicion that Kaverin was not quite sure either. The next reference is clearly to cocain from G.V.Ivanov’s Prince Charming (1933). He left Russia in 1922 and probably didn’t keep up with the development of Russian slang. He also was from Peter, not Odessa. First clear reference to “make pretty” is from 1969. I guess “make pretty” meaning comes from makeup and makeup from cocaine by way of “powder”, but I have no evidence.

  4. In Bosnian: marifet = knowledge, ability, deceit, trickery.

  5. Looking at the change of Ottoman معرفت‎ ma‘rifet with /aːri/ to Greek μαραφέτι, μαραφέττι with -αρα-, I wondered where and when exactly this change in the word happened. The form marafet is also found in Romanian and Judaeo-Spanish. I hope you can see the example on page 348 in Marie-Christine Varol-Bornes (2008) Le judéo-espagnol vernaculaire d’Istanbul here:

    Especially in light of the Judaeo-Spanish example, I wondered whether this assimilation occurred in Turkish itself (or in rather, in the context of widespread Turkish-Greek multilingualism in western Ottoman cities), at the colloquial level. And there seems to be some evidence of colloquial մարաֆէթ marafet in Turkish texts written in the Armenian script, too. I will have to listen for this assimilated pronunciation of the word on the ground in Turkish.

    For such assimilation of vowels in disharmonic loanwords within Turkish (seen especially in non-Arabic words at the colloquial level, where there are no prescriptive pressures), compare the following (pulled at random from the dictionary):

    anahtar “key”, cf. Modern Greek ανοιχτήρι anikhtíri “opener”, Byzantine ἀνοικτήριον

    anason “anise” (via Arabic يانسون , أنيسون ’anīsūn, yānīsūn?) from ἄνισον

    kaygana “omelet”, from Persian خايگينه xāygīna “fried egg”

    manastır “monastery”, from μοναστήρι monastíri

    rafadan “soft-boiled (egg)”, from something like ρουφητό(ν), ροφητό(ν) rufitó(n), rofitó(n) “slurpable, for slurping”, from ρουφάω “to suck” (ancient ῥοφῶ)

    şamandıra “buoy”, from σημαδούρα, τσαμαδούρα, σημαντήρας simadhúra, tsamadhúra, simandiras, from σημάδι simádi “sign, mark” (Mutual influence between Turkish and Greek in this group? Along with Turkish hypercorrect substitution of ş- for Greek s-, in reaction to the usual Greek conflation of Turkish ş and s?)

    I wonder if there are also examples of such a pattern of vowel assimilation within Greek, in echt Greek words independent of Turkish (cf. τσαμαδούρα).

    I was trying to think of any candidates with original a-a vowels among the other Turkish words derived from the Arabic root ʿ-r-f (such as Turkish arif “knowing, wise”, irfan “knowledge”, tarif “description, recipe”, perhaps araf “limbo, purgatory”, etc.) that might have interfered with marifet to yield marafet, but none seemed particularly cogent.

    Perhaps the form of standard Republican Turkish arife “eve (of a holiday)”, for earlier arefe, from Arabic عرفة ʿarafa is a hypercorrection in reaction to such assimilatory tendencies?

  6. Perhaps the form of standard Republican Turkish arife “eve (of a holiday)”, for earlier arefe, from Arabic عرفة ʿarafa is a hypercorrection in reaction to such assimilatory tendencies?

    Seems plausible.

  7. Russian national corpus’s earliest citation for марафет is from 1924. I cannot understand what it means in context and I have a nagging suspicion that Kaverin was not quite sure either.

    I read that Kaverin graduated from the Leningrad Institute of Living Oriental Languages with a degree in Arabic studies (арабистика). Does his writing show a special affection for words of Arabic or Near Eastern origin?

  8. There’s quite a bit about Arabic in his Скандалист (see this post), where one of the main characters, Nogin, is a stand-in for the author and is studying Arabic; here’s a long passage:

    Не стараясь уснуть, Ногин долго ходил по комнате, накинув на себя одеяло, следя в темноте за красным огоньком своей папиросы. Незнакомые слова арабскими буквами отпечатывались в его мозгу, и усталость, отошедшая было за два-три часа сна, возвращалась к нему вслед за ними. Он много работал последние дни — и не только для того, чтобы затушевать горькое сознание своей отчужденности от яростного лета событий, который в каждой газетной строке скользил перед его глазами. Со времени поступления в институт он уверил себя, что эта отчужденность необходима ему для самой работы.

    Нет, другая, более близкая причина заставляла его, зажимая ладонями уши, сидеть над сборниками арабских документов до тех пор, покамест черная пелена не затягивала тонкие, как пчелиные лапки, неразборчивые очертания.

    Он подходил тогда к окну и часами смотрел на рыжие облака, казавшиеся мусорными кучами, сменившими землю на небо.

    И в конце концов настойчивая и беспощадная работа, жадное стремление поставить ногами вверх все свое языковое мышление взяло его в свои руки. Казалось, стоило только повернуть в голове какой-то рычаг — и все исчезало: и ночь на Неве, и проклятия старухи за стеной; арабское спряжение, как гигантский метроном, начинало стучать в его голосе, над квартирой татарина, над домом, над всем переулком:

    Катала, Каттала, Каатала, Такаатала…

    Рыжие облака проплывали мимо, ночью на Неве ему приснился какой-то детский бред, и, наконец, что из того, что он встретился с милой женщиной, которую, должно быть, никогда не увидит больше? Все это пустяки! Романтика, литература бродит в его крови и мешает заучить бесстрастную систему арабского спряжения:

    Катала, Каттала, Каатала, Такаатала…

    Он ринулся в грамматику с головой, учил слова, часами рвал себе горло на гортанных звуках. Профессор, у которого он работал, молодой и педантичный, начал ему улыбаться, две перезрелые девицы — его соседки по курсу, служившие некогда в Русско-палестинском обществе, — начали его ненавидеть.

    Только однажды, впрочем, пустой случайностью он был оторван от работы.

    В этот вечер он впервые взялся за перевод из Корана. Он переводил первую суру, короткую, но исполненную яростного вдохновения. Ее надлежало разъять на грамматические формы, но он забыл об этом. Он читал ее полным голосом, позабыв о больном хозяине за стеной и о старухе, которая спала не менее чутко, чем сторожевая собака.

    There are plenty of passing mentions of Arabic later, e.g.:

    — Я хочу доказать, — справляясь с застенчивостью, окончил Ногин, — что он под свою теорию о происхождении гекзаметра подводит систему арабского стихосложения.


    «Нужно заставить их встретиться», — начертал он крупно-прекрасными арабскими буквами, но по-русски.

  9. Катала…

    Is it the same qtl = kill, the model verb for Semitic languages we discussed before?

  10. Yup, he’s conjugating the model verb.

  11. Катала, Каттала, Каатала, Такаатала…

    Thanks for this, Hat!

    the original 1910s-1920s meaning was narrowly dope.
    The next reference is clearly to cocaine from G.V.Ivanov’s Prince Charming (1933). He left Russia in 1922 and probably didn’t keep up with the development of Russian slang

    There is a treatment of the subject of cocaine in late Ottoman society in this study (Carole Woodall 2015, “Decadent Nights: A Cocaine-Filled Reading of 1920s Post-Ottoman Istanbul”):

    It has some leads into possible investigations into late Ottoman slang terms for cocaine that I might one day follow up later, inşallah. In particular, I was wondering if the early Russian use of марафет as “cocaine” originated in Ottoman itself. There is an expression on parmağında on marifet “ten talents on her/his ten fingers” used of a multitalented person (the Judaeo-Spanish version is en kada dedo un marafet, mentioned above). I wonder if a slang use of colloquial marafet for “cocaine” could have arisen from the use of the fingers to sniff a pinch of beyaz enfiye (“white snuff”) in joking reference to this expression—“on every finger, a talent”. It’s also interesting that in the 1928 Turkish story “White Snuff” described in the article, it is a Russian that introduces the young Turk to cocaine (in a “White Russian”-owned shop, apparently). Is this indicative of a lively Turkish-Russian cocaine trade?

    Maybe we can hope for a study of complete history of cocaine in late Ottoman/Turkish society sometime in the near future, now that the current government has been shaken by a huge scandal involving the former minister of the interior Süleyman Soylu and the son-in-law of former PM Binali Yıldırım in the shipment of cocaine from South America to Turkey. It may very well be cocaine that brings down the current ruling party, with which a majority of the Turkish population is now disillusioned.

    Also, I came across another thing… Gubarev/Skrylov’s Cossack Dictionary has this entry:

    – сладости кустарного производства; они продавались на базарах с лотков в виде витых сахарных палочек.

    This is interesting for the meaning cocaine (“nose candy”), but I don’t know how to extract a chronology from this dictionary that might be useful in tracing the semantic development in Russian.

  12. @Xerîb: This made me envision a fanciful etymology for Belarus—that the name arose out of a stereotype that Ruthenians were typically cocaine dealers.

  13. I was thinking just now that Ottoman مهارت mahâret “skill, mastery”, from Arabic مهارة mahārat, could have influenced a development of Ottoman معرفت‎ maʼrifet to a putative colloquial *marafet (as suggested by Greek, Armeno-Turkish, and Judaeo-Spanish). Although the prosodic profiles of the mahâret and maʼrifet are quite different, semantically they may be close enough for such influence to have occurred.

  14. David Eddyshaw says

    This made me envision a fanciful etymology for Belarus

    One of many reasons I gave up on Count Belisarius is that Graves tries to get us to believe that his hero’s name is from a Slavonic beli tsar “white lord.”

    I blame Laura Riding. She was prone to that sort of thing, given Graves’ remarks on her linguistic help with the Claudius books (which contain equally impossible accounts of Germanic names.)

  15. There is an expression on parmağında on marifet “ten talents on her/his ten fingers” used of a multitalented person (the Judaeo-Spanish version is en kada dedo un marafet, mentioned above).

    Neat – in Algeria it’s kull ṣbǝ` b-ṣǝn`a كُلّ صبع بصنعة, matching the JS version but not using the direct cognate.

  16. Thanks for that, Lameen!

    I wonder if the Turkish expression was introduced from Judaeo-Spanish and the Judaeo-Spanish was itself a translation of the Arabic, so that كل صبع بصنعة is the original—it certainly sounds the best in Arabic!

  17. January First-of-May says

    from a Slavonic beli tsar “white lord”

    It couldn’t possibly have been just on chronological grounds; tsar “lord” is from Caesar and was not yet monosyllabic at the time (even if the title existed at all in Slavic by then, which I’m not confident of).

    Белый царь does show up in Slavic folklore, but I would never have even tried to associate it with Belisarius. (…At most it could go in the opposite direction, and even that much seems unlikely.)
    Apparently there’s a Germanic etymology.

  18. A podcast from a while ago about drug smuggling and use in the late 19th and 20th centuries in the Ottoman and post-Ottoman world, with some mention of cocaine.

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