Erik McDonald has posted about the Russian word несессер ‘special container (bag, box, case, etc.) for small items’; as you might guess, this is from French nécessaire ‘box, case, briefcase, kit containing various necessary or convenient objects (for an occupation, an activity)’. The French word was also borrowed into English, and the OED entry (s.v. nécessaire) was updated in June 2003:

A small case, sometimes ornamental, for personal articles such as pencils, scissors, tweezers, cosmetics, etc.

1800 E. Hervey Mourtray Family III. ix. 177 A chance of his travelling necessaire, and all the apparatus of his toilet, being burned.
1854 W. M. Thackeray Newcomes I. xxviii. 266 Gousset empty, tiroirs empty, nécessaire parted for Strasbourg!
1876 ‘G. Eliot’ Daniel Deronda I. i. ii. 29 Gwendolen..thrust necklace, cambric..and all into her nécessaire.
1960 Times 16 Feb. 20/7 An old English gold and agate necessaire.
1967 V. Nabokov Speak, Memory (rev. ed.) xiii. 253 The handful of jewels which Natasha, a farsighted old chambermaid,..had swept off a dresser into a nécessaire.
1989 Antiques Trade Gaz. 4 Mar. 50/2 (advt.) A small collection of objects of vertu including snuff boxes, etuis, necessaires, etc.

The presence or absence of italics and of the accent aigu seem quite haphazard. I wonder to what extent the word is used today. (Compare my 2019 post Indispensable.)


  1. Besides English and Russian, the French word has reflexes in Eastern Yidish (נעסעסער [neseser]), German (Nessessär ~ Nécessaire ~ Necessaire), Italian (nécessaire), Polish (neseser), Portugues (nécessaire), and Spanish (neceser).

  2. Thanks! And I find it’s also in Catalan as necesser (n.b.: the final -r is pronounced).

  3. Also Swedish (necessär) and maybe other languages of Europe too.

  4. Stu Clayton says

    German [das] Necessaire – or, as crowd-friendly Mißgeburt of the spelling reform, Necessär, cousin to Majonäse.

    The crowd just says Reiseetui or Nähbeutel.

  5. Несессеры were prominently present in books that I read as a child.

    They are in a way more dated than [older] crinolines in that, when you see a crinoline (which you do not usually do:)) you immediately think “it’s a crinoline”, while when you see a nécessaire you think сумочка.

    When I learned English “necessary” I connected the two words immediately.

  6. Isn’t a сумочка a purse or handbag rather than the kind of kit shown in the несессер link in the post?

  7. Would you call a Dopp kit (for example) a сумочка?

  8. No, I would not call the box in the picture a сумочка.

    I was thinking about “A small case, sometimes ornamental, for personal articles such as pencils, scissors, tweezers, cosmetics, etc.” – the modern version of this is a сумочка or косметичка (when it is scissors and cosmetics). But I do not know if something similar to a modern сумочка counted as a nécessaire.

    The word seems to be still in use (also here – but my freinds do not use it)

  9. I think yes, if it is small enough.

    (The former “No” referred to wiktionary)

  10. Ah, you meant the modern equivalent. Gotcha/Понял.

  11. Actually “dated” (as applied to crinolines) was not correct.
    Dragons (something you normally meet in books) are not dated.

  12. cousin to Majonäse.

    And brother to Sekretär, a spelling that has been in use for ages. When was the last time somebody spelled Secretaire? (and how did they spell Sekretärin at the time?). Apparently the spelling started being used in the second half of the 18th century. So if Goethe and his contemporaries found nothing wrong with Sekretär, why the hell should anybody today object to Necessär (or Majonäse)?

  13. сумка underwent evolution in 80s-90s.

    In 90s male students (high school and university) and then increasingly graduates were using cheap black bags similar to those used today for laptops. Stalls selling them (dozens identically-looking varians by different manufacturers, some better and some worse) were commonly faund at markets and near metro stations.

    Not very healthy (carrying half a library and five bottles of dark beer on one shoulder:-/). But they were called сумка and thus a similar-looking object is сумка.

  14. Stu Clayton says

    Apparently the spelling started being used in the second half of the 18th century. So if Goethe and his contemporaries found nothing wrong with Sekretär, why the hell should anybody today object to Necessär (or Majonäse)?

    I did not object, but only mocked. Who would care if I objected ? I husband my energy, not having much of either.

    This is the 21st century and Goethe kann mich mal.

  15. The OED citation from Thackeray poses an interesting question. The character who is speaking in the passage is French, and he often substitutes French words for English words. I wouldn’t consider the other two nouns in the series, gousset “watch-pocket” and tiroir “drawer”, to be English nouns at all, and the OED doesn’t enter them. (The OED entry for gusset gives no indication of a meaning like “pocket”.) Is this citation actually evidence of use in English?

  16. @ Xerîb I agree with you. Here is part of the surrounding text:

    Clive smiled. “I think Madame de Florac must weep a good deal,” he said.

    “Enormément, my friend! My faith! I do not deny it! I give her cause, night and evening. I am possessed by demons! This little Affenthaler wine of this country has a little smack which is most agreeable. The passions tear me, my young friend! Play is fatal, but play is not so fatal as woman. Pass me the écrévisses, they are most succulent. Take warning by me, and avoid both. I saw you rôder round the green tables, and marked your eyes as

    they glistened over the heaps of gold, and looked at some of our beauties of Baden. Beware of such sirens, young man! and take me for your Mentor; avoiding what I have done—that understands itself. You have not played as yet? Do not do so; above all avoid a martingale, if you do. Play ought not to be an affair of calculation, but of inspiration. I have calculated infallibly, and what has been the effect? Gousset empty, tiroirs empty, nécessaire parted for Strasbourg! Where is my fur pelisse, Frédéric?”

    “Parbleu, vous le savez bien, Monsieur le Vicomte,” says Frédéric, the domestic, who was waiting on Clive and his friend.

  17. I must read The Newcomes. This line about Mme de Florac has me hooked:

    We have been separated for many years; her income was greatly exaggerated. Beyond the payment of my debts I owe her nothing.

    That is Wildean avant la lettre.

  18. Wonderful! I’m reminded of the reticule–reticle–ridicule complex. Words for “handbag”, all ultimately from Latin reticulum. Distributed across many languages. In Hungarian it’s retikül.

  19. PlasticPaddy says

    Und wir nannten sie ›die Pompadour‹, ich meine die Russin, und sie wußt’ es auch, daß wir sie so nannten. Und die alte Generalin Wedell, die ganz auf unsrer Seite stand und sich über die zweifelhafte Person ärgerte (denn eine Person war es, darüber war kein Zweifel), die alte Wedell, sag’ ich, sagte ganz laut über den Tisch hin: ›Ja, meine Damen, die Mode wechselt in allem, auch in den Taschen und Täschchen, und sogar in den Beuteln und Beutelchen. Als ich noch jung war, gab es noch Pompadours, aber heute gibt es keine Pompadours mehr. Nicht wahr? Es gibt keine Pompadours mehr.‹ Und dabei lachten wir und sahen alle die Pompadour an. Aber die schreckliche Person gewann trotzdem einen Sieg über uns und sagte mit scharfer und lauter Stimme, denn die alte Wedell hörte schlecht: ›Ja, Frau Generalin, es ist so, wie Sie sagen. Nur sonderbar, als die Pompadours abgelöst wurden, kamen die Réticules an die Reihe, die man dann später Ridicules nannte. Und solche Ridicules gibt es noch.‹ Und dabei sah sie die gute alte Wedell an, die, weil sie nicht antworten konnte, vom Tische aufstand und den Saal verließ.
    Fontane, “Irrungen, Wirrungen”, Kapitel 26
    Sorry this is so long, basically a Russian spa visitor is called “the Pompadour” by respectable ladies, one of whom makes a long loud speech, saying that fashions change and there are no more Pompadour (bags), to which the Russian makes a shorter but equally loud reply, to the effect that Pompadour (bags) have been replaced by Reticule (bags), now called Ridiculous.

  20. Don’t apologize, it was a delightful quote, and even with my execrable German I had no problem reading it!

  21. Here, it’s a travel case, but the Russian version has a несессер.

  22. Croatian too: neseser.

  23. austimatt says

    What I (from London) call a ‘toilet bag’, my Brazilian partner refers to as a ‘nécessaire’ in Portuguese.

  24. Hey languagehat,
    I had a question about Russian and translation in this blog post: https://thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.com/2022/05/rereading-war-and-peace-vol2-p5.html
    The question is in 5.
    Could you have a look and answer there? (I can’t get notifications for your blog lol).

  25. Well, I assume you are referring to Vol. 2 Ch. 5 XVII
    Марья Дмитриевна, застав заплаканную Соню в коридоре, заставила ее во всем признаться. Перехватив записку Наташи и прочтя ее, Марья Дмитриевна с запиской в руке вошла к Наташе.
    — Мерзавка, бесстыдница, — сказала она ей. — Слышать ничего не хочу!

    Мерзавка is a very general term of disapproval, pretty strong (I guess one man calling another мерзавец was a duel level offence). Filth or scoundrel would be about right in translation, IMO. Бесстыдница is straight up “shameless girl” with about the same cloud of connotations.

    Consider it a repayment for the word “hussy” that I learned from the suggested translations. And descendent from housewife. How wonderful. “Real hussies of X”.

  26. PlasticPaddy says

    Here is the relevant dictionary entry from Ozhegov:

    МЕРЗАВЕЦ, -вца,м. (разг.). Подлый, мерз-кий человек, негодяй. IIуменьш. мерзавчик, -а, м. Красавчик, да м. (шутл.). II ж. мерзавка,-и.

  27. John Cowan says

    all ultimately from Latin reticulum

    Network: Anything reticulated or decussated at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections. —Johnson’s Dictionary

  28. The adjective reticulated has a technical meaning in geometry (at least, the geometry relevant to theoretical classical physics). It refers to crossings that occur all at the same angle, although between crossings, the lines are free to bend. (My Google-fu fails me when I attempt to find a representative image.)

  29. Di (Yee) says

    Hi D.O.,
    I see. Thank you.

  30. “hussy” that I learned from the suggested translations.

    I learned it from Wiktionary:

    1887, H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure‎[1]:
    She called him `pig’ in bastard Arabic, and he called her `hussy’ in good English, but these amenities were forgotten in the face of the catastrophe that had overwhelmed her at the hands of her Queen.

  31. John Cowan says

    Note that hussy < OE hūs+wīf ‘house+wife’, as distinct from hussif, huzzif ‘sewing kit’ < ME house+wife and ModE housewife.

  32. @Brett: will this do?

  33. Reticulum already had many meanings in Latin, including “a bag”. Lewis and Short:

    “I.a little net, a cloth made like a net, a net-work bag for carrying or keeping any thing in, a reticule …”

    More derivative senses (adapted from the entry):

    a fishing-net
    a strainer, colander
    a net used in playing ball
    a net-work cap for confining the hair, worn by women “and effeminate men”
    a covering for the mouth
    a covering for a vessel
    brass lattice-work
    the caul or omentum covering the intestines

    My wife (native speaker of Hungarian, fluent in French, English, etc.) reports that she and her mother (native Romanian and Hungarian) would commonly refer to a handbag as a “ridicule” (howsoever spelt).

  34. Brett:

    [“Reticulated”] refers to crossings that occur all at the same angle, although between crossings, the lines are free to bend.

    Interesting. Can you give a link that expands on this? Does it come into play with lattice-like structures on curved surfaces only, or on planar surfaces also? Equal distances between the nodes or crossings?

  35. Stu Clayton says
  36. reticula in Sir Thomas Browne, ‘The Garden of Cyrus’

    LH: Two long extracts from Chapters II and III which you may wish to cut down!

    https://www.gutenberg.org/files/39962/39962-h/39962-h.htm (pages 145 – 210)

    And as they lay in crossed beds, so they sat upon seeming crosse legg’d seats: in which form the noblest thereof were framed; Observable in the triumphall seats, the sella curulis, or Ædyle Chayres, in the coyns of Cestius, Sylla, and Julius. That they sat also crosse legg’d many noble draughts declare; and in this figure the sitting gods and goddesses are drawn in medalls and medallions. And beside this kinde of work in Retiarie and hanging tectures, in embroderies, and eminent needle-works; the like is obvious unto every eye in glass-windows. Nor only in Glassie contrivances, but also in Lattice and Stone-work, conceived in the Temple of Solomon; wherein the windows are termed fenestræ reticulatæ, or lights framed like nets. And agreeable unto the Greek expression concerning Christ in the Canticles, looking through the nets, which ours hath rendered, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himselfe through the lattesse; that is, partly seen and unseen, according to the visible and invisible side of his nature. To omit the noble reticulate work, in the chapters of the pillars of Solomon, with Lillies, and Pomegranats upon a network ground; and the Craticula or grate through which the ashes fell in the altar of burnt offerings.
    That the networks and nets of antiquity were little different in the form from ours at present, is confirmable from the nets in the hands of the Retiarie gladiators, the proper combatants with the secutores. To omit the ancient Conopeion or gnatnet of the Ægyptians, the inventors of that Artifice: the rushey labyrinths of Theocritus; the nosegaynets, which hung from the head under the nostrils of Princes; and that uneasie metaphor of Reticulum Jecoris, which some expound the lobe, we the caule above the liver. As for that famous network of Vulcan, which inclosed Mars and Venus, and caused that unextinguishable laugh in heaven; since the gods themselves could not discern it, we shall not prie into it; Although why Vulcan bound them, Neptune loosed them, and Apollo should first discover them, might afford no vulgar mythologie. Heralds have not omitted this order or imitation thereof, whiles they Symbollically adorn their Scuchions with Mascles, Fusils and Saltyrs, and while they disposed the figures of Ermins, and vaired coats in this Quincuncial method.
    The same is not forgot by Lapidaries while they cut their gemms pyramidally, or by æquicrural triangles. Perspective pictures, in their Base, Horison, and lines of distances, cannot escape these Rhomboidall decussations. Sculptors in their strongest shadows, after this order doe draw their double Haches. And the very Americans do naturally fall upon it, in their neat and curious textures, which is also observed in the elegant artifices of Europe. But this is no law unto the wool of the neat Retiarie Spider, which seems to weave without transversion, and by the union of right lines to make out a continued surface, which is beyond the common art of Textury, and may still nettle Minerva the goddesse of that mystery.

    Thus works the hand of nature in the feathery plantation about birds. Observable in the skins of the breast, legs and Pinions of Turkies, Geese, and Ducks, and the Oars or finny feet of Water-Fowl: And such a naturall net is the scaly covering of Fishes, of Mullets, Carps, Tenches, etc. even in such as are excoriable and consist of smaller scales, as Bretts, Soals, and Flounders. The like Reticulate grain is observable in some Russia Leather. To omit the ruder Figures of the ostracion, the triangular or cunny fish, or the pricks of the Sea-Porcupine.
    The same is also observable in some part of the skin of man, in habits of neat texture, and therefore not unaptly compared unto a Net: We shall not affirm that from such grounds, the Ægyptian Embalmers imitated this texture, yet in their linnen folds the same is still observable among their neatest Mummies, in the figures of Isis and Osyris, and the Tutelary spirits in the Bembine Table. Nor is it to be over-looked how Orus, the Hieroglyphick of the world is described in a Net-work covering, from the shoulder to the foot. And (not to enlarge upon the cruciated Character of Trismegistus, or handed crosses, so often occurring in the Needles of Pharaoh, and Obelisks of Antiquity) the Statuæ Isiacæ, Teraphims, and little Idols, found about the Mummies, do make a decussation or Jacobs Crosse, with their armes, like that on the head of Ephraim and Manasses, and this decussis is also graphically described between them.
    This Reticulate or Net-work was also considerable in the inward parts of man, not only from the first subtegmen or warp of his formation, but in the netty fibres of the veines and vessels of life; wherein according to common Anatomy the right and transverse fibres are decussated by the oblique fibres; and so must frame a Reticulate and Quincuncial Figure by their Obliquations, Emphatically extending that Elegant expression of Scripture. Thou hast curiously embroydered me, thou hast wrought me up after the finest way of texture, and as it were with a Needle.
    Nor is the same observable only in some parts, but in the whole body of man, which upon the extension of arms and legges, doth make out a square, whose intersection is at the genitals. To omit the phantastical Quincunx, in Plato of the first Hermaphrodite or double man, united at the Loynes, which Jupiter after divided.
    A rudimental resemblance hereof there is in the cruciated and rugged folds of the Reticulum, or Net-like Ventricle of ruminating horned animals, which is the second in order, culinarily called the Honey-comb. For many divisions there are in the stomack of severall animals; what number they maintain in the Scarus and ruminating Fish, common description, or our own experiment hath made no discovery. But in the Ventricle of Porpuses there are three divisions. In many Birds a crop, Gizard, and little receptacle before it; but in Cornigerous animals, which chew the cudd, there are no lesse then four of distinct position and office.
    The Reticulum by these crossed cels, makes a further digestion, in the dry and exuccous part of the Aliment received from the first Ventricle. For at the bottome of the gullet there is a double Orifice; What is first received at the mouth descendeth into the first and greater stomack, from whence it is returned into the mouth again; and after a fuller mastication, and salivous mixture, what part thereof descendeth again, in a moist and succulent body, it slides down the softer and more permeable Orifice, into the Omasus or third stomack; and from thence conveyed into the fourth, receives its last digestion. The other dry and exuccous part after rumination by the larger and stronger Orifice beareth into the first stomack, from thence into the Reticulum, and so progressively into the other divisions. And therefore in Calves newly calved, there is little or no use of the two first Ventricles, for the milk and liquid aliment slippeth down the softer Orifice, into the third stomack; where making little or no stay, it passeth into the fourth, the seat of the Coagulum, or Runnet, or that division of stomack which seems to bear the name of the whole, in the Greek translation of the Priests Fee, in the Sacrifice of Peace-offerings.

  37. LH: Two long extracts from Chapters II and III which you may wish to cut down!

    I wouldn’t dream of it!

  38. Conopeion



    From Byzantine Greek κουνούπιον (kounoúpion), from Koine Greek κωνώπιον (kōnṓpion), from Ancient Greek κώνωψ (kṓnōps, “mosquito”), possibly ultimately from Egyptian ḫnws (“a kind of stinging insect”).


    κουνούπι • (kounoúpi) n (plural κουνούπια)

    1. mosquito

    τσίμπημα κουνουπιού ― tsímpima kounoupioú ― mosquito bite



    – (modern Egyptological) IPA(key): /xɛnuːs/
    – Conventional anglicization: khenus


    1. a kind of stinging insect



    Inherited from Proto-Slavic *gnusъ.

    IPA(key): [ɡnus]


    гнус • (gnus) m inan (genitive гну́са, uncountable)

    1. (collective) mosquitoes, midges, horseflies and other bloodsucking insects


  39. Stu Clayton says

    Anybody else noticed the use of “to omit” in the Browne passage ? It seems to function like today’s “not to mention”.

  40. You’re right, that’s quite striking. I also love the word “gnatnet.”

  41. gnatnet




    Compound of 蚊帳 +‎ の +‎ 外, literally “outside the mosquito net”

    蚊帳の外 • (kaya no soto)

    1. (idiomatic) being excluded; being ignored; being kept in the dark (about); being kept out of the loop

  42. John Cowan says

    When was the last time somebody spelled Secretaire? (and how did they spell Sekretärin at the time?).

    My guess would be that such an abnormous beast as a female secretary was unknown at the time.

    So Browne gives us not only reticulate but decussate!

  43. Stu Clayton says

    Uline was Goethe’s Schreiberin.

    # Goethe schreibt am 3. Januar 1814 an Thomas Johann Seebeck: „Meine Frau und die Schreiberinn grüßen, diese ist mir übrig blieben, mir mit der Feder beyzustehen, da meine ganze Canzley das Schwert ergriffen hat.“ #
    [Goethes Brief vom 3. Januar 1814 an Thomas Johann Seebeck: online bei Zeno.org (24/6688)]

  44. David Marjanović says

    From Byzantine Greek κουνούπιον (kounoúpion), from Koine Greek κωνώπιον (kōnṓpion)

    What an interesting sound shift.

  45. The word was not uncommon in Hebrew around 20 years ago. Now it’s basically disappeared. Perhaps both are due to Yiddish and its death among non Haredis in Israel.

  46. john v burke says

    In Moliere’s “Les précieuses ridicules” a character is advised that a servant (“un laquais”) is less vulgarly referred to as “un nécessaire.”

  47. Stu Clayton says

    @john v burke: thanks for the tip ! Here’s the context, folks (“si vous êtes en commodité d’être visibles”, I love it!):


    Voilà un laquais qui demande si vous êtes au logis, et dit que son maître vous veut venir voir.


    Apprenez, sotte, à vous énoncer moins vulgairement. Dites : Voilà un nécessaire qui demande si vous êtes en commodité d’être visibles.


    Dame ! je n’entends point le latin ; et je n’ai pas appris, comme vous, la filofie dans le Grand Cyre.


    L’impertinente ! Le moyen de souffrir cela ? Et qui est-il, le maître de ce laquais ?

  48. I add my thanks; that’s excellent.

Speak Your Mind