I’m finally reading Gogol’s Dead Souls in Russian, and a few pages into Chapter Four I encountered the following line (addressed by the cheerful scoundrel Nozdryov to the protagonist, Chichikov, who has just refused to join him because of pressing business):
— Ну вот уж и дело! уж и выдумал! Ах ты, Оподелдок Иванович!
Like much of Gogol’s dialogue, this is more or less untranslatable, but the first two exclamations can be prosaically rendered “‘Business’! You just made that up!” The last one, however, baffled me; word for word, it means “Oh you, Opodeldok Ivanovich!” Opodeldok was clearly not an actual Russian name, so I looked it up in my trusty Oxford dictionary (where it is listed under the more usual spelling оподельдок), and there it was—helpfully defined as “opodeldoc.” I let out a bellow of rage at the perfidy of the lexicographers who had taken the easy way out, refusing to give the user the slightest actual help, requiring an additional trip to the OED. There I found:

opodeldoc, n.
Forms: 16 opodeldoch, oppodeltoch, 17-18 opodeldock, 17- opodeldoc, 18 opodeltoch; U.S. regional 18 appodell-dock, ophodelac, opodildoc, opydildock, 19- opadilldock, opedildoc, opedildock. [< post-classical Latin oppodeltoch (see quots. a1541), prob. coined by Paracelsus; perh. < ancient Greek ὀπός vegetable juice (see OPIUM n.); for the ending, perh. cf. post-classical Latin nostoch NOSTOC [‘A gelatinous mass consisting of filamentous colonies of cyanobacteria of the genus Nostoc… embedded in mucilage… The gelatinous mass was formerly believed to be an emanation of the stars: see star-jelly, etc’] n. Cf. French opodeldoch (dated 16th cent. in Robert Dict. Alphabétique et Analogique (1986); also as opodeltoch (1758)).
  a1541 PARACELSUS Bertheonea (1603) 90 Descriptio oppodeltoch. {Jupiter symbol}. De quatuor seminibus incarnatiuis ℥. Ceræ Colophoniæ ana ℥ij. Picis naualis ℥iij. Reduc in emplastrum. a1541 PARACELSUS Bertheonea (1603) 97 Descriptio oppodeltoch. {Jupiter symbol}. Colophoniæ lib.j. puluerum chelidoniæ, aranciarum ana ℥iiij. Visci de botin, quantum satis est ad incorporationem.]
†1. A medical plaster. Obs.
1646 SIR T. BROWNE Pseud. Epidemica II. iii. 73 The Opodeldoch and Attractivum of Paracelsus. 1656 tr. Paracelsus’ Dispens. 305 Now you must apply the Oppodeltoch Plaister. 1658 W. JOHNSON tr. F. Würtz Surgeons Guid II. vi. 62 In case the Wound doth not bleed.. lay a Headplaister to it, after the manner of an Opodeldoch. 1733 J. ALLEYNE New Eng. Dispensatory 353/1 Emplastrum Opodeldoc. 1857 R. G. MAYNE Expos. Lexicon Med. Sci. (1860), Opodeltoch, the name of a plaster.. referred to by Paracelsus.
2. An alcoholic solution of soap (or oleic acid) and camphor with some added essential oils; soap liniment; (also) a preparation made from this, esp. by mixing with laudanum; now arch. In extended use: (U.S. regional) any medicine; alcohol.
  Steer’s opodeldoc, a soap liniment composed of soap, camphor, oils of marjoram and rosemary, alcohol, and ammonia solution.
  Opodeldoc appeared in the 1722 Edinburgh Pharmacopœia (Pharmacopœia Coll. Reg. Medicorum Edinburgensis 134) as Unguentum opodeldoch; in the 1744 ed. (Pharmacopoeia Coll. Reg. Medicorum Edinburgensis 121) it is called ‘Balsamum Saponaceum, vulgò Oppodeltoch’, and in 1745 the London Pharmacopoeia (Plan New London Pharmacopœia 113) entered it under Linimentum Saponaceum (cf. quot. 1996).

[1650 Chymical Dict. Paracelsus, Oppodeltoch in Paracelsus is an ointment.] 1733 G. CHEYNE Eng. Malady II. xii. 243 Warm and active Oils and Ointments, especially the Opodeldoc. 1746 SIR A. WESTCOMB in Mrs. Delany’s Autobiogr. & Corr. II. 440 Tell my aunt that I use oil of earthworms with opodeldoc to endeavour to dispel the lump. 1774 ‘J. COLLIER’ Musical Trav. 19 He rubbed it with opodeldock or arquebusade water. 1826 SCOTT Jrnl. 25 Dec. (1939) 295 By dint of abstinence and opodeldoc I passed a better night. 1830 in M. H. Gardiner & A. H. Gardiner Chron. Old Berkeley (1938) 310 Bought 1 vial of appodell-dock at 25 cents. 1842 R. H. BARHAM Black Mousquetaire in Ingoldsby Legends, Her delicate fingers are charred With the Steer’s opodeldoc, joint oil, and goulard. 1842 Invoice in Mississippi Valley Hist. Rev. (1950) 37 455, 2 phials Liquid ophodelac whitwell. 1851 J. J. HOOPER Widow Rugby’s Husband 91 He axed me if I had enny opydildock in the wagin box, that he could rub his side with. 1857 T. HUGHES Tom Brown’s School Days I. vi. 126 Leaving East better for those few words than all the opodeldoc in England would have made him. 1890 Chambers’s Encycl. VI. 644 Soap Liniment, or Opodeldoc, the constituents of which are soap, camphor, and spirits of rosemary. 1904 ‘O. HENRY’ Heart of West 33 Rub the place between your shoulder-blades with opodeldoc the same as ever. 1913 C. JOHNSON Highways & Byways Great Lakes (new ed.) 77 They went to town last night and took a little too much opedildoc. c1965 in Dict. Amer. Regional Eng. (1996) III. 890/2 A long time ago my husband.. would say whenever he had to take any medicine.. ‘Wall, I will take a little opadilldock.’ 1996 Martindale: Extra Pharmacopoeia (ed. 31) 2287/2 Soap Liniment has sometimes been known as Lin. Sap. and Opodeldoc.

It’s easy to see why this remarkable word caught on; its magniloquent pseudo-onomatopoeia was catnip to the linguistic sense of nineteenth-century America, with its love of sonorous rodomontade, and it seems to have been preserved in regional dialects until fairly recently (and perhaps survives to this day—anybody know?). At any rate, I’m glad to have discovered it, and I hope you will be too. If only I knew what the hell Gogol meant by “Opodeldok Ivanovich,” my joy would be complete.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go rub some opodeldoc on my aching shoulder.


  1. Don Marquis uses it in an archy poem. See http://www.donmarquis.com/readingroom/archybooks/maxims.html.

  2. the old fashioned
    grandmother who used
    to wear steel rimmed
    glasses and make
    everybody take opodeldoc
    has now got a new
    set of ox glands and
    is dancing the black bottom

    Excellent! And that page has all manner of wonderful things, like:
    prohibition makes you
    want to cry
    into your beer and
    denies you the beer
    to cry into

    Don Marquis is always a good read. Thanks!

  3. From your own reference on the right (Dal’)
    Have you ever smell camphor oil? If you did, you’d never forget. I’d loosely – and very subjectively – interpret thus addressing as to somebody annoying, irritating, an unpleasant surprise – opodel’dok, in other words.
    And now we interrupt our proggramme, wish you the best new year ever, and return to the spectacular table and Italian sparkling wine (I know, but it was my son’s present)
    Happy NY, everyone!

  4. Lucky you — I didn’t even get sparkling wine! (I think it’s the first time in my adult life I’ve seen in the new year without any bubbly — but I did have a nice cabernet sauvignon with the beef Stroganov, so I can’t complain.) Happy New Year to you too!

  5. Marvellous word! You may be interested to know that Gogol was not the only 19th century writer to have used it. I found this rather interesting article on Edgar Allan Poe’s Literary Use of “Oppodeldoc” and Other Patent Medicines at the site of The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

  6. In the very first page of Hasek’s Good Soldier Svejk (at least in the Finnish translation) it is told that Svejk applied Opodeldok ointment to his knees when his landlady Mrs Müller came to tell him the news that Ferdinand has been killed.

  7. Isn’t it reasonably clear that the intended meaning is something like “Oh, you Stick-in-the-mud Johnson!”?

  8. Well, sort of, but I’m not entirely clear how you get ‘stick-in-the-mud’ from opodeldoc. But then perhaps you’d have to ask a Russian of the 1830s, or even Gogol himself, to know for sure.

  9. I let out a bellow of rage at the perfidy of the lexicographers who had taken the easy way out, refusing to give the user the slightest actual help, requiring an additional trip to the OED.
    Use Lingvo much? I use it for quick checks of words when I’m translating, and I become enraged every time I happen to paste in a perfective verb and the only thing listed in the entry is “pfv. of [imperfective form of the verb]”.
    As for New Years, I had champagne with a scoop of lime sherbet, which was a new one for me. 😉

  10. Have you considered asking a native Russian speaker?
    Not being one, I looked in my Academy Tol’kovj Slovar’ and found not the word. Nor is it in the recent Kuznetsov, which goes from opoganit’sja to opodlet’ which means “stat’ podlim ili poldee.”
    Consider it a Russian malapropism. The character is misuing the word, using hifalutin speach.
    Or a pun.

  11. A number of native speakers read LH, including Tatyana, who guessed (above) that it referred to “somebody annoying, irritating, an unpleasant surprise.” That’s probably as close as we’re going to come. As for dictionaries, the word is too out of date for the ones you’re looking in; you need Dahl for this kind of thing.

  12. See http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opodeldok
    How about ‘Old Man Ivanovich’.
    It was a cure/relief for rheumatism.
    Still in contemporary usage, sort of. See ‘Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod’. Chapter on ‘Stop Making Sense’. Probably also available on the Zwiebelfisch web page.

  13. Opodeldok is mentioned in the Czech original of Hasek’s Good Soldier Svejk (Osudy dobreho vojaka Svejka) as well. The name of the medicine is very well-known in the Czech republic (I’m Czech), not that is used in today’s medical praxis;), but almost every Czech knows this passage (among other famous ones) from Sve
    For me opodeldoc is a stinking substance of questionable character and effect.

  14. Poe’s “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. Late Editor of the ‘Goosetherumfoodle’” is indeed very funny. I linked it in the later article on opoponax.

  15. A bit off-topic but I was struggling today with another supposed personal name, Hortensia (a Russian as well as archaic English name for Hydrangea). It sure sent me on a botanico-etymologico-genealogical wild goose chase. Hortensia is often said to be named after a sister of Prince Charles Henry of Nassau-Siegen, a Russian naval commander and an explorer of the South Seas. The problem is that this Karl Heinrich von Nassau seems to have been an only child (and not really a prince either). And doesn’t it just mean smth. like ‘a gardeness’ in Latin? Strange name of a nonexistent princess…

  16. Hortensius is a Roman family name, and there are three saints who bore it (one a martyr in Alexandria, feast day May 19). Hortensia would just be the feminine form of the name, rather than specifically meaning ‘female gardener’. In France and England the distinction between the two names would have been lost.

  17. I thought Hortense was a girl’s name in French.

  18. It is in modern times. My point was that Hortensia and Hortensius would both become Hortense in French, just as Claudius and Claudia both became Claude. However, if a name was not a saint’s name, it usually wasn’t preserved. Since both St. Claudes were male (Claude of Besançon and Claude de la Colombière), as were the three non-French St. Claudiuses, the female name has become fairly rare in Francophonia. Just why the reverse is true of Hortense I don’t know.

  19. In Turgenev’s Dvoryanskoe gnezdo [A Nobleman’s Nest, also tr. Home of the Gentry] I just ran across this:

    «Любезная особа, ― думал статский советник, пробираясь к себе на квартиру, где ожидал его слуга со стклянкой оподельдока, ― хорошо, что я степенный человек… только чему ж она смеялась?»

    “A charming person,” —thought the State Councillor, making his way back to his lodgings, where his servant was waiting for him with a bottle of opodeldoc, — “It’s a good thing I’m a serious man … only, what was she laughing at?”

    Alas, the hapless Isabel F. Hapgood rendered the crucial phrase “with a bottle of eau de Cologne.”

  20. January First-of-May says

    The word “liniment” makes me think of Vishnevsky’s balsamic liniment, which (to quote Wikipedia) is “a topical medication which has been used to treat wounds, burns, skin ulcers and suppurations”. (The ch*rp is a suppuration? But whatever).

    As it happens, Vishnevsky’s liniment also has a characteristic somewhat unpleasant odor, and is apparently used in similar contexts to the opodeldoc (incidentally, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of opodeldoc before, but can’t recall where exactly).

    EDIT: apparently the term “opodeldoc” is still used in Russian homeopathy – though apparently for something other than its 19th century meaning – which might well be where I heard about it originally.

  21. I guess Russians like the sound of the word as much as Americans. It certainly is impressive-sounding!

  22. As in Czechia, opodeldok is widely known in Poland, but only as the name of the stuff that Švejk rubbed into his knee.

  23. We discussed Nozdrev’s speech in some other thread (about Matradura Cliquot, I believe) and the most satisfactory conclusion was that Nozdrev simply reaches for the first euphonious word that springs up into his mind without any care about meaning. And yes, as another card-carrying Eastern European (or maybe my card has already expired, I am too afraid to check), I must confess that I knew the word opodeldoc from Sveik (and surprisingly, not Gogol! Maybe contrary to Nozdrev, nonsense words don’t stick in my mind…)

  24. I really should read Švejk one of these days.

  25. January First-of-May says


  26. Without Švejk, there would be no Ivan Chonkin.

  27. January First-of-May says

    But would there be Ijon Tichy?

    (Or is that one more due to Carl Friedrich Hieronymus von Münchhausen, Lemuel Gulliver, Alcofribas Nasier, and Pavel Masloboynikov?)

  28. Another sighting, from Alexander Veltman’s Счастье несчастье [Fortune is misfortune]:

    Семеновна посовѣтуетъ натерѣться въ банѣ рѣдькой съ солью и съ медомъ; а Лизавета Яковлевна начнетъ натирать больное мѣсто аподельдокомъ или летучей мазью.

    Semyonovna suggested rubbing it with radish with salt and honey in the bath, but Lizaveta Yakovlevna began rubbing the sore place with opodeldoc or volatile ointment.

    (Brockhaus and Efron say the latter ointment was a mixture of 3 parts of olive oil and 1 part of ammonia; it was apparently also called Linimentum volatile or Linimentum ammoniatum.)

  29. The footnotes of my book say “Opodealdoc” is a pun because Chichikov says he can’t go with Nozdryov due to a deal he wants to close with Sobakevich.

  30. That pun would exist only in an English translation, of course. But thanks for reviving this interesting thread!

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