I’m in the middle of Norman Rush’s novel Mating, which jamessal gave me a couple years ago, and am enjoying the unreliable narrator and her unreliable higher education (to which she desperately clings, tossing in the occasional “id est” or French word just to show she’s nobody’s fool). I got a particular chuckle from her talking about “the neighbor pharisee boys, who seemed to love to torment him and keep him from reading without interruption in the treehouses he constructed as reading pavilia.” Pavilia: the perfect striver’s mock-classical plural! But then I couldn’t remember the origin of pavilion, and when I looked it up realized it was pleasing enough to share. OED (updated September 2005):

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman pavillioun, pavilloun, paviloun, pavelion, pavelionne and Old French pavelon, pauvellon, Middle French pawillon, Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French, French pavillon military tent (early 12th cent.; 1681 in heraldry), square ancillary building (1503; 1690 in sense ‘solitary, decorative building’), nautical flag or ensign (1541), bell of a wind instrument (1636 of a trumpet; compare pavillon n.), pavilion of the ear (1800 in pavillon d’oreille) < classical Latin pāpiliōn-, pāpiliō butterfly, moth (see papilio n.), in post-classical Latin also tent, pavilion (Vetus Latina, Vulgate; probably originally army slang), probably from the similarity of shape when the ends of the covering are turned over at the entrance of the tent (as suggested already by authors as early as Jerome and Isidore). Compare Old Occitan pavalho, pavalhon (c1150), pabalho, pabalhon (13th cent.; Occitan pabalhon), Catalan †papalló (13th cent.), pavelló (a1380), Spanish pabellón (1459 as pavellón, < Middle French), Italian padiglione (13th cent.); also Middle Dutch paviljoen (Dutch paviljoen).

It’s evidently a useful word, since it was borrowed widely — Russian, for example, has павильон (Vasmer says “впервые у Куракина” [first in Kurakin], but I don’t know which of the various Kurakins is meant). I wonder how far it’s spread? Looking down the list of articles at Wikipedia, I see that Indonesian has paviliun and Finnish paviljonki, but Icelandic stubbornly nativizes with skáli.


  1. Mating may be my favourite novel. Enjoy!

  2. In Russian National corpus first quotation is from Lomonosov, 1754. The next one is from 19th century.

  3. Maybe Vasmer meant that prince A.B.Kurakin built first Russian pavilion in his estate.

  4. Fasmer says “впервые у Куракина; см. Смирнов 215”.

    So I naturally looked at Fasmer bibliography, found that Смирнов is actually Смирнов Н. А. Западное влияние на русский язык в петровскую эпоху (Smirnov N.A. Western impact on Russian language in era of Peter the Great) which was published in Сборник Отделения русского языка и словесности Императорской академии наук Т. 88, N 1-3 1910 (Collection of the Faculty of Russian language and literature of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, Vol. 88, 1910)

    Fortunately it is published online as well, so I learned what Smirnov actually wrote on page 215 of his opus:

    Павиліонъ, фр. нѣм. pavilion, Флагъ. О командѣ надъ всѣми Флотами генерально персоною царского величества подъ его павиліономъ. Архивъ кн. Куракина. I т. 89 стр.

    Pavilion, fr, ger. pavilion, Flag. On general command over all these fleets by his majesty the Czar under his pavilion. Archive of prince Kurakin. vol. I. 89 p.

    The sentence frankly made no sense. What flag? How can pavilion be a flag?

    But system of academic citations worked again. Smirnov cites Archive of Prince Kurakin, Vol. 1, page 89.

    And of course, it is published online as well. The text is little clearer there.

    262. о приходѣ тутъ россійскаго флоту и агленскаго и голанскаго и о команд надъ всѣми Флотами генерально персоною царского величества подъ его павиліономъ и о препараціяхъ для транспорту в Шканію

    262. On arrival of the Russian, English and Dutch fleets here and on general command over all these fleets by his majesty the Czar under his pavilion and on preparations for transport to Scania.

    Ok, now at least we know what’s going on. On August 18, 1716, Peter the Great took personal command of manoeuvres carried out by a combined squadron of the Russian, British, Danish and Dutch fleets off the island of Bornholm in preparations for invasion of Swedish region of Scania. Since Czar outranked all allied admirals present, he temporarily commanded what probably was the largest naval force in Europe. Russians were so proud of this event that they struck a medal with Peter the Great depicted as Neptune, carrying trident with Russian flag and inscription “MASTER OF FOUR FLEETS, BORNHOLM, 1716”

    And Kurakin in question, is of course, prince Boris Ivanovich Kurakin, “father of Russian diplomacy”, Peter the Great’s ambassador in Rome, London, Hannover, the Hague and Paris.

    So he apparently was the first to use word pavilion in Russian back in 1716. But we still don’t know what he actually meant by pavilion.

    The answer was found in “The British encyclopedia, or, Dictionary of arts and sciences” by William Nicholson, 1809:

    “PAVILION is sometimes applied to flags, colours, ensigns, standards,banners, etc. See FLAG.”

    To summarize. The word pavilion first entered Russian language in August 1716, introduced by ambassador prince Boris Ivanovich Kurakin and the word meant nautical flag reflecting common usage of the time.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Fascinating. I didn’t know it ever meant “flag” either.

  6. SFReader, you win the Dogged Researcher and Explicator of the Week award! I’m much obliged to you for that thorough report, and I too was unaware that it could mean ‘flag’…. though scrolling way down the OED entry, I find this:

    9. A flag, an ensign, esp. one carried by a ship to indicate nationality. Obs.
    In early use Sc.: the official flag of a town.

    1572 Extracts Rec. in W. Chambers Charters Burgh Peebles (1872) 339 William becumit deliuer the pavaleoun of the burgh of Peblis..quhilk my lord provest borrowit to the perambuling of his landis.
    1584 Kirkcaldy Burgh Rec. (1908) 84 That thair be provydit for service of the tounschipe ane commoun swesche and ane handsenyie, with ane palȝeoun.
    1661 King Charles II in J. M. Cartwright Madame (1894) 111 Certainly never any ships refused to strike their pavilion when they met any ships belonging to the Crowne of England.
    1696 E. Phillips New World of Words (new ed.) Pavilion,..the Flag of a General Officer in a Fleet.
    1778 J. Adams Diary 29 Mar. (1961) II. 290 The Pilot says War is declared, last Wednesday, and that the Pavillions were hoisted Yesterday at every Fort and Light House.

    So we’ve all learned something today, and I’m glad I thought to post about it!

  7. “Le pavillon en viande saignante sur la soie des mers et des fleurs arctiques ; (elles n’existent pas.)” But the word certainly does. Rimbaud, “Barbare.”

  8. As suggested by the OED, Isidore in his Etymologies made the tent reference

  9. My trusty Kettridge French-English DIctionary gives “pavillon” as ‘pavillion, lodge, box, summer house, flag, colours (Naut. & Nav.), flare, horn, earpiece.’ But also ‘~de poupe’, ensign.
    It is commonly used in the term for a ship ‘battant pavillion Liberian, etranger, etc’ for a ship flying, thus sailing under the Registry of, e.g. Liberia, a foreign nation, etc. It is the cause of much concern among French seafarers, and others from major nations, when ships are transferred to foreign flags, where pay and conditions for the crews are seen as much inferior.

  10. People in France might know the folksong “Nous allons à Valparaiso” which I believe Michel Tonnerre made into a bit of a hit back in the 1970s:

    Ceux qui reviendront pavillon haut,
    Good bye, farewell, good bye, farewell,
    C’est premier brin de matelot,
    Hourra, Oh Mexico, ho, ho, ho !

  11. “Nous irons à Valparaiso”: lyrics, performance by Les Quatre Barbus.

  12. marie-lucie says

    Nous irons à Valparaiso …

    This brings back long-lost memories! My maternal grandfather, who had been in the French navy at the start of WW1, could sing the first few bars of a number of popular songs of the period. Valparaiso was one of his favourites.

    Another one was It’s a long wé / to Tipérrérré …

  13. Looking down the list of articles at Wikipedia, I was naturally drawn to the Japanese and Chinese articles, which are supposed to be about the same topic. But they are not.

    The Japanese article on パビリオン pabirion starts with a list of meanings of the sort that properly belong at a disambiguation page:

    1. A temporary building such as an exhibition hall at an exhibition or exposition.
    2. A large tent at a garden party.
    3. Name of the lower part of the brilliant cut of jewellery.
    4. Ice Pavilion, an ice museum in Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido.
    5. In architecture, a separate building.
    6. In heraldry, fabric positioned to surround a large crest.
    7. Trademark of Hewlett-Packard personal computer.

    The Japanese article itself deals only with the first of these, that is, pavilions at an exhibition. The term パビリオン pabirion was popularised by the 1970 Osaka Expo.

    The Chinese article is about 洋亭 yángtíng, literally ‘Western-style pavilion’, which is defined as a “亭(tíng)-like building supported by columns and hollow inside”. The article has a footnote stating that there is, in fact, a very large gap between the “pavilion” and the Chinese-style “亭 tíng“. It notes that “pavilion” has been translated as “洋亭” in order to draw a distinction between the two types of building.

    Given that the English-language article states that “in the traditional architecture of Asia, palaces or other large houses may have one or more subsidiary pavilions that are either freestanding or connected by covered walkways, as in the Forbidden City, Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, and in the Red Fort and other buildings of Mughal architecture”, the English and Chinese articles are almost about completely different things.

    Note that the English-language disambiguation page for pavilion leads, among other things, to a specific page devoted to cricket pavilions, and another on the umbraculum (aka pavilion), a “historic piece of the papal regalia and insignia, once used on a daily basis to provide shade for the pope, … found in the contemporary Church at all the basilicas throughout the world, placed prominently at the right of their main altars”. If SFReader had not found that pavilion was used for flags and ensigns, this would almost seem like the perfect explanation of what the Czar sat under.

  14. “Mating” may be my favourite novel too. I get excited when I read that others (like lynneguist, above) think the same, or even when I learn that a distinguished Internet blogger like LH is reading it. I’ve bought it four times: initial purchase, one for daughter (don’t think she’s read it), one in a sale that was so cheap I couldn’t not buy it, and one for my kindle. “Mortals” is pretty good too (I’ve only got one paper copy plus a kindle version of that).

  15. I’m enjoying it very much, and will pass it on to my wife when I’m done!

  16. Jeanne Arnold says

    I am very annoyed that in Mating ( which I am reading ) the word pavilia isn’t a real plural! I didn’t think it could be the Latin plural for pavilion… I have studied French but not old French. And have never studied Middle English which was also cited in the etymology… but I studied Latin long ago and was so annoyed to look it up and realise it is, in fact, made up plural… Glad you brought out that so many of the narrators French and Latin asides that she seems to think prove her to be educated and intelligent actually prove the opposite. Love the book! Those who enjoy Norman Rush must read Nabokov! My main area of linguistic study has been in Russian

  17. Thanks for reviving this thread, and it’s great to hear from a fellow Russianist and Nabokovian!

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