We just had a plumber come to investigate a leak (turns out to be a bad seal in the toilet), and as a typical work-avoidance measure I looked up plumber in Wikipedia and cast my eye down the list of equivalents in other languages. Imagine my surprise when the Russian article turned out to be Сантехник! I had always thought the Russian for ‘plumber’ was водопроводчик, and that’s the only term given in my bilingual dictionaries, but the article has that in a list of alternate terms: “используются другие названия: слесарь-сантехник, водопроводчик.” I would love it if my Russian-speaking readers would explain whether водопроводчик is older (and going out of use?) or whether it’s more colloquial and сантехник more official, or what the situation is.

And I also noticed that the German equivalent is Installateur, which looked odd to me; I checked my Wahrig Deutsches Wörterbuch, which defines it as “Handwerker für Installationen” (giving the rather disapproving etymology “frz. klingende deutsche Bildung zu Installation, in Frankreich unbekannt, dort installeur” [French-sounding German formation to Installation, unknown in France, where they use installeur]), and defines Installation as “das Einrichten von techn. Anlagen in Gebäuden (Wasser, Heizung, Gas, Elektrizität, Lüftung usw),” which seems to imply that plumbers, electricians, pretty much everybody who does interior work in buildings is called the same thing in German, which seems weird to me. Is this in fact the case?


  1. “Сантехник” sounds just a little bit dated, with some Soviet flavor. But both “водопроводчик” and “сантехник” are quite common, I can’t say which one I use more

  2. Сантехник is the position title, водопроводчик is the job. You get 50K hits for “требуется сантехник” but only 500 for “требуется водопроводчик” and those are mostly for one-time jobs rather than full-time positions.

  3. Thanks to both of you; I think I now have a pretty good grasp of the Russian situation.

  4. DSCLOSURE: This comment is based entirely on intuitions of a native speaker. Discount accordingly.
    Сантехник has a strong feel of the bureaucratic origin. The base word is сантехника. There was probably a feel that водопровод (lit. water pipe) is not general enough because it does not include sewer (канализация). By the way, сантехника is itself a strange word. The most logical conjecture is that it is a contraction from санитарная техника (sanitation ???). The meaning of техника in this context is baffling. In no other place I am aware of it can mean any sort of fixed installation. The closest meaning is equipment or machinery, but that must include some moving parts.

  5. German usage is (roughly) as follows: an Installateur (tout court) is a plumber, especially in Austria; in Germany, however, plumbers are often and informally called Klempner. More officially, the word would be prefixed by the special field: Wasserinstallateur, Elektroinstallateur, Gasinstallateur, Heizungsinstallateur etc., but these may also have different colloquial names, for instance Elektriker (electrician).
    Also, in several cases you might colloquially say -techniker to mean an -installateur, although, strictly speaking, these are different jobs. Perhaps the Russian is partly influenced by the German Sanitärtechniker?

  6. “Fitter” is a fine word, isn’t it.

  7. Ngram shows that сантехник took off in mid-50s. However the plural form appears to be widespread in the 1930s – a book search easily clears the confusion, though. In the 30s, the word “сантехники” is a G. of “сантехника”, “sanitation equipment”. Come 50s, it’s about the occupation itself, rather than about the equipment.
    The pivot point is a 1947 textbook for trade schools, Ф. И. Грингауз. Слесарь-сантехник: Утверждено в качестве учебного пособия для ремесленных училищ. My guess is that the old world fell for the wholesale linguistic replacement of the stuffed-up, formalized newspeak of the post-WWII Stalin’s USSR,

  8. (belongs in heeltap thread, now closed)
    I’ve never been called Φ before.
    And I never knew that bumpers were brimming glasses; somehow I must have thought that they were glasses of a particular shape.

  9. Perhaps the Russian is partly influenced by the German Sanitärtechniker?
    I’ll bet it is.

  10. I’ve often wondered about the origin of the Hebrew term for plumber, instelator. Looks like it’s Germanized faux-French. (Why are Germans so given to borrowing words that don’t exist? I’m sure every Installateur these days has a Handy.)

  11. Another explanation for the post-WWII change of plumber terms may have been the simple fact that flush toilets have become the norm in the big cities, and so plumbing was no longer just about running water. I can’t find a lot of relevant stats, but two facts stand out.
    1. In 1927, 27% of households in Moscow had indoor plumbing
    2. The first high-capacity sewage treatment plant in Moscow (at Kur’yanovo) has been designed in mid-1930s, but has only become functional after WWII.
    Anecdtotally, my Mom’s kommunalka (a pre-WWI former grand Astor Hotel on Tverskaya) still had communal sewage vats when they returned to Moscow from wartime evacuation. My Dad’s kommunalka, 1930s vintage, by 1960s had a flush toilet but no bathtub or shower, only a cold water faucet in the kitchen. So it would seem that flush toilets have become the standard between 1930s and 1940s?

  12. Mockba, what does “Сантехник is the position title, водопроводчик is the job” mean?
    The words santekhnik (abbreviation of sanitarny tekhnik) and vodoprovodchik are basically synonyms, although the latter specialist may be more qualified and do more kinds of work (in some people’s lexicons). The santekhnik is the guy you call to fix your plumbing. Very common word. No home should be without it.

  13. mab, in the US, a salesman could have a job title reading “manager”, “representative”, or “consultant” (source). A researcher could have a job title like director, manager, associate, scientist, or developer. Etc.
    One’s job title is for one’s resume and HR. One’s brief job description, condensed to a word or two, is to explain what you actually do for living.
    So what a plumber does for living in Russia may be condensed into a word “vodoprovodchik” just fine, but in the HR paperwork and help-wanted ads, it may only be “santekhnik”

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    “Sanitation expert and a maintenance engineer
    Garbage man, a janitor and you my dear
    A real union flight attendant, my oh my
    You ain’t nothin’ but a waitress in the sky”
    – P. Westerberg (1985).

  15. A few years ago my wife met a chap who made a good living as a chandelier restorer. I look forward to someone telling me the German word for that.

  16. Handy is short for handie-talkie, the original name for the handheld two-way radio (walkie-talkie originally meant a back-borne version).

  17. I bet that German Installateur is a frozen-in-amber word like Frisör. It made sense when it was first borrowed, but the French language has since moved on.

  18. The vodoprovodchik has an important advantage of being able to transform – mutate? – into a vodoprovodochnik.

  19. why so long? just make it a Vodko Pro (…и испортит унитаз)

  20. Installateur is so common that it got borrowed into Hebrew instelator, which has beaten the Academic shravrav to a pulp.

  21. I thought, wrongly, that Installateur was pure Austrian German, like Paradeiser. I recall “Klempner” from my time up in Braunschweig. Technically that isn’t correct – an Installateur is the person who deals with water and gas, all over the German world, and a “Klempner” is supposed to be a “tinsmith” or “sheet metal worker” – someone who makes and fixes objects made of sheet metal. (But not in Austria where a “Spengler” does that). Electricians are usally called “Elektriker”, not “Installateur” or “Elektroinstallateur” in everyday life.
    But I note that in German the Watergate “Plumbers” – Hunt and Liddy’s gang – is always translated as “die Klempner”.

  22. The only word in Lithuanian is santechnikas

  23. des von bladet says

    Dutch has the perfectly sensible loodgieter (“lead pourer”).

  24. Trond Engen says

    The only word in Lithuanian is santechnikas
    Surprising, but it does confirm recent popular opinion in several Eusopean countries.

  25. Trond Engen says

    Norwegian for plummer is rørlegger “pipe layer”.

  26. Native speaker here, and “installeur” isn’t French according to my intuition, but “installateur” is.

  27. Klempner is the only word I ever used for plumber when I was working as an architect in Germany, not that my German was ever much cop. Installateur looks like the kind of word they’d write on the side of the firm’s van.
    Entrepreneur is a popular word on the side of construction firms’ matte-yellow Volvo trucks in Norway. I think of it as the equivalent of contractor in the US, god kno what that is in Britain. A British term I especially dislike is the recently (since 1970s) introduced noun “new build”, or just “build”, to mean a piece of construction.

  28. In Danish the blikkenslager “tin beater” is the guy you call to fix your pipes — but the van will say VVS: vand, varme, sanitet. (To tell the truth they are just as likely to be referred to as the VVS-mand, and their trade school diploma will say VVS-installatør).
    AJP: An entreprenør is a company contracting for a whole entreprise, which can be anything from refitting your bathroom to building a new metro line. They farm out the work to individual building and installation firms, or to underentreprenører for larger jobs (totalentrepriser).

  29. A British trade with a name I like is “instrument artificer”. They are referred to as “tiffies”. Or maybe that should be “were”: I don’t know whether the trade has survived as analogue instruments have been replaced by digital.

  30. Wow. I’ve been saying “AR-ti-fi-cer” for half a century, and now Dearieme comes along and blasts my dreams to rubble. But and the OED do list it as a second pronunciation in AmE, so I’m not alone — and since when does -er shift the stress, anyway?

  31. I am as surprised as you, John.

  32. Sorry, Dmitry, but still don’t quite get what you mean. The two words are largely synonyms, with santekhnik the more common word for the guy who comes over and fixes your leaking toilet. As someone living in a house built in 1939, I’ve seen a lot of santekhniks…

  33. Lars, In Norway a blikkenslager (sheet-metalworker) is the person you’d hire to make metal flashing for your roof parapet and skylights, or to make the ductwork for your air-conditioning system. I’m not sure they’d be licensed to unblock the toilet or in any way mess about with the plumbing. For that you’d need a rørleggermester, who works at a rørleggingsbedrift (when he’s not playing golf*).
    An entreprenør is a company contracting for a whole entreprise
    As I said, it’s the same as ‘contractor’ in the US. Underentreprenør or underleverendør is ‘subcontractor’. I think the British equivalent to contractor must be ‘builder’, but maybe they’ve come up with something more jazzy sounding since I were a lad.
    *I’ve met female chimneysweeps in Norway, but never female plumbers.

  34. Sorry, mab, maybe I should try one more time 🙂
    Languagehat *started* this thread with affirming that vodoprovodchik and santehnik are synonyms, and asked us which was one older, and how the connotation and usage differ.
    All I did was to illustrate the usage differences (most notably, only “santehnik” is used in hiring and training; but “vodoprovodchik” is just as good as “santehnik” for their customers, or to describe what kind of work they do). And also to show that the word “santehnik” must have emerged after WWII, and become widely used since the 1950s.
    Nobody argued that the two words aren’t synonyms, and the exact nature of your confusion eludes me. We were looking into differences more than into equivalencies here.
    Re: construction trades, general contractors, subcontractors … let’s also not forget that these trades retain a medieval guild organizational structure, with some more old-Europe words remaining in the US terminology (like foreman, journeyman)

  35. Could there be a Moscow/SPb difference in usage, as with chickens? I know mab lives in Moscow; maybe they use водопроводчик more in Peter’s creation?

  36. Wow. I’ve been saying “AR-ti-fi-cer” for half a century, and now Dearieme comes along and blasts my dreams to rubble. But and the OED do list it as a second pronunciation in AmE, so I’m not alone — and since when does -er shift the stress, anyway?
    That and “artisanal” are two words where I’ve never had a trustworthy intuition, and tend to flail helplessly between the two versions.

  37. Saxophonist is one.

  38. Fritillary.

  39. So that’s where Hebrew “instalator” for the plumber comes from. Given that installing stuff is not the most common work for plumbers and Hebrew has pretty commonly used words for installing anyway, it sounded rather weird. But I guess it just got borrowed from German.

  40. “vand, varme, sanitet”: in Britain not all plumbers are also gas-fitters.

  41. @languagehat: I’ve no idea about Mos./Pet. difference, but according to Russian National corpus the words are almost equal in overall frequency, but водопроводчик is more prevalent in fiction (I looked only for the raw counts and have no idea how RNC balances fiction/non-fiction sources). This tends to support the idea that сантехник is a word with technical/bureaucratic pedigree. Caveat emptor: overall counts are quite low.

  42. I suppose the reason Hebrew borrowed the German word is that the stereotypical plumber in the Israel of a generation or two ago was a yekke.

  43. Trond Engen says

    Vand, varme, sanitet “Water, heating, sanitation”. I’m pretty sure the ‘heating’ refers (or originally refered) to central heating systems, not gas.

  44. Trond, our central heating usually runs on gas.
    P.S. Why do we (UK) call the heating unit in our central heating a “boiler” when it doesn’t boil the water? Maybe because it comes under the boiler safety regs? Dunno. On t’other hand, the same unit in the US is called, if I understand correctly, a “furnace” which at least isn’t plain wrong, although to me ‘furnace” usually implies more extreme temperatures than I imagine these devices reach.

  45. In my experience homeowners in the US very often say “furnace” for the unit that heats the water that heats the house, regardless of whether it runs on gas or on oil. Oil seems to be less common than it used to be. I think that what the people who install them, sell them, and provide fuel for them call these devices is “boiler” if gas and “oil burner” if oil.
    Then there are the (usually separate) devices that heat water for baths, sinks, washing machines, etc. These, whether gas or electric, are usually called “hot water heaters”!

  46. My building (13 East 3rd St.) has an oil burner and a boiler that actually boils, for the building is heated by steam conducted through baseboard pipes (before the 1983-96 renovation it had steam radiators instead). It’s not clear to me exactly how the hot-water heater is linked with this mechanism, but clearly the oil burner heats both the steam and the hot water, for when one fails, the other generally does too. I would apply “furnace” to the whole mechanism.

  47. Ah, I see the source of my confusion. I thought you, Dmitry, and others were asserting that santekhnik is a “bureaucratic” word. To me, that means a word used by the bureaucracy and not by regular folks — like the way nurses are called srednее medistinskoe zveno (literally “middle medical link”) in official texts and official presentations but never by actual people.
    I have the sense that vodoprovodchik is used more by older people or when describing someone who is doing a big installation job (or something other than just fixing your leaky toilet). In any case, my point is that santekhnik is a very commonly used word. I don’t think that santekhnik has any Soviet baggage — not the way, for example, that upravlenets (manager) does.

  48. AJP: A quick Google tells me that Danish blikkenslagere do roofing work as well, but the main connotation is the VVS part. A rørlægger does water supply and sewage pipes. When indoor plumbing was introduced, the jobs clearly went to different sets of professionals in Denmark and Norway.
    And yes, entreprenør is clearly the same as contractor, my main point (if not stated clearly) was the derivation from entreprise.

  49. “An entreprenør is a company contracting for a whole enterprise”: that sounds a bit like the old British use of “undertaker”, a word that is now more restricted in meaning.

  50. David Marjanović says

    What the spambot said. 🙂
    I didn’t know Installateur was used in Germany at all. Tellingly, I’ve only ever heard it pronounced with [ʃ], meaning it must have been coined in an Alemannic- or Tyrolean-speaking place.
    Friseur/Frisör: in the times of Versailles, a friseur was the specialist who created the curls in the ladies’ towering hair, or so I’ve read; such an aristocratic word was more likely to be borrowed than the general word coiffeur. This goes so far that combing one’s hair isn’t kämmen in Austria, it’s frisieren. The suffix -ieren was borrowed into Middle High German and is applied mostly to French borrowings, less often to Latin or Greek ones, and occasionally even to native roots.
    Handy: see above; also, Mobiltelefon was too long.

    A few years ago my wife met a chap who made a good living as a chandelier restorer. I look forward to someone telling me the German word for that.

    Kerzenhalterrestaurateur? I don’t know, I just made that up…

  51. Well, where I come from, a chandelier is a Kronleuchter.

  52. Gassalasca says

    In Serbian it’s “vodoinstalater”.

  53. David Marjanović says

    *facepalm* Yes. Kronleuchterrestaurateur it is, then.

  54. Wouldn’t the Hochdeutsch be “Kronleuchterrestaurator”? A “Restaurateur” is the guy who runs the overpriced Beisl.

  55. Kronleuchterrestaurateur
    As apprentices, they are sometimes called Lusterknaben.

  56. In Greek, the plumber (who is licensed to install and repair both sanitation and drinking-water lines), is called υδραυλικός (literally: hydraulics technician – or may I suggest “hydraulician”!)
    The contractor and subcontractor are called εργολάβος (work-taker or work-receiver, again literally) and υπεργολάβος (under-work-taker).

  57. Accordingly I shall now reveal to you the approved method of cleaning a chandelier. You immerse it in a tub of gin.

  58. Accordingly? According to what?

  59. That “Accordingly” may be functioning like the annoying initial “So, …” discussed here recently. It simulates topic continuity. That is, it suggests that the commenter has not changed the subject, despite appearances to the contrary.
    By the way, “So …” (followed by a pause, or not) in German is a standard way of signalling that a discussion or train of thought will be continued, or has reached a conclusion. When nothing follows the pause, the conclusion remains unexpressed. This variant – which works like the English “well, then …” – can be used to drive someone crazy, because it provokes the irritated response: “Well, then, WHAT ???”.

  60. Anyway, accordingly usually means ‘in accordance with [something]’ rather than ‘according to [something]’.

  61. Anyway, accordingly usually means ‘in accordance with [something]’ rather than ‘according to [something]’.

  62. In college I took a course from someone who I suppose could have been considered either a grand old man in his subject or a doddering old fool. (I say this with mixed feelings, as I am almost old enough to be one or the other of those myself.) When really bored in the back of the hall, we used to count how many times he said “accordingly” in each lecture.

  63. It’s fantastic that you are getting ideas from this paragraph as well as from our discussion made at this place.
    Unfortunately, I get only one idea from the above paragraph.

  64. Above spam comment is great for “I will try the dangle of it!”
    But I wanted to comment on the Installateur business from the p.o.v. of a native speaker living in Germany and indeed, if I have a problem with the heating, the plumbing, the toilets, the gas cooker (if I had one) I will call this guy. If there is a problem with the electrics, I will call an electrician – an Elektriker.
    Klempner is informal and technically wrong. It seems to be falling out of use.
    The actual name of the profession – which you will find on official documents like the certificate you get after finishing your apprenticeship – nowadays is Anlagenmechaniker für Sanitär-, Heizungs- und Klimatechnik which shows you that indeed these people don’t only fix toilets but also the heating.
    Informally, their field of work is also called Gas, Wasser, Scheiße because Gas- und Wasserinstallateur used to be the official name of the profession.

  65. The six things you need to know to be a plumber’s assistant:
    1) Hot is left.
    2) Cold is right.
    3) Water don’t run uphill.
    4) Shit floats.
    5) The boss is a son of a bitch.
    6) Payday is Friday.

  66. “Accordingly” referred to the helpful comment by David Marjanović “Kronleuchterrestaurateur it is, then.”
    Since someone had had the courtesy to answer my enquiry, I thought y’all deserved the reward of learning a trade secret. My reward was vulgar abuse. Oh well, then.

  67. dearieme, if my initial question offended you, I am sorry. I really did not know what your “accordingly” referred to, though I see now that if I had studied the comment thread long enough I could have figured it out.
    And please don’t think for a moment that my anecdote of student life was aimed at you. I was in my own self-centered world of doddering reminiscences when I wrote it.
    If it was Stu that offended you, my suggestion would be to just try not to take anything he says personally.
    By the way, it strikes me as a serious waste of gin. Tubs of gin? Or maybe they bottle it up for resale afterwards and try to put a positive spin on whatever metallic taste it has acquired. How would that go?

  68. I grant that what I posted was vulgar, but not that it was abusive. However, I apologize for any injury it did you.

  69. Thanks, chaps, but my complaint was a little tongue in cheek.

  70. Hah, I was the only one who noticed the bulge in dearieme’s cheek!

  71. Trond Engen says

    No, me too. But that doesn’t say very much.I just assume a tongue in every cheek anyway.

  72. Eh, Null and I are low-context Yanks, and better safe than sorry. Two weeks ago I had dinner with an English friend (now resident in Canada) and two American friends, all of them in town for a working group meeting. The latter had to leave to catch a train, which rather broke up dinner, and my remaining friend indicated willingness to continue the conversation in a coffee shop. Unfortunately, such places are thin on the ground in the neighborhood we were in, so I said, “Why don’t we go up to your hotel room, and you can kick me out whenever you need to.” He agreed, and we had a delightful conversation, and he did indeed kick me out after a while.
    Immediately after the door to his room closed, I knocked on it again and said, “Sorry, I’m a low-context American and I couldn’t see whatever cues you were giving me.” He grinned and said, “I know, I’m married to an American! But it means a lot that you said that.” We parted with mutual expressions of esteem.
    To be sure, as socially clueless people go I am particularly so. Thirty years ago, my then boss pointed out that he had a problem: if I was in his office and someone else came in to discuss something, I frequently remained in the office, to the embarrassment of both my boss and the third party. His standards wouldn’t let him directly order me to leave, or even explicitly ask me to do so. I suggested that he take a leaf from Kipling, and say to me, “You have my leave to depart.” The idea amused him, so we agreed on that explicit convention, and all was well thereafter. (The first time he used it, I thought of replying “Hearing and obedience, sahib!”, but I didn’t actually go so far as to do it.)

  73. Possibly I would have spotted the cheek-tongue if I had not been in the line of fire. I am a little thin-skinned when it comes to any suggestion that I have done anything wrong, and I tend to overreact. You’re just lucky that I over-apologized rather than belligerently asserting that I was in the right.
    But, getting back to the gin. The thought of chandeliers soaking in tubs of the stuff puts me in mind of the legends of great ladies who bathed in mare’s milk, or asses’ milk, or unicorn’s milk, or whatever it was. Cleopatra? Or somebody in Transylvania? No, wait, that one bathed in her victims’ blood.

  74. I am a little thin-skinned when it comes to any suggestion that I have done anything wrong, and I tend to overreact.
    Yeah, I used to be that way, but I finally accepted that I probably do almost everything wrong, just like everybody else, and now my life is much easier.

  75. David Marjanović says

    By the way, “So …” (followed by a pause, or not) in German is a standard way of signalling that a discussion or train of thought will be continued, or has reached a conclusion. When nothing follows the pause, the conclusion remains unexpressed. This variant – which works like the English “well, then …” – can be used to drive someone crazy, because it provokes the irritated response: “Well, then, WHAT ???”.

    That’s also, not so.

    Or somebody in Transylvania? No, wait, that one bathed in her victims’ blood.

    That was the other end of Hungary – present-day Slovakia.

  76. David Marjanović says


  77. borsa Gucci says

    As well as think about changing to some silk pillowcase in case your locks is actually loss. borsa Gucci

  78. As well as think about changing to some silk pillowcase in case your locks is actually loss.
    Mere cotton pillowcases cause one’s hair (“locks”) to be rubbed off, perhaps?

  79. J.W. Brewer says

    The Sydney Morning Herald of Oct 28, 1980 has a Mr. Clive McKellar (manager of the Regent Theatre) reminiscing about the good old days (remote even in 1980) when the chandelier was dipped in a vat of gin. Apparently the fact that gin could no longer be had for two shillings a bottle had made it advisable to develop a different cleaning strategy.

  80. @Ø:

    “Fitter” is a fine word, isn’t it.

    Chileans and Peruvians would agree with you; they’ve borrowed it (as gásfiter and gasfitero, respectively) for the occupation. Elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world it’s plomero (don’t Germans say Blechner anymore?), except for Spain, where they prefer fontanero.

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