I just ran across the archaic Russian (really Church Slavic) phrase крины сельные [kriny sel’nye] ‘lilies of the field’; the ‘lily’ part is straightforward (крин = Greek κρίνoν; the modern Russian word is лилия), but the adjective сельный looks like it should be derived from село [selo] ‘village,’ which is very strange from the semantic point of view. So I looked up село in Vasmer and discovered a simple but instructive explanation: the Russian noun is the result of the falling together in East and South Slavic of two different Slavic words, *selo ‘plowed field’ (cf. Lith. salà ‘island,’ Lat. solum ‘soil’) and *sedlo ‘settlement’ (from PIE *sed- ‘sit’: cf. Goth. sitls ‘seat,’ лат. sella ‘chair’ < *sedlā; West Slavic preserves the -dl-, cf. Czech sídlо ‘settlement’). In Old Russian, село could mean ‘dwelling,’ ‘settlement,’ or ‘field’; it eventually specialized to its modern sense ‘village,’ but the old sense ‘field’ left behind this stranded adjective. (The modern adjective for село is сельский: сельская жизнь ‘village life.’) Note that sound change produced a confusingly multivalent word (the horror! language corruption! degeneration!), but people dealt with it and everything eventually settled down. Sic semper mutatis mutandis.


  1. I had never given much thought to the term сельское хозяйство before – I suppose, given that the adjective is in the modern form, it comes from the “village” meaning of село, but the “field” meaning seems equally appropriate. (Hello, I don’t comment here much, but I read all the time!)

  2. Adjective сельский (and noun село in the abstract) has probably a bit wider scope than village. It can mean also countryside like in juxtaposition город и село (town and country). But I will go out on a limb and suggest that the “field” meaning is completely lost.

  3. Wasn’t сельское хозяйство invented by Karamsin in calque-avoidance kind of a word-coining? Промышленость, too?

  4. The PSl. word was *sědlo ‘settlement, colony’, with a long vowel reflex (as expected, due to Winter’s Law). One would expect *sělo as the regular development in those dialects that merged *-l- with *-dl-, but it seems the vowel of *selo ‘hamlet, farming ground’ crept in via semantically motivated contamination. In Czech, we have the contrast preserved in sídlо : Old Czech selo; likewise in Old Polish siadło : sioło.

    *sědlo nicely illustrates the PIE treatment of the instrument-noun suffix *-tlo-/-tro- after dentals: the complex cluster in *sed-tlo- was simplified by deleting the initial *t of the suffix, leaving *sedlo- already in PIE. The change must be very old, otherwise one would expect voicing assimilation (*-ttl-) and s-insertion (*-tstlo-). There is, however, an alternative treatment known as “the μέτρον rule”, according to which the first dental is lost: *med-tro- > *metro- (from *med- ‘divide, measure’.

  5. J. W. Brewer says

    An excellent jumping-off point for an idle question that a slavically-knowledgeable audience might know. My middle child’s first name is Lily, which is arguably an unsuitable name for church purposes because we have been unable to identify a St. Lily. (Her middle name is that of a perfectly adequate saint, so that’s enough to get by with.) But it struck me as not implausible that there might be some traditional Slavic or Greek female given name that at least approximately translates to Lily but where that meaning is totally opaque to my outsider’s eyes, and if so there might potentially an obscure saint by that name. (Going back to the Old Testament I’m already aware that there’s some ambiguity as to exactly what flower name Susanna/Shoshana refers/referred to — I’m looking for a post-New-Testament candidate in a language associated with the historically-Orthodox parts of Europe.)

  6. Piotr, are you using a breve where you mean to use a macron?

  7. Dat’s a yat.

  8. John,

    No, *ě is the standard symbol for the Proto-Slavic tense vowel reflecting the merger of Proto-Balto-Slavic *ē and *ai (ѣ in the Cyrillic alphabet).

  9. Oh, okay. Yat is notated ě (e-caron, e-háček) rather than ĕ (e-breve), though I admit the difference is subtle. (I read Languagehat at 125% magnification, and many other sites at 150% or even 175%.)

  10. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    J. W. Brewer,

    Nothing Slavic about it, but in Spanish a lily is called either a lirio or an azucena, and Azucena is also a woman’s name. It counts as an attribute of the Virgin, Nuestra Señora de la Azucena, so I’m pretty sure it’s ok for church purposes in the same way as Carmen and Pilar. You could try if the same argument flies in your own parish. There’s no doubt that the lily is a Marian attribute regardless of country or language: S. Maria del Giglio, Notre Dame du Lys, etc.

    Otherwise, doesn’t Susanna (Shoshana) basically mean lily (shoshan, שושן) in Hebrew? If so, that opens up plenty of saints, the most common name day (at least in Italy) being August 11 for Saint Susanna the Roman martyr.

  11. There is an interesting botanical connection, which I cannot fully get, but it is suggestive. Water lily in Russian is not лилия, but кувшинка apparently from the word for jar. On the other hand, root крин- (when it does not copy Greek κρίνoν) is the descendant of Slavic word for well, spring, water pit. Standard Russian lost it, but Ukrainian and some Russian dialects preserved it (without drift of meaning, as far as I can tell) as well as the word кринка (or крынка) for a jug (of milk).

  12. The consensus appears to be that שׁוֹשָׁן/שׁוֹשַׁנָּה shoshan/shoshana derives from שֵׁשׁ shesh ‘six’—a six-petaled flower, i.e. a member of the lily family. The phrase “a shoshana among thorns” in the Song of Songs has been interpreted to refer to the daffodil, which grows in heavy soils which also support thorny scrub. Or so I’ve read.

  13. If you go with the daffodil, there is a St. Narcisa De Jesus Martillo Moran.

  14. the daffodil, which grows in heavy soils which also support thorny scrub

    The daffodil grows wild in Europe, among grass in meadows or along roads. I don’t know about the soils it likes, but I don’t remember daffodils sharing space with “thorny scrub”.

  15. What I read talked specifically about the coastal plains of Israel, which the author of the Songs of Songs supposedly had in mind.

  16. marie-lucie says

    According to Wikipedia the daffodil grows wild in most of Western Europe (from Portugal to England and Germany). However, the very closely related narcissus grows wild in the Western Mediterranean region and North Africa. The flower of the Song of Songs may have been the narcissus rather than the daffodil.

  17. The daffodil is the most familiar name for most narcissus (my mother only uses the latter). ‘Thorny scrub’ is vague enough to include wild roses and blackberries, and of course they share the same wild ground – Beside the lake, beneath the trees/Fluttering and dancing in the breeze/They stretched in never-ending line/Along the margin of a bay/Ten thousand saw I at a glance/Tossing their heads in sprightly dance – as anyone who has been to the Lake District (or pretty much anywhere else in the English countryside) in Spring can attest.

    Påskelilje – Easter lily – is the Norwegian name though as with all these names, Easter lily in English is something (slightly) else.

  18. David Marjanović says

    The consensus appears to be that שׁוֹשָׁן/שׁוֹשַׁנָּה shoshan/shoshana derives from שֵׁשׁ shesh ‘six’—

    I once read it’s a loan from an Egyptian sšn – though what that is thought to have meant I cannot remember.

  19. Egyptian sšn

    z:S:n-M9 ‘lotus, lily’ > ϣⲱϣⲉⲛ

  20. And now seems as good a time as any to recall that daffodil is derived from asphodel.

  21. @AJP Crown, the English Easter Lily is clearly a lilje — a påskelilje is a narcis. That’s language for you. (And I’d call Lilium and Narcissus more than slightly different, different orders within the monocots).

    In Denmark and much of Sweden/Norway, there are basically four flowers that you can expect to winter in the ground and come up in spring, in order:

    Galanthus nivalis – Da vintergæk (winter cheater) – Sw snödroppe – snowdrop
    Crocus vernus/flavus (actually a corm, not a bulb) – krokus
    Narcissus pseudonarcissus – påskelilje – Lent Lily
    Narcissus poeticus – pinselilje

    (Galanthus and Narcissus are very closely related, on the other hand).

    I’m already keeping an eye out for snowdrops here in Stockholm.

  22. Trond Engen says

    Galanthus nivalis – Da vintergæk (winter cheater) – Sw snödroppe – snowdrop

    No. snøklokke “snowbell”.

    Is gæk somehow related to gøk?

  23. gæk/gøg

    Gæk is from German Geck, meaning fool. I doubt there’s a relation.

    Also I forgot Eranthis in the spring flower sequence.

  24. I like the Egyptian etymology better; the še:ššošan one has the air of folk-etymology about it. The vowel change seems odd: I wouldn’t expect a back vowel in the derived noun.

    If šošan is taken to mean ‘lotus’ or ‘water-lily’, same as the Egyptian sšn, the juxtaposition in SoS 2:2, “like the šošana among the thorns” does not speak of a natural coöcurrence of the plants, but to an external comparison. But that is justified by the parallel in the next verse, where we have “like an apple among the trees of the forest”.

  25. David Marjanović says

    No. snøklokke “snowbell”.


  26. Not “snowbell”, I think, but “snowdrop”.

  27. Swedish snödroppe is “snowdrop,” Norwegian snøklokke is indeed “snow bell” as Trond says, Danish vintergæk is “winter’s fool”. Names are usually shared between the Scandinavian languages, or at least two of them agree — but not in this case.

    I wasn’t able to find the name in Icelandic or Faroese, though I doubt that the snowdrop is unknown there.

    (There will be older or dialectal names in each language, some of them may correspond to the names in other Standard languages of course).

  28. Icelandic or Faroese

    Lystigarður Akureyrar

  29. @J.W.Brewer:

    You’ve given your child such a beautiful name! The equivalent name you’re looking for in modern Greek is Κρινιώ or Κρινούλα (from κρίνον – lily). In Orthodox theology this flower is associated with the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel who is supposed to have announced to her she was going to give birth to God’s Son, at the same time offering her a white lily, as a symbol of purity. I’m sorry I don’t know when women of these names have their name day.

  30. There is a St. Lily of Quito (a.k.a. María Ana de Jesús de Paredes y Flores).ús_de_Paredes

    Her feast day is 26th May.

  31. marie-lucie says

    In French there only a few flower names that are used as feminine names. Rose, Violette and Marguerite ‘daisy’ are the ones that come to my mind. The word for “lily” is Lys or Lis, which is not a name. But Lili exists as the diminutive for Liliane and Eliane. With the spelling Lily it was used for a first name at a time of anglomania before the two WWs (when four-letter English names or spellings were popular, like Jack instead of Jacques). There was a famous French pianist called Lily Pons (her last name, ending in [s], is common in Southern France).

    Notes on vowel length:

    – In my pronunciation, lys/lis is [li:s]), contrasting with lisse [lis] ‘smooth’.
    – On the Old Parisian side of my family, I had an uncle called Jacques (born 1918). Within the family he was always addressed by the diminutive “Jaja” (with short front vowel), but in referring to him his mother (born 1892) pronounced his name as “Jâques”, with the long back vowel. I think that people his age or younger used the short front vowel in his name (while preserving the traditional long back vowel in most words).

  32. @marie-lucie: Interestingly, the origin of “Liliane” (English “Lillian,” my daughter’s name) is obscure. It was probably either an diminutive of “Elizabeth” or an elaboration of “Lili/Lily,” the flower name.

  33. JWB,: I thought I had seen Sainte Liliane somewhere. Googling the words leads you to several French sites and gives you a choice of dates: 4 July and 27 July. July 27 is the anniversary of the martyrdom of a Liliana, along with two other persons, in Arabic Spain in the year 852. July 4 is the anniversary of a Saint Elisabeth, of a much later date (there are several saints of that name, the earliest ones in the 13C, with some confusion about their dates).

    It is not entirely clear whether the Spanish martyr is officially a saint or not. An Italian site tells the story of a 20C Italian nun called Liliana Rivetta, who became a missionary in Africa and was killed there. At catechism as a child, a priest told her that there was no Santa Liliana. She replied “Then I will be the first one!”

    Brett: Liliane/Liliana cannot be a direct “diminutive” of Elisabeth. The link is the -lis(a)- part, with a folk-etymological link of that part of the biblical name with the French word for ‘lily’.

    The name must be a derivative of the Latin word lilium ‘lily’ (a neuter noun), with the feminine suffix -ana added by analogy with other Latin names (eg Julius/Julia > Julianus/Juliana).

  34. J. W. Brewer says

    Thanks Ariadne! So now the question is whether there’s a Hagia Krinoula out there . . . Does anyone know of a comparable girls’ name (current or historical) in any of the Slavic languages? I have sometimes taken the position that the sunday each year (I think it’s 3d or 4th after Pentecost) where the Gospel reading in the Byzantine lectionary has the “consider the lilies of the field” passage ought to serve as her name day. But as noted before her middle name is that of a perfectly adequate saint with an associated name day. (There is of course the workaround that most/all pre-1054 Christians in Western Europe can be treated as presumptively Orthodox whether they knew it or not and thus e.g. a 9th century Spanish martyr whose martyrdom was perhaps not actually contemporaneously known about in Constantinople may do in a pinch.)

  35. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says


    Sounds like a name for a species of plantlike aliens or an effete fantasy race harkened to in myths and poems. At least to this non-native English speaker.

  36. Does anyone know of a comparable girls’ name (current or historical) in any of the Slavic languages?

    There is a Russian name Лилия, but it is from the flower and has no associated saint’s day.

  37. Дьяволица Лилит

  38. Heh. Does Lilith have a demon’s day?

  39. The day before the traditional date of Creation according to the Orthodox Church, so presumably August 30.

  40. marie-lucie says

    LH: Demons are fallen angels, and angels good or bad do not normally have their own days, or even their own names unless they are “arch”angels.

    About Lilith, the resemblance of this name with Liliana might not be entirely coincidental. Not that I think they have the same origin, but partial resemblances, especially involving names which do not have an obvious etymology, sometimes lead to adaptations that make the resemblances more obvious. This is just a thought, I am not trying to argue one way or another.

  41. LH: Demons are fallen angels, and angels good or bad do not normally have their own days, or even their own names unless they are “arch”angels.

    ‘Twas a joke.

  42. Trond Engen says

    [T]he Russian noun is the result of the falling together in East and South Slavic of two different Slavic words, *selo ‘plowed field’ (cf. Lith. salà ‘island,’ Lat. solum ‘soil’) and *sedlo ‘settlement’ (from PIE *sed- ‘sit’: cf. Goth. sitls ‘seat,’ лат. sella ‘chair’ < *sedlā.

    The roots are conflated in Germanic too. Or at least in modern Norwegian. No. sal “hall, room” < ON salr < PG *salaz-/*saluz- is now homonymous with sal “saddle” < ON söðull < Late PG *sadula-. < Early PG *sadlá- (B&L’s prefered forms).

  43. That’s just modern Norwegian. Danish and Swedish both have sal vs sadel, with quite different but equally distinct pronunciations: [ˈsæ̘l̰ʔ/ˈsað̠l̩] and [ˈsɑl/ˈsɑdɛl].

  44. Trond Engen says

    I know. Danified Norwegian might still use sadel too, On the other end of the specter conservative western dialects have sadl, until recently possibly even saðl.

  45. marie-lucie says

    LH: demon’s day

    Of course ’twas a joke!

  46. Marie-Lucie: LH: Demons are fallen angels, and angels good or bad do not normally have their own days, or even their own names unless they are “arch”angels.
    Never say never. In (ancien régime) Russia every Christian Orthodox person celebrated “angel’s day”, день ангела, which was simply their именины, the namesake saint’s day (or sometimes the day of baptism, if the two were for some reason different).

  47. marie-lucie says

    D.O., Are or were saints considered to be angels in the Orthodox Church? it looks like “angel’s day” was the equivalent of “saint’s day” in the Catholic Church, a celebration of the saint whose name you share. In many areas, especially rural ones, a baby was baptized with the name of a saint of the same sex (or an appropriate adaptation of the name) whose name was listed for that day (with few exceptions, like “Christmas” for Dec. 25) each day has more than one saint attached to it.

    In earlier times most babies were not registered at birth, instead the local priest kept a register of baptisms, which served as the equivalent of a birth certificate but was less precise about the actual day of birth.

  48. Saints are not angels in any kind of Christianity. I think the idea is that angels, or one’s personal angel, is around on that day.

    On another thread there was a comment about the Presbyterian ministry as opposed to the priesthood. This is because Protestants (other than some Anglicans) uphold the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, whereby no intermediary is required between the individual Christian and God. The Catholic and Orthodox (and Oriental/Ancient Orthodox and presumably Assyrian) view is that this idea, originally Luther’s, is the product of a linguistic confusion between ἱερεύς/sacerdos and πρεσβύτερος/presbyteros, both traditionally translated priest: every believer is the former, but only ordained priests are the latter. Johnson, though a member of the Church of England, expressed the difference well:

    I asked Dr. Johnson whether [Boswell’s servant] being a Roman Catholick should prevent my taking him with me to Scotland.

    Johnson. “Why no, Sir. If he has no objections, you can have none.”

    Boswell. “So, Sir, you are no great enemy to the Roman Catholick religion.”

    Johnson. “No more, Sir, than to the Presbyterian religion.”

    Boswell. “You are joking.”

    Johnson. “No, Sir, I really think so. Nay, Sir, of the two, I prefer the Popish.”

    Boswell. “How so, Sir?”

    Johnson. “Why, Sir, the Presbyterians have no church, no apostolical ordination.”

    Boswell. “And do you think that absolutely essential, Sir?”

    Johnson. “Why, Sir, as it was an apostolical institution, I think it is dangerous to be without it. And, Sir, the Presbyterians have no publick worship: they have no form of prayer in which they know they are to join. They go to hear a man pray, and are to judge whether they will join with him.”

  49. Marie-Lucie, (old) Orthodox tradition regarding naming children is very similar to the Catholic one. I don’t know what sort of (folk) theology led to this “angel’s day” expression, my best guess is that it has something to do with the guardian angel, though official theology doesn’t provide any connection. By the 20th century that was simply the name of the day of someone’s personal celebration, just like we use birthday now.

  50. David Marjanović says

    There’s always St. Michael the Archangel, formerly celebrated at Michaelmas (…sometime in… summer).

  51. D.O., David: That’s what I meant, the Archangels have names, but not the mere angels.

    I never thought of the implications of the Archangels being called “Saint X”. Perhaps the angels are all saints in the Orthodox theology.

  52. In the end Saint just means holy. Depending on your denomination, you can operate with humans who were so holy that they were posthumously accorded the honorific and appellation of Saint, and being sainted they would then be saints. Or with angels who are holy in themselves, deserving the same honorific – but since they were never human, they cannot be saints.

    Though linguistically the fact that Saint is from the passive participle sanctus, i.e., “consecrated,” complicates my story a bit. I assume that the association with sancio was not active by the time Christian usage was established.

    Sacred looks like a participle as well, but I don’t know what verb it would be from.

  53. Alon Lischinsky says


    Sacred looks like a participle as well, but I don’t know what verb it would be from.

    Obsolete sacre ‘to consecrate, make holy’ (< French sacrer < Latin sacro < sacer ‘holy’). The OED has one lone 20th century citation, but the verb seems to have disappeared from use in the 17th century otherwise.

  54. David Marjanović says

    I assume that the association with sancio was not active by the time Christian usage was established.

    The city senate of Pompeii called itself sanctus ordo all the time, evidently without any religious connotations, just as an honorific.

  55. Ah, the Holy Horde.

  56. The Greek Orthodox Church honours Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael (together with other hosts of angels) on November 8. People who bear any of these names in male or female versions, as well as people called Άγγελος, Αγγέλα, Αγγελική, etc., celebrate their name day on the same date.

  57. If you look up Shoshana in Wikipedia, it says “In Biblical times “shoshana” referred to a lily (from Lilium family); in modern Hebrew it is often understood as referring to a rose.”
    I’m curious how this change in meaning occurred and when. For one thing “a rose among thorns” seems to make a lot more sense. Also, I’ve come across the Jewish double name Shoshana Reyzl, which in keeping with the custom of Hebrew Yiddish doublets would seem to equate Shoshana with Rose.

  58. David Marjanović says

    Ah, the Holy Horde.

    Thread won.

    Wir kommen in Horden,
    wir rauben und morden,
    wir waschen uns nie!
    Es lebe die Anarchie!

  59. David: this reminds me of Rückert’s translation of a Shi Jing song:

    Gekommen sind die Schaaren
    Der nordischen Barbaren,
    Mit langen hellen Haaren,
    Mit Haaren hellen langen,
    Die ihnen wie die Schlangen
    Von beiden Schläfen hangen.

    I don’t think Rückert was trying to be funny, though.

  60. I believe the shoshana was identified with the rose because of the association with thorns, and because of the phrase “his lips are roses”, also in the Song of Songs. The latter might seem to require a red flower, but the metaphor may easily be more abstract.

  61. David Marjanović says

    Rückert’s translation of a Shi Jing song

    Oh, that is perfect.

  62. I googled that German verselet, only to find that you’ve misquoted it:

    Wir sind die wilden Horden,
    Wir plündern und wir morden,
    wir waschen uns nie,
    Hoch die Anarchie!

    Which is all very well, but hardly worth posting, except that Google Search auto-corrected “Wir kommen in Horden” to “Wir kommen in Norden”. Which I suppose refers to 9 April 1940.

  63. David Marjanović says

    you’ve misquoted it

    My source improved it, you mean. 🙂

  64. Wir sind die wilden Horden,
    Wir plündern und wir morden,
    wir waschen uns nie,
    Hoch die Anarchie!

    Reminds me

    Tartarorum gens brutalis
    Spurca crucis cruentalis,
    Ursa, parda et leena,
    Carnes vorat ut hyena.

    Pulmentum, panes, legumina
    Non coquit, potum dant flumina,
    Sed sanguis pro vino sumitur
    Paratu brevi sic vivitur.

    Hec gens cruoris bibula
    Sitit semper ut situla ;
    Levis, ferox, incredula,
    Fugit ac reclit ut damula.


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