I’ve just started Andrei Bitov’s Оглашенные (Catechumens or Possessed/crazy people, translated by Susan Brownsberger as The Monkey Link from the title of one of the parts), and I was stopped before I got well started by the image on p. 9, just before the first part of the book — if you’re on Pinterest you can see it here, labeled “Human Head: ‘Zupf dich selbst bey deiner Nasen’ [tweak yourself by the nose] — 1640s.” (I can’t find any more accessible images.) Below the bird biting the nose is a set of verses in German that I could only partly make out, so I googled a phrase that was clear to me and found the text here, under “Sich an (bei) der (eigenen) Nase fassen (nehmen, zupfen)”:

Wer selber weder Storch noch Strauß
Vil närrischer sieht als andre auß,
Doch jedermann weiß außzulachen
Die kleine Fehler groß zu machen
Der jedem kann die mängel sagen
Und allen Leuthen Blech anschlagen,
Der mag nur seine Federn rupfen
Und selbst sich bey der Nasen zupfen.

But I was immediately distracted by the site I was on — what was “Slovopedia”? I went to the main page and found a slew of links to German dictionaries — but then I noticed a link to the true main page, in Russian, and found a slew of links to Russian dictionaries, as well as sidebar links to comparable pages for Ukrainian, Belorussian, Georgian, and Kazakh. What a treasure trove! I’m adding it to the sidebar.

The Bitov doesn’t thrill me, by the way; I’ll probably drop it for now after the first part.


  1. Good find!

    If you want Arabic dictionaries, Hawramani is rather comprehensive…

  2. Following a long chain of links earlier, I eventually discovered that Wikipedia and a number of other online sites have apparently settled on spelling “Kievan Rus’ ” with a terminal apostrophe.

  3. David Marjanović says

    Wer selber weder Storch noch Strauß
    Vil närrischer sieht als andre auß

    That’s hard to parse, but I think I’ve got it: the only problems are 17th-century punctuation and poetic word order, and it means “those who look much more foolish than others, [being] neither storks nor ostriches themselves”, storks and ostriches perhaps being tall and elegant or something.

    (Also 17th-century grammar – kleine would be kleinen today in this environment.)

    Blech anschlagen “attach sheet metal to someone, apparently with a hammer and perhaps nails” must be an idiom, but I’ve never seen it before. But in context it must refer to unfair criticism, bolstered by Blech reden “talk nonsense”.

    “Junk”, “scrap metal” is Schrott, though.

  4. David Marjanović says

    terminal apostrophe

    That represents the (nowadays) diacritic letter at the end of Русь.

  5. I’ve already tried to correct some quotes from Slovopedia (in quoted comments here and on language log, not on slovopedia itself), when they are related to where the stress on Bulgarian words was misplaced, usually when quoted on language log. The last one was quoted here, though, but the comment didn’t come through. I can’t remember which one it was, though, and it was inconsequential. I think it was the HTML tags I used to link to it that didn’t get parsed correctly.

  6. PlasticPaddy says

    If you go back to the Slovopedia entry you see that the poem refers to a “meme” of Vogel-Selbsterkennung, so that is what the bird references refer to primarily, but you could be right, i.e. the particular birds could be associated with particular individuals or families, qualities, political movements, etc.

  7. Stu Clayton says

    But in context [Blech anschlagen] must refer to unfair criticism

    Frühneuhochdeutsches Wörterbuch

    # 5. phras.: jm. ein blech(lein) anschlagen, anhängen ›jn. ins Gerede bringen, zum Gegenstand des Gespötts machen‹.#

    Exposing someone to ridicule is not automatically “unfair”. Except in these woke times, possibly – with exceptions made when Republicans are on the receiving end, natch.

  8. Sorry, I just remembered: the stress on the variations of “мрак” in Bulgarian is what bothered me in the earlier Slavopedia quites in one of the earlier comments.

  9. David Marjanović says

    Frühneuhochdeutsches Wörterbuch:


  10. With somebody like PlasticPaddy or David Marjanović it’s easy to search for and rescue comments consigned to the spam file; with one-letter monikers like V and Y, I’m afraid it’s impossible.

  11. It was “мракъ” with a stress on the ‘ъ’ in the quote, dude.

  12. The only time мракъ has turned up in a LH comment is here; it isn’t in the spam folder. I don’t know how to put a stress on the ъ.

  13. That’s the one, thanks.

    > болг. мракъ́т

    The stress is never on the definite article: in this case “ът” is a “full” definite article, indicating a subject, rather than an object. The stress is never on the definite article.

  14. V, in Russian we have two words: continuation of Old Russian морок and a Slavonic loan мрак.

    From Vasmer’s perspective the former is more interesting (because it is not a literary loan). In Bulgarian you too have borrowings from Slavonic books, though telling them from vernacular continuations of spoken Old Bulgarian must be harder. Yet for Old Slavonic Vasmer already gives the Slavonic form (мракъ).

    It is likely that he looked up the word in Bulgarian dialect dictionaries to give a “Bulgarian” form. Can there be such a form as мракъ́т (without the article) in dialects? In Български етимологичен речник they mention мракотиа “мрак, тъмнина”…

  15. dravsi: you got the wrong page in a hilarious way — they’re quite close alphabetically. Let me get my bearings for a minute. I’ll post again in five minutes. EDIT: мрак and тъмнина was what I wanted to use in the first place.

  16. It is still reassuring that Bulgarian has this word:)

  17. dravsi: we’re reading them 😀 What does мракам (not spelled like that in modern spelling) mean in your opinion: still in very often use in modern Bulgarian as slang. hint: мрѫкам. Last one.

    EDIT: four minutes.

  18. Here’s another printing, with discussion:

    Jahrbuch für historische Volkskunde. v.2 1926, S. 144 (illustration 7)
    Deutschen Vorlagen zu Russischen Bilderbogen des 18. Jahrhunderts, S. 126-173.
    Wilhelm Fraenger.

  19. Thanks, that’s much better than my Pinterest link, plus it also has another similar print (with Slavic underneath) that’s used later in the book.

  20. dravsi: a “factoid” I like to share is that “юноша”* (teenager) was borrowed from Middle Bulgarian into Russian, and then from Russian into Modern Bulgarian.

    Anyway, мракам, normally мрѫкам, modern spelling мрънкам means what it says in the document, but the modern sense is to whine or drone.

    > Can there be such a form as мракъ́т (without the article) in dialects? In Български етимологичен речник they mention мракотиа “мрак, тъмнина”…

    I’ll check that out.

    *It was on an old “юност” brand TV that I first played NES games like Super Mario and Contra on — yes, I played them in monochrome, the colour TV set was for the adults. Before that, during the scheduled staggered power outages in ’90-’92 we rigged the car’s battery to watch TV on it, and a small lightbulb. We were also cooking on gas then (which I still instinctively think is dangerous to do inside — not when hiking — despite the delicious possibility of making wok-cooked dishes.)

  21. dravsi: you are right; in it entry for “мрак”, “мракотия” is mentioned, and, as I suspected, from the extreme (not coastal) southern Rhodope region around Smolyan, and also Pirdop (just south of the Balkan mountains, but north of Sredna Gora). I suspected both those and extreme southern macedonian — the part that is now part of Greece, just south of Belasitsa, which, incidentally has the most phonological diversity in the continuum. South of Belasitsa alone has half the phonological diversity of the rest of the continuum and south of the Rhodopes is not that bad either.

  22. David Marjanović says

    With somebody like PlasticPaddy or David Marjanović it’s easy to search for and rescue comments consigned to the spam file; with one-letter monikers like V and Y, I’m afraid it’s impossible.

    Y could always emigrate to Kashyyyk and become YYY…

  23. I’m afraid YYY also occurs in lots of spam comments (as part of URLs).

  24. languagehat: I think David Marjanović was making a reference to a certain song*, a certain planet from Star Wars lore: “Kashyyyk,” and the typical sound Chewbacca makes when speaking his language, and Y’s monicker and combining them into a “pun”? Or I might be wrong.

    *by The Kelly Family.

  25. As far as I can see, he was just suggesting tripling the Ys in homage to Kashyyyk. But only he knows for sure.

  26. Kashyyyk previously at LH (also courtesy of DM).

  27. David Marjanović says

    There’s a song? But I’m not surprised that if there’s one, it’s by the Kelly Family, because of reactions to them like this graffito I saw long, long ago:


    …seriously, I’m not a normal human being, as far as the last 70 years in the First World are concerned. I… don’t listen to music. I’m not a fan of any bands or individual singers. I don’t have playlists. My life doesn’t have a soundtrack.

  28. I got drunk once with Ben Kingsley. That was strange: we just met at at a bar. His minder was drinking at the back of the bar, and I didn’t even recognize him.

  29. > I’m not a normal human being
    you are a perfectly normal human being in need of help.

  30. David Marjanović says

    No, that’s too easy. I do have a taste in music, but it’s a few hundred years out of date for the most part, and… I don’t listen to classical stuff either.

    I did once go to a concert where Ennio Morricone conducted a performance of some of his compositions. I was rather disappointed by the selection of works, and so was a loud voice in the audience… Still, I’m a bit sad I missed the next and literally last ability to hear him conduct. That’s it, though. That’s the extent of me seeking out music.

  31. You’re in good company:

    “Music, I regret to say, affects me merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds. Under certain emotional circumstances I can stand the spasms of a rich violin, but the concert piano and all wind instruments bore me in small doses and flay me in larger ones.”

    ― Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

  32. PlasticPaddy says

    Des Pfaues bunde [sic] Federn
    Tun großen Beyfall givinen [sic];
    Sieht er die schwarzen Füß’,
    Läßt er den Schweif dan sinken [sic].

    = The peacocks colourful feathers
    Win great applause;
    If he sees the (i.e., his) black feet,
    Then he puts his tail down.

  33. David Marjanović says

    Almost accurate, and dates the arrival of the Inderior German Gonsonand Weagening in Augsburg to the 18th century at the latest.


    No, g’win̄en.

    You’re in good company:

    Interesting, but that might be the opposite condition. What I hate is when the tune is just a side-effect of the rhythm. I want it the other way around.

  34. What do you think about Annie Lennox and David Bowie’s rendition of Under Pressure? I was really interested in Freddie Mercury’s usage of non-English words in Bohemian Rhapsody, when I found out what they meant. I wonder if the onomatopoetics in Under Pressure signify something. Someone’s probably already researched that.

  35. Perhaps just the sounds of slaying the dragon in the sea.

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