Justin E. H. Smith (a professor of philosophy whom I quoted here on Nabokov) has a nice essay called “Mushrooms and Literature” that begins: “Surely the single largest category of folk names for mushrooms is the one having to do with evil and death, and with the beings who bode and bring these…” I bridled at that, thinking “In English, you mean,” but he eventually addresses my point, saying “[R. Gordon] Wasson and his Russian wife, Valentina Pavlovna Guercken, argued in their monumental Mushrooms, Russia, and History of 1957 that the Indo-Europeans can be further subdivided into mycophilic and mycophobic cultures, with the Slavs standing as the clearest example of the former, and the Anglo-Saxons of the latter.” Russian does have some names “having to do with evil and death,” like мухомор [mukhomor], literally ‘fly-killer,’ for fly agaric, but most of them are descriptive, often relating to the trees or other botanical elements they are associated with: боровик Boletus edulus (also called белый гриб, ‘white mushroom’; these are the most highly prized by Russians): бор ‘pine forest’, подберёзовик Leccinum scabrum: берёза ‘birch,’ подосиновик Leccinum aurantiacum: осина ‘aspen,’ опёнок Armillaria mellea: пень ‘stump,’ моховик Xerocomus subtomentosus: мох ‘moss.’ There’s рыжик (Lactarius deliciosus) ‘little redhead’ and сыроежка (Russula) ‘eaten raw.’ Dahl, in his great dictionary, lists a great many mushroom names under Гриб ‘mushroom’ (the link goes to one of the many online versions of the second, bowdlerized, edition of his dictionary; unfortunately, nobody seems to have digitized the 1903-09 edition edited by Baudouin de Courtenay, which is by far the best but which was not reprinted in Soviet times because of its inclusion of “bad words”). Dahl has a brief but impassioned rant in his entry: “Ученые названия грибов несколько запутанны, а с ними и народные; школярство даже откинуло самое название гриб, а придумало переводные: пластинник и скважник; первому отвечает гриб, второму губа” [The scientific names of mushrooms are somewhat tangled/confused/complicated, as are the popular ones; scholasticism/pedantry has even rejected the very name grib (‘mushroom’) and has thought up transferred/translated ones: plastinnik and skvazhnik; the first means mushroom and the second tree fungus].

But I digress (as usual). Here’s a snippet from the essay itself:

Nabokov famously told the story of the Cornell student who beseeched him to divulge the secret of great writing. ‘Learn the names of plants’, Nabokov is said to have said. He surely did not mean the Linnean names (though those can help to add an extra flair of erudition); he meant the Russian-English-French names that turn the things into repositories of human lore and values and fears.

I’ve always found plants boring and have not managed to learn the names of more than a handful of them. I raced through Aristotle’s five books on animals, but could not bring myself to read his disciple Theophrastus’s Enquiry into Plants or On the Causes of Plants, which were supposed to complete the Aristotelian project of investigating the living world. Animals jump out at me, sometimes literally; they are phenomenally salient, as the cognitive scientists say, whereas plants just fade into the background. We might suppose it shows Nabokov’s great subtlety of mind that he picked them out for attention anyway (though we should follow up with the point that his greatest interest among living beings was for that most sensationally salient of creatures, the butterfly). Still, the advice is excellent, perhaps the best ever given in the history of literary instruction. Nabokov’s novels themselves (especially Ada) are vividly botanico-entomological, or, better, they are showcases for a sort of phyto-entomonymical mastery. Nabokov understood how to draw essences out of names; he understood that what makes literature live is precisely the theory of nomenclature, the philosophy of language, that had to be repudiated with the rise of modern science, one of the great achievements of which was the arbitrary naming scheme of the System of Nature of 1735.

(Via wood s lot [scroll down to June 06, 2011], and have I mentioned what a wonderful photographer Mark, who runs the site, is? That gorgeous shot at the top of today’s page, “St. Lawrence River,” is his, as is everything modestly labeled in light gray “photo – mw.” How does he find time for it all?)


  1. Surely the single largest category of folk names for mushrooms is the one having to do with evil and death, and with the beings who bode and bring these: Witch’s Hat, Death Cap, Destroying Angel, Poison Pie, Lead Poisoner, Corpse Finder, Witches’ Butter, Devil’s Urn, Goat’s Foot, Dead Man’s Fingers.
    Other names are identifications, by appeal to some other thing in nature or artifice, that the mushroom supposedly resembles (though for the most part does so only remotely): Chicken Mushroom, Fried-Chicken Mushroom, Rooting Cauliflower Mushroom, Black Jelly Roll, Moose Ears, Old Man of the Woods, Pig’s Ear Gomphus, Pretzel Slime, Scrambled Egg Slime, Blue Cheese Polypore.

  2. Dan Milton says

    How many of the names listed in the previous comment are folk names and how many are book names by authors who feel the need for an English name for every species?

  3. before anything else on mushrooms watch this wonderful discourse on Lenin as a mushroom. It came out in mid-80s, but is still widely remembered and referrd to. TV Presenter Sholokhov and musician Kuryokhin are the two interlocutors (in Russian).

  4. I can’t find the LH post comparing HG Wells story The Purple Pileus to Sorokin’s ‘Tobacco Pouch’?

  5. From Raminagrobis IV: “mélèze is such a beautiful name, as is the English ‘larch’, but to my mind’s eye the two cannot possibly designate the same thing.” An interesting point, and I find I have the same reaction—how can they be the same tree? (The etymology of mélèze is unclear; some think it’s from Latin mel ‘honey,’ others that it’s pre-Latin.)

  6. Awesome! The first thing which came to my mind was Chateaubriand (Onegin XXVI:
    Он иногда читает Оле
    Нравоучительный роман,
    В котором автор знает боле
    Природу, чем Шатобриан,
    А между тем две, три страницы
    (Пустые бредни, небылицы,
    Опасные для сердца дев)
    Он пропускает, покраснев.)
    and sure enough, Chateaubriand dominates Raminagrobis’s Chapter IV! (More on Chateaubriand and Pushkin here). I always thought that Pushkin, in the cited passage, took a swipe at myself, because I couldn’t ever write even a few paragraphs of a story without mentioning some plant or mushroom by name. Even in the dead of winter, there are all these leafless branches and dead stalks to recognize and to marvel at.
    Human inability to recognize trees baffles me to the day. Years ago, I even spent several days building up a realspace quest for the Americans eager to tell apart the different kinds of “pines” (where the Sun doesn’t e’er shine!)

  7. J. W. Brewer says

    I met Gordon Wasson at a master’s tea (possibly a New-Haven-specific sort of setting?) when I was an undergraduate in the mid-’80’s. It was really quite a bizarre experience because it was like being at your WASPy grandparents and some nice respectable elderly WASPy neighbor of your grandmother stopping by and holding forth in detail about his personal experiences with hallucinogen consumption (with the same constraint about not wanting to ask questions in front of grandma that appeared *too* interested or *too* knowledgeable).

  8. I promptly sent him a picture of an ash tree

    So now he’s able to recognise different trees from a very long way away?

  9. See “On Not Knowing The Names Of Trees”, by Raminagrobis (I, II, III, IV), a lengthy but worthwhile meditation on the issues.
    An English friend of mine once told me that not knowing the ash tree was his stock example of personal ignorance. I promptly sent him a picture of an ash tree and told him that as an Englishman he should be ashamed not to know Oak and Ash and Thorn. He, um, thanked me, er, suitably.

  10. Thanks to Sashura for the Ленин – гриб link. Brilliant. Don’t fathom how it had never come up on my radar before, since I’ve known about various other Kuryokhin absurdist hijinks for decades.

  11. it is, it’s from the heyday of Sholokhov’s programme in the 80s on channel 5 when Leningrad regional TV was brought to Moscow. Everybody stayed up late to watch and spent half of the next day discussing. Years later, in 96, when Kuryokhin died so suddenly people paying tribute to him recounted how baffled they were with the Lenin-Grib that starts as a popular science investigation and descends into complete absurdity Monty Python style with Sholokhov and Kuryokhin desperately trying to keep their faces straight. I wish someone could dub into English, but at least its there on YouTube.

  12. mycophilic and mycophobic cultures, with the Slavs standing as the clearest example of the former, and the Anglo-Saxons of the latter
    I have a Collins guide to indentifying edible mushrooms which, in the entry on Red Russula (Sickener – сыроежки), says ‘poisonous, but widely consumed in Eastern and Northern Europe’. In France, where pharmacists have a statutory obligation to identify (for purposes of edibility) mushrooms brought in by members of the public, I had serious arguments about mushrooms which they’d labelled ‘déconseillé’.
    I’ve seen claims that Russula and Rus – Russia are of the same origin, red-rusty-ginger. Is that plausible?

  13. Bathrobe says

    Are poisonous mushrooms common in Russia?

  14. oh yeah, fly agaris, death cap, the lot, dozens die every year through misidentification, but also I suspect because some non-poisonous mushrooms turn poisonous if chased with alcoholic drink.

  15. Re: poisonous, but widely consumed in Eastern and Northern Europe
    The real #1 edible mushroom of choice in many of Russia’s regions used to be not a porcini / borowik but the great груздь, long since hunted to extinction in most of Central Russia and hence nearly forgotten. As a kid in the 70s, I used to be treated to barrel-fermented грузди by a village granny in the remote North-East, they were unforgettable. But the real hoot is that the Latin name of this super-desirable species is … Lactarius nauseatus. Yeah, worse things happen if your culture’s got no clue how to prepare it right LOL.
    I noticed that mycology handbooks also pronounce Suillus spp. (slime jacks) edible “as a matter of principle” but yucky and totally undesirable 🙂 True, there is nothing particularly rare and bragging-worth about this ubiquitous genus, but hey, that’s exactly what’s good about it for the Russians, that you reliably find it like everywhere. We just opened our 2011 Suilli season three weeks ago … in Hawaii of all places!

  16. there is a proverb ‘called yourself a gruzd – jump in the basket’ meaning if you say you’re up for the job, you should take it, get on with it. By the 70s not only gruzdi became rare, but urban mushroom-pickers have lost the know-how of pickling them and often ignored the gruzd even when found. And the proverb got a new version ‘call yourself a gruzd – sod off!’ (1. назвался груздем – полезай в кузов; 2. назвался груздем – пошел на х–!)

  17. Love this line: “These are all just folk terms, and so, since the beginning of the 18th century anyway, are not the real names of anything.”

  18. BTW are the Russian words grib and gruzd’ cognate? The folk sayings Sashura just cited clearly use the two words interchangeably. And I was told that in some regions e.g. Bashkortostan) the villagers used to say “[poshli] po gruzdi” meaning “[let’s go] to pick edible mushrooms”

  19. without being pedantic:
    the Nabokov snippet refers to ‘plants’. May I be allowed to point out that ‘mushrooms’ (fungi) are not plants, but a group of living creatures (see Lenin example above) in their own right, a Kingdom, thus making the Nabokov reference, wonderful as it is, technically inapposite in the otherwise very good essay (just read it).

  20. For non-Russian-speakers curious about the Lenin-mushroom thing, Wikipedia has a brief account.

  21. Mockba,
    I think they are different. Grib looks like it’s from grebysh, grebeshok – comb (compare English combe as in wooded mountain ridge), and gruzd is probably from gruzdit/sya, gruditsya, gruzda, gruda – pile, heap, pile up, heap up, in ref to the mushroom growing in large clusters.
    Tatyana Tolstaya in Kys’ (Кысь) has magical post-nuclear war mutant chicken-like creatures caleed ‘gribyshy’. They can be poisonous, or can be v.good for you.
    Some mushrooms used as nicknames:
    Poganka – part of folk names of many inedible fungi and collective for all inedible ones. Figuratively means awful, nasty person.
    Smorchok (morels, morchella) – the slimy spring mushroom, fig. – someone small, insignificant, shabby, pitiful, or simply small.

  22. Thnx, Sashura, makes sense! Just for minor nitpicking:
    Morels couldn’t be called slimy, they have a nice soft skin. Their Russian name literally means “shriveled / wrinkled” and it sort of feels like the same word is used to characterize the wrinkled fruit body of a fungus, and an old shriveled person, kind of in parallel (rather then in a sequential way where at first a word would apply only to a mushroom, and only later to a person).
    Poganyj <= Latin Paganus (unworthy, degraded, originally referring to the pagan Mongol inviders and to their hated customs) is an even more clear case of a parallel application of the same concept to fungi and humans. In the latter construct it exists both in the feminine and masculine version (poganka / poganets), and only the feminine one has a “fungal equivalent”. So it’s far more likely that all these usages developed in parallel.
    BTW, are you in the UK somewhere? Planning my first ever visit there next month & wondering if I need local connections 🙂 !

  23. morels –
    of course, you are right! smorchok-smorshenny-morshina – wrinkled, shriveled, wrinkle.
    Are you sure about pogany – paganus? There is a stressed o in the noun pOgan’ and AH-ing the o-s, I think is the later, mid-Russian, Muscovite phonetical development. I know Vasmer disagrees, but I’d link it to gonyat’, pogonyat’, poganiva’t – to drive cattle or game, but also to drive away something, ergo something that needs to be driven away, got rid of, ergo pogan’, ergo pogany, poganka. No? Pagans were yazychniki. How old is paganus? Mb, Latin imported and adapted it from the East, prob via Slovenia, the meeting point of East and West.

  24. Mockba: no, I’m in Normandy, family just been to Londond, but I am not planning to go soon, sorry.

  25. John Emerson says

    Confucius also thought that it was important to learn the ancient names of the creatures of nature:
    Analects XVII:9:7. “From the Odes we become largely acquainted with the names of birds, beasts, and plants.”

  26. The “pagan connection” is common in most Slavic and Baltic languages, and it has already been there in Old Slavonic. In Latin it used to mean someone or something from the countryside, and only later (likely after IVc. AD) a polytheist (after the cities have become Christian, but the vestiges of the old beliefs still survived in the countryside).
    E.g. Russian Wiktionary
    Язычники (literally smth. like “speakers of languages”) is OTOH a Slavonic translation of Biblical goyim which the Greek texts translated as ethnoi ([other] peoples / languages), also implying pagans. A similar dualism exists in English too between “pagan” and “heathen”.

  27. PS: re: “New” folk names.
    I always felt kind of hobbled when I couldn’t find folk-style Russian names for the local wild edibles, and in the end I just made up some. Hope that these newly-invented folk names will, over time, get into dictionaries LOL.
    Some examples are наперстника = thimbleberry, or тетеревика = grouseberry.

  28. Are Finnish and Scandinavian mushroom names as phobic as generic W European names? They seem to share a mushroom and berry gathering culture with the Russians.

  29. Bathrobe says

    without being pedantic
    Apparently the fungi were only split off as a separate kingdom in 1969. When did Nabokov give his sage advice? If it was prior to 1969, then you are perhaps being proleptic in your comment.

  30. But, Nabokov said nothing about mushrooms — his advice was to learn “the names of plants”. Sashura (as I read his comment) (and apologies in advance Sashura if that should be “her comment” — I can never keep genders of blog commenters straight) is criticizing the application of this advice to mushrooms, which is occurring in the present day, well after fungi have been deemed a separate kingdom.

  31. Bathrobe says

    Well, I could say that he was referring back to the generality of Nabokov’s advice, which would have included the fungi as plants. But I’m not going to. Point conceded.

  32. And for god’s sage never refer to algae as a plant either. It’s safest not to refer to it as anything, because some algae are Protistae and some are Monerae.

  33. Which of god’s sages are we talking about now?

  34. thanks, Modesto, my point exactly, but it is a little technicality, the general point about learning the language of nature is v.good.
    I’m a he, Sashura (Sasha+Shura) is a diminutive for Alexander. Bunin has a Sashura character, Alexander Blok was called Sashura. In russophonia it goes for both, men and women.

  35. Can anyone put any detail around the Nabokov / Cornell student story? As far as I can see all web references derive from J.E.H. Smith’s two variants “Learn the names of trees” / “Learn the names of plants”. (And which was it?)
    Whichever it was, I feel Nabokov more likely meant “learn to tell the difference between things” than “discover the cultural treasures embodied in folk-names”. Why? Because the former conceivably makes original sense as writer’s advice, but the latter doesn’t. The latter, even if taken in a generously expansive sense, has something arbitrary about it – would pretty much boil down to “study cultural associations; do what Proust did with place-names”. Whereas the former would have a larger significance: first recognize what’s out there before you write about it. Something that remarkably distinguishes Nabokov’s writing – e.g. the lengthy taxonomy of different motels, or teenage girls’ clothing, in Lolita.

  36. Can anyone put any detail around the Nabokov / Cornell student story? As far as I can see all web references derive from J.E.H. Smith’s two variants “Learn the names of trees” / “Learn the names of plants”. (And which was it?)
    I’m guessing Smith is half-remembering, or summarizing, Nabokov’s rant in his Commentary to Eugene Onegin (page 9 of Part 2 [Vol. 3 of the 1975 ed.]):

    Among some fifty college students whom I once happened to ask (in planned illustration of the incredible ignorance concerning natural objects that characterizes young Americans of today) the name of the tree, an American elm, that they could see through the classroom windows, none was able to identify it: some hesitantly suggested it might be an oak, others were silent; one, a girl, said she guessed it was just a shade tree. The translator, when tackling botanical names in his author, should try to be more precise.

    This is a lead-in to his long discussion of the proper translation of the Russian words cheryomuha (which, “with its fluffy and dreamy syllables, admirably suits this beautiful tree, distinguished by its long racemes of flowers”—N. decides to invent the word “racemosa” to render it) and akatsiya (no, not “acacia,” you barbarian! he settles on “pea tree”).
    From page 17 of Brian Boyd’s Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years: “As a young father, Nabokov had always tried to open Dmitri’s eyes to trees, flowers, animals. He would quiz his son on the names of things, reacting with mock fury when the boy confused terms.”

  37. A fun article (though alas! it is missing its illustrations): A short note on erotic mushroom imagery in old and modern postcards from Australian Mycologist 18.

  38. cheryomuha is of course quintessentially Nabokovo-Sirinian, as in these breathtaking closing lines of a verse:
    Россия. Звезды. Ночь расстрела
    И, весь в черемухе, овраг
    There is bird cherry around here, superficially similar, but sorely lacking the unforgettable aroma of the Russian tree (and the taste of its barely astringent sweet berries too). Hardly anybody would be poetic about the bird cherry. Heck, it’s exactly the season to be nostalgic about creekside cheryomuhas at night, with a nightingale soloing in every tree … why did you have to bring it up, Language?

  39. Прошу извинения!

  40. The Modesto Kid, the PDF on the journal’s own web site has them.

  41. Thanks, MMcM!

  42. Darien: Surely the single largest category of folk names for mushrooms is the one having to do with evil and death, and with the beings who bode and bring these: Witch’s Hat, Death Cap, Destroying Angel, Poison Pie, Lead Poisoner, Corpse Finder, Witches’ Butter, Devil’s Urn, Goat’s Foot
    Why on earth are you including goats in your list? Are you mad? Goats have lovely little hooves (yes they’re hooves, not “feet”). I’m going to call a toadstool after you. Darien-The-Axe-Murderer’s Sexually Transmitted Disease, something like that.

  43. Good point, AJP.
    And when it comes to witches are we sure that we’re talking about Satan-Worshippers’ Butter, as opposed to Wise Women’s Butter?

  44. Oh yeah? How come these people talk about Foot Problems in goats? (Goats seem to have sensitive feet)

  45. It was Catanea who drew my attention to this unfairness.
    I suppose “feet” is ok, there’s coltsfoot after all, now I come to think of it. The problem for goats is their toenails. In normal circumstances they would be worn away on stoney mountainsides; if they live elsewhere, you have to cut their hooves every 4 weeks or so. It’s a bit like horses (but cheaper).

  46. Сатанинский (Boletus satanus) isn’t a folk name – rather, it’s a translation from Latin. The lack of a folk name isn’t surprising at all since it just doesn’t grow in the Russian heartland. Besides, since Russian edible mushroom lore is, understandably, based on pos-id (“know what you pick”), there is a relative shortage of folk-names for the inedible ones. The species which don’t deserve to be picked don’t really deserve to be known and recognized by their own names. At most, they may be called called look-alike impostors of the “real” choice mushroom.

  47. John Cowan says

    Boletus edulus

    Edulis is a third-declension (i-stem) adjective.

    Dutch elm disease reached the U.S. in 1930, whereas Nabokov didn’t start teaching at Cornell until 1948. If he actually saw an American elm out the window, it was moribund or dead. (The good news is that blight-resistant strains of Ulmus americanus were created in the 1990s and are now available commercially.)

  48. ktschwarz says

    Yes JC, the spelling of Boletus edulis in the OP should be corrected.

    This species has mostly been called porcini in English since the mushroom popularity wave of the 1980s, but it does have a native English name, penny bun, which for once isn’t about evil or death! Unfortunately though, this name doesn’t seem to have deep roots in English folk tradition. It wasn’t well-known enough to get mentioned in the linked blog post about Nabokov, nor in the first edition OED, though they did have the compound “penny bun” in the literal sense of a bread roll costing a penny; the mushroom sense wasn’t entered in the OED until the full revision of “penny” in the Third Edition, and even then with citations no earlier than 1951. I tried to antedate that, and failed, finding only a conventional comparison (“about the size and colour of a penny bun”) rather than use as a name before 1951. And this comparison was introduced apparently by English botanist Mordecai Cooke, whose book British edible fungi : how to distinguish and how to cook them (1891) urged the British, hey, they love this one on the continent, it grows here too, why shouldn’t we eat it? There are present-day foraging enthusiasts who use the name “penny bun” (e.g. Wild Food UK), but it’s probably not much found in stores or restaurants or cookbooks; one commenter at Separated by a Common Language’s big list of vegetables remarked, “Quite a few books cite the English name penny bun mushroom, but I’ve never heard this or seen it in cookery writings.”

    Japanese is another language where mushrooms can be named after their associated trees, as discussed under PORTOBELLO: shiitake, enokitake, matsutake.

  49. ktschwarz says

    John Cowan: “Dutch elm disease reached the U.S. in 1930, whereas Nabokov didn’t start teaching at Cornell until 1948. If he actually saw an American elm out the window, it was moribund or dead.”

    The death of the elms was much more prolonged than you are assuming. Efforts to contain the disease in the 1930s were de-prioritized during World War II and its spread accelerated, but there were enough elms remaining in many cities in the early 1950s to spur the desperate, delusionary DDT-spraying campaigns which would become the subject of Silent Spring.

    A response to Nabokov’s commentary from art historian Jim Elkins, born 1955, on elms in his childhood:

    Nabokov wrote this largely, I think, in Ithaca, which is my home town, and he wrote it right around the year I was born, living, I think, in a house very near my parents’ house. The notes are full of remarks on America and American students. … When I was growing up, elms hadn’t been decimated by the Dutch elm disease, and the ones outside the hall in which Nabokov taught had the characteristic ling [typo for “trailing”?] branches reaching to the lawn, as typically mid-century American a sight as it’s possible to imagine.

    (Possibly also of interest, Elkins read the entire four volumes “because I’m interested in footnotes, and especially in excessive footnotes”, and declares Edmund Wilson’s review to be “one of the world’s best book reviews”.)

  50. I haven’t read Silent Spring in a long time, but from what I heard, it sprang (heh) from Carson’s observations on spraying for mosquitos around Clear Lake, in California.

  51. ktschwarz says

    Spraying for mosquitoes was the initial impetus for the book, yes (the specific incident was actually in Massachusetts). There are also substantial sections on spraying for Dutch elm disease, and other pesticide campaigns. At the time of writing, Carson was still optimistic that Dutch elm disease could be contained by rigorously culling infected trees, but either that didn’t happen or it wasn’t enough.

  52. Is there any difference in meaning between “folk names” and “common names”?

  53. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Desultory googling indicates that the DED fungus reached Europe around 1920 in a cargo of lumber landed at Marseilles, but the elm population in Denmark did not get its death blow until the 1990’s. (I remember the hand wringing about trying to save some of them, but in the end they were all felled. I think the realization was that clearing the already dead ones would spread so many spores that it was hopeless to protect the living. And not clearing them would be dangerous and unaesthetic [and maybe other insects would then carry the spores anyway. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t]).

  54. I wondered once what made Europeans settle the Appalachians before coal became an economic mainstay. I learned that much of the economy depended on the bounty of the American chestnut, which chestnut blight ended in the early 20th century.

  55. ktschwarz says

    Desultory googling indicates that the DED fungus reached Europe around 1920 in a cargo of lumber landed at Marseilles

    Can’t possibly be right. In 1920 the disease was already widespread in the Netherlands, spurring the research of Barendina Gerarda Spierenburg, who published the first paper on it in 1921. Since Spierenburg reported discoloration diagnostic of the fungus in some tree rings as old as 1912, present-day phytopathologists believe that the fungus was already present in Benelux/northern France before World War I, spreading slowly, but not identified until after the war. The origin has never been pinpointed. Theories blaming it on Chinese laborers brought to France to dig trenches during World War I were unsupported by evidence.

    After the elm* (1979) Clouston, B., Stansfield, K., eds.
    “The Dutch Elm Disease in Europe Arose Earlier Than Was Thought.” Francis W. Holmes. Journal of Arboriculture, Nov. 1990.
    Dutch elm disease : the early papers : selected works of seven Dutch women phytopathologists (1990) (English translations by F.W. Holmes and H.M. Heybroek)
    Republic of Shade: New England and the American Elm (2003) Thomas J. Campanella

    *Caution: Wikipedia cites this book for a claim that “Dutch elm disease was first noticed in continental Europe in 1910”. The book does not, in fact, say this. (The statement was originally inserted in Wikipedia without any source; I suspect 1910 was a typo for 1920.)

  56. John Cowan says

    Kipling’s poem in praise of Oak and Æ and Þ is quite negative about elms:

    Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
       Till every gust be laid,
    To drop a limb on the head of him
       That anyway trusts her shade:
    But whether a lad be sober or sad,
       Or mellow with ale from the horn,
    He will take no wrong when he lieth along
       ‘Neath Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!

    The link above for the poem is broken (and it was not archived), but the text without the illustrations is available at The Raminagrobis posts are archived, and can be accessed by prefixing their URLs with “”. Pkease fix.

  57. @Y: Appalachia furnished timber to communities down the Ohio River all the way to New Orleans from the early riverboat era (1820s). In fact, the riverboats themselves were turned into timber at the end of their journeys.

  58. Pkease fix.


  59. @ktschwarz: That quote from Elkins is quite interesting, since he seems to be talking about elms with a weeping habit. There are several such variants, and although they do not have the classical look of elms, once prized in landscaping, the weeping varieties are apparently significantly less susceptible to Dutch elm disease than. The reason does not seem to have anything directly to do with resistance to the fungus, but rather to the fact that the bark beetles that spread the spores do not like feeding on the downward-trailing limbs.

  60. ktschwarz says

    cheryomuha (which, “with its fluffy and dreamy syllables, admirably suits this beautiful tree, distinguished by its long racemes of flowers”—N. decides to invent the word “racemosa” to render it)

    A spiritual brother of Boodberg, with his invention of alcedine!

    Cheryomuha has Slavic cognates and, per Vasmer, is also cognate with Lithuanian šermukšnis ‘rowan’. Vasmer also seems to think it’s conceivable that it has a common origin with Russian čeremšá ‘wild garlic’ (cognate with English rams, ramps, ramsons as previously discussed), but I don’t know, that seems like a stretch, even if the tree is known for having a strong odor.

  61. “пусть черемухи сохнут бельём на ветру” (ٍVysotsky to M. Vlady).

  62. “let cheremukhas dry white-MASS-INSTR on wind”

    where INSTR means “like” and a mass noun of white means “bedsheets and underwear”

  63. For a second I thought you were talking about cherimoya.

    (Which WP says comes from the Quechua for ‘cold seeds’: “Del quechua chiri, ‘frío, fría’, muya, ‘semillas’, puesto que germina a elevadas altitudes con temperaturas bajas.” Folk etymology?)

  64. “stretch”

    @ktschwarz, in Russian čerémuxa “Prunus padus” is just the same root as čeremšá and a productive suffix -uxa (cf. Old Russian čeremъxa, dialect čerémxa).
    (in a spelling that does not reflect é > ё, this alteration has to do with stress and the connection is still felt)

    The question must be addressed not to modern Russian but to proto-languages.

  65. *čermъxa

    ESSJa, “Prunus padus”:

    Slovene: črêmha, črêmsa, črênsa, črêns (masc.), črénsa
    Slovene: srêmsa, srâmsa
    Old Czech: třěmcha Czech: střemcha, třemcha, Czech dialect: čemek gen. čemku (masc.)
    Slovac: čremcha dialect: čeremcha
    Polish trzemcha
    Old Russian: čeremъxa
    Russian dialect: čerémxa, čerjomxa, čerjoma
    Ukranian: čerémxa
    Belorussian čaromxa


    Macedonian cremša, regional čeremuša “Prunus mahaleb”
    FYLOSC: srȅmza, dialectally crȅmza, crȅmža, crȅmša, srȅmža, srȅmsa, srȅmša and also meaning Prunus mahaleb
    Czech: dialectally also třemcha, čermucha, černucha
    Polish: trzemcha “hagberry”, trzemucha “ramson” (both displaced, “hagberry” by an Ukrainian loan czeremcha)

    *čermъša, čermъšь

    ESSJa, “чeрёмуха” (Prunus padus that is):

    Slovene: čèmž, čẹ́mž (masc.),
    Slovene: srêmša (fem)

    “Allium ursinum”:

    Russian: čeremšá,
    Belorussian: čaramšá,
    Slovene: čẹ́maž, črêmoš

    Wiktionary (apparently Allium ursinum):

    Bulgarian: čremoš (obsolete), pre-1945 črěmoš
    Macedonian: sremuš
    FYLOSC: srȇmuš, srȇmuša, srȇmuž, srȇmuža, srȉjemuš, srȉjemuša, srȉjemuž, srȉjemuža, crȇmuš, crȇmoš, crimuš, crimoš, crȉjemuš, crȉjemoš, crȉjemuša, crȉjemuž, crȉjemuža

  66. Comparanda ESSJa:

    Greek κρόμυον, κρέμυον “onion”

    AS hramsan “Allium ursinum” (pl.) Sw. Dan. Norw. rams, Eng. dialect ramsons, Scottish: ramsh, German dialect (Bav). ramsel,

    Irish creamh “garlic”

    Lit.: kermùšė “wild garlic”

    Lit. šermûkšnis šermûkšlė
    Latv. cērmaûkša, cērmukša, sērmauksis, sērmūkšs

  67. ktschwarz says

    čeremšá and a productive suffix -uxa

    Do you mean this this -уха, “Suffix used to form pejorative nouns”? All of the “terms suffixed with -уха” listed by Wiktionary are marked “colloquial”, “slang”, “disapproving”, “low”, or “offensive”, except серпуха ‘saw-wort’ (a flower); there’s also чернуха with two of its colloquial meanings being ‘black cumin’ and ‘mushroom Russula adusta‘, and all the rest are abstract concepts. Are you saying Russian speakers feel a connection between garlic and the bird cherry tree? That they think of the tree as “(pejorative) garlic”? I find that hard to square with Nabokov’s rhapsodic description, “A common and popular woodland plant in Russia, it is equally at home among the riverside alders and on the pine barren; its creamy-white, musky, Maytime bloom is associated in Russian hearts with the poetical emotions of youth.” And musk doesn’t smell like garlic.

    Also, this suffix would have to be productive as far back as Proto-Balto-Slavic in order to form an ancestor to all those ‘rowan’ and Prunus padus descendants. Any evidence for that? All of Wiktionary’s -уха words sound pretty modern.

  68. Lit. šermûkšnis šermûkšlė”

    Must be “šermùkšnis šermùkšlė“, sorry.

    ESSJa, corrected DeepL:

    It is quite obvious that IE *kermus is a derived word, where the element -us can already be distinguished a priori, purely typologically, as a suffixal precursor of the regular Slavonic -ъx-/-ux- (see *čermuxa). This case is remarkable because the IE derivational formant can be easily distinguished in the modern Slavic languages, while the root is obscured and only hardly etymologized (see below). Of course, the peculiar reactivation of the IE formant -us- > -ъx- on Slavic soil was promoted by the tendency of increasing the productivity of the Slavic suffix -ъxa/-uxа. Among the Balto-Slavic parallelisms we should mention the innovative appearance of the diphthong grade -us- > -ous-: Slav. *čermuxa, Lv. sērmauksis.

  69. @ktschwarz, yes, I meant this one. It’s modern version is stressed -úxa, but I am speaking about what a modern Russian speaker sees there. What it is is a different question, it seems it was čeremъxa (modern čeremxa) in Old Russian, and then it was replaced with čeremuxa.

    But I think “lesbuxa” (lesb[ian]-uxa) is a poor representative of it:-)

    As it happens someone noticed that it is productive in the low register, and declared that it must be pejorative.

  70. “fluffy”.

    My freind (Arabic L1) loves pochemuchka.

  71. “someone who often asks “почему?” (why [stones fall down, people are bipedal, why does she love it and why is it fluffy even for native speakers …]?)”,

  72. We still have elms in the great state of Utah. They still drop their branches and cause destruction. Today a couple feet of snow fell and a mighty side-trunk of an elm narrowly missed my roof.

    Completely off topic BTW but I came across a discussion of a Semitic borrowing in Egyptian which might possibly interest the LH ppl.

  73. Thanks, Dmitry. The full Nature article linked there, which focuses on severed hand osteology but also discusses the Semitic loanword, is here.

  74. It’s interesting that the Balto-Slavic cognates show forms both with Satem-outcomes of *kerm- (Lithuanian, maybe FYLOSC) and non-Satem outcomes (Latvian, non-FYLOSC Slavic). Maybe some loaning between IE dialects or some substrate was involved.

  75. ktschwarz says

    ESSJa translated by drasvi:

    It is quite obvious that IE *kermus is a derived word, where the element -us can already be distinguished a priori, purely typologically, as a suffixal precursor of the regular Slavonic -ъx-/-ux- …

    Thanks for the translation. Does that mean this suffix is really a lot more common than English Wiktionary shows?

    In the following paragraph ESSJa apparently cites the German “Faulbaum ‘черемуха’, literally rotten tree” as support for the theory that cheryomuha was named for having a strong smell. But actually Faulbaum is not this tree, it is a completely different tree, alder buckthorn in English. Maybe they had a bad German-Russian dictionary, or maybe it was a typo (or my misreading) and they didn’t mean to say it was the same tree, just that it was an example of a tree being named for its smell.

  76. But see the second paragraph in WP: “Die Gewöhnliche Traubenkirsche (Prunus padus) wird wegen ihrer brüchigen Zweige und ähnlicher Borke ebenfalls als Faulbaum bezeichnet.[1]

    No, it was DeepL, I just fixed the translation here and there….

    The suffix -úxa described in Wiktionary is much more common. The entry is just wrong.
    But I don’t know its etymology. I think -uxa mentioned in ESSJa is the same suffix.

  77. More DeepL:

    As for the identified root *čerm- (*kerm-), again, it cannot be characterized as a primary verbal or verbal-nominal root, but has the form of a derived suffixal nominal formation *ker-m-. It has been suggested that we have here the IE name of a worm, however, opinions about the motives of such nomination differ: a common IE name covering such different plants as bird cherry, rowan tree and garlic, onion, can only have a very general, capacious semantic base – something like ‘sharp, pungent’ (all these plants are distinguished by a strong smell), though in some particular cases the connection with IE *kr̥m-/*kerm- (Slav. *čьrmь, Lv. cḕrmе) ‘worm’ may have a more close and special character, if we have in mind, for example, maggots in moisture-loving cherry. Cf. to some extent the German Faulbaum ‘bird cherry’, literally, ‘rotten tree’.

  78. About modern -úxa:

    Enough to name the relatively recent (90s?) coinage dnyúxa “birthday”, from den’ “day”.
    It is not pejorative.
    Neither are so numerous older words like belúxa “beluga whale (white whale)” or medovúxa “mead, a honey-based beverage”.

    This suffix works in conjunction with -úshka diminutive. There is a category of deajectival formations like tolstúxa, starúxa “a fat lady”, “an old lady” (tolst- “thick”) which in 20th century were mostly replaced by diminutives. So their -úxa forms began to work as augmentative and accordingly in these specific words may sound blunt.

    Suggesting that a lady is Big and Rough rather than small/fragile can already be seen as a questionable idea by some – it goes agains gender roles, but when what you are saying in the root is that she is Fat…. you may want to soften the meaning somehow.

    If I say xoxotúxa instead of xoxotúshka, “a woman who loves to laugh” then I just say xoxotúxa instead of xoxotúshka.

  79. A close freind of mine (I call him Lesha [that is Lyóša], his sister calls him Lekha [that is Lyóxa]) calls his sister Katya Katyúxa rather than usual Katyúša.

    It is a genre of (supportive!) familiarity without diminution, like patting on the back. Note that x becomes š with palatalisation, often associated with diminutives (and softness…).

  80. ktschwarz says

    But see the second paragraph in WP

    D’oh! Don’t know how I missed that. Thanks. OK, if the tree is being called “rotten” because of brüchigen Zweige, then I think ESSJa is suggesting that the Russian word may not refer to its smell but rather could be something like “worm-eaten”?

    There’s a transparently smell-related name for Prunus padus in French, putier ‘stinky tree’.

  81. ktschwarz says

    Additional quotes from Nabokov’s commentary:

    Dictionaries usually translate cheryomuha as “bird cherry,” which is so vague as to be practically meaningless. … This racemose bird cherry lacks such a specific English designation (it has a few generic ones, all of them either uncouth or homonymous, or both)

    I guess by “vague” he means that “bird cherry” (= cherry that’s too astringent for humans, but tastes fine to birds) is also used for other subspecies or species in the genus Prunus, which would be unacceptably broad to him: see comment by MOCKBA above about “superficially similar” trees.

    The “uncouth” names that N. disdains to mention are hackberry and its older form hagberry, from Scandinavian, related to Norwegian hegg. Those Norse, so barbaric. But those names are also applied to completely different trees in North America, which would disqualify them anyway for Pushkin-translation purposes.

  82. Stu Clayton says

    if the tree is being called “rotten” because of brüchigen Zweige

    Anywhere else but on this blog, I wouldn’t bother to fuss about copyeditor conundrums of how, in an English sentence, to painlessly mix in bits of furrin. But DM points the occasional finger at such things for German, so I will too, by golly. Anyway, people who are persnickety about phonotactics should at least not be blind to, um, logotactics (syntactics?)

    Let me dismiss up front any argument in favor of “declining” the furrin, for instance when it is the “object of an English preposition” in the sentence, as in the current example. So, for NPs, let’s stick to nominative case and number as basic ingredients.

    <* reconsiders *> This bids fair to turn into a screed. So I’ll just say that “because of brüchige Zweige” would be less grating for me. Of course if you don’t know German that well, maybe you wouldn’t care.

  83. I find that hard to square with Nabokov’s rhapsodic description

    In my experience, the sweet fragrance of the blossoms of Prunus padus, wafting on the breeze from afar, is quite different from the general fetid smell of its twigs, bark, and wood. I wonder what the twigs and wood smell like if you put them on the fire.

    And at the entry for Old Lithuanian kermušis ‘ramsons (Allium ursinum)’ here, the online Altlitauisches etymologisches Wörterbuch also accepts that the Slavic words for Prunus padus belong with the group of the western IE words referring to ramsons (Irish creamh, Welsh craf; Old English hramsan, etc.; Greek κρόμμυον ‘onion’).

    ALEW also has a very detailed account here of Lithuanian šermukšnis ‘rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)’ and its cognates in Latvian dialects. According to ALEW, these Baltic words for rowan are not directly comparable to the western IE words for Allium ursinum and Prunus padus. However, the Latvian words may have been contaminated at some point by a lost reflex of an inherited word for ramsons (or maybe bird cherry?) cognate with Lithuanian kermušė̃ (also accented kermùšė)—the pillowy, cloudlike white blossoms of members of the genus Sorbus have a rank, unpleasant smell, apparently due to trimethylamine. It appears that standard Latvian word for ramsons is now laksis.

  84. I was interested by the German name Ahlkirsche for Prunus padus. What was the Ahl-, especially since it vaguely resembles allium and ail? (Cf. the material that Pokorny gathered here and here.) However, there is an explanation for Ahlkirsche offered in the middle of page 103 here.

    I wonder in what parts of the German-speaking world this name is used.

  85. Additional quotes from Nabokov’s commentary

    Nabokov is a classic case of “smartest boy in the class” syndrome. He was so convinced of his own genius it never occurred to him that many of his obiter dicta might simply represent his own preferences rather than a general law for all mankind.

  86. PlasticPaddy says

    Are words for alder like PG alizo or Finnish -aleppä possibly relevant?

    Going back to the PIE root, Wiktionary says this might be from substrate.

  87. John Cowan says

    Is there any difference in meaning between “folk names” and “common names”?

    Common names are standardized (like “red-winged blackbird” for Agelaius phoeniceus), or at least are targets of standardization; ideally, they correspond 1:1 with Linnaean names. Folk names are all the names that don’t get standardized.

    In fact, the riverboats themselves were turned into timber at the end of their journeys.

    I’ve been reading some well-researched novels set in the flatboating era recently. These were basically rafts or barges with a single oar in the back to make them steerable, but they went in only one direction: downstream. Keelboats, however, were more robust and could be rowed upstream (very slow and very hard work) or pulled by oxen (at the usual speed of One. Mile. An. Hour.) Most flatboatmen couldn’t afford keelboat tickets (it would have cut too much into their profits), so they had to walk back upstreeam, which took an average of three months.

    What really made flatboating take off was, ironically, the arrival of steamboats on the Mississippi-Missouri river system. They couldn’t yet compete with flatboats for “poles and pumpkins” cargo (as Twain calls it), but flatboatmen could afford steamboat tickets for the crew essentially for the price of their flatboats in New Orleans as timber. So whereas flatboatmen were originally just farmers bringing their own produce downstream after harvest and then getting back in winter, so only one trip a year, it now became possible for professional flatboatmen to make multiple round trips per year.

    We still have elms in the great state of Utah

    DED was first spotted there in the 90s and was established by 2003, so their doom is upon them. Nowadays elms are basically an urban-forest tree, where each and every tree gets injected with anti-DED poisons; the largest such forest in N.A. is Toronto’s. They also monitor all the trees and remove (and burn) any infested ones. Unfortunately, spraying for the beetles is not enough, because DED spreads from one tree’s root system to another without beetle intervention. Keeping elms isolated from one another, as they generally are in cities, helps stop the spread.

    Nabokov is a classic case of “smartest boy in the class” syndrome.

    Ouch. I resemble that remark.

  88. ktschwarz says


    “because of brüchige Zweige” would be less grating for me

    Thanks, I actually wondered a bit about that, but decided to just leave it — should’ve known better, especially here! Please imagine I added a footnote: “* May be unsatisfactory to German-speakers, feel free to suggest a better solution.” Or probably “because of its brittle branches” would be best; I wanted to make it obvious that it was from the Wikipedia sentence, but on reflection, that’s already obvious.

  89. PlasticPaddy says

    From Kurt Tucholsky, “Der Primus”
    In einer französischen Versammlung neulich in Paris, wo es übrigens sehr deutschfreundlich herging, hat einer der Redner einen ganz entzückenden Satz gesagt, den ich mir gemerkt habe. Er sprach von dem Typus des Deutschen, analysierte ihn nicht ungeschickt und sagte dann, so ganz nebenbei: »Der Deutsche gleicht unserm Primus in der Klasse.« Wenn es mir die ›Leipziger Neuesten Nachrichten‹ nicht verboten hätten, hätte ich Hurra! gerufen.
    So you come by it honestly “mütterlicherseits”.

  90. David Marjanović says

    Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
    Till every gust be laid,
    To drop a limb on the head of him
    That anyway trusts her shade:

    …huh. I thought the only place you had a reasonable chance of getting accidentally killed this way was Australia, where at least one species of eucalyptus apparently reproduces by dropping large limbs without warning. Supposedly called “widowmaker” or some such.

    It’s interesting that the Balto-Slavic cognates show forms both with Satem-outcomes of *kerm- (Lithuanian, maybe FYLOSC) and non-Satem outcomes (Latvian, non-FYLOSC Slavic). Maybe some loaning between IE dialects or some substrate was involved.

    That makes me suspect Weise’s law (*ḰR > *KR) in the zero grade (so, *ḱerm-, *ḱorm-, *kr̩m-), followed by morphological leveling in both directions and total confusion ever after. Balto-Slavic in general and Lithuanian in particular seem to have done that a lot.

    I wonder in what parts of the German-speaking world this name is used.

    No idea.

  91. Stu Clayton says


    Please imagine I added a footnote: “* May be unsatisfactory to German-speakers, feel free to suggest a better solution.”

    The immediately following comment by Plastic, with

    »Der Deutsche gleicht unserm Primus in der Klasse.«,

    explains why such a footnote would be ineffective. German princesses will have suffered bruises from the pea before they reach the footnote.

  92. Stu Clayton says

    @Xerib: there is an explanation for Ahlkirsche offered in the middle of page 103 here.

    For a different speculative derivation, see Ahlbeere in Duden:

    mittelniederdeutsch ālbēre, 1. Bestandteil vielleicht zu mittelniederdeutsch āl, zusammengezogen aus: adel = Jauche, nach dem unangenehmen Geruch der Beeren

    I can find no information on where in Germany this name might still be, or have been used.

  93. Owlmirror says

    ktschwarz quoted and editorialized above (April 1, 2023 at 7:35 pm):

    in which Nabokov taught had the characteristic ling [typo for “trailing”?] branches reaching to the lawn

    Surely a typoed “long” is more probable than a missing “trai”?

    There is another paragraph in that same essay that has a word that confused me:

    There is also the trademark precision of observation, especially when it comes to flashing lights. Of the “rainbows” cast on snow by the light of horsedrawn coaches (One : XXVII : 9, in Nabokov’s numbering of Eugene Onegin) he remarks: “My own fifty-year-old remembrance is not so much of prismatic colors cast upon snowdrifts by the two lateral lanterns of a brougham as of iridescent spicules around blurry street lights coming through its frost-foliated windows and breaking along the rim of the glass” (vol. 2, p. 110). Notice he is correcting Pushkin: the rainbows don’t form on the snow, you see them through the coaches’ windows; and they aren’t rainbows, they’re “spicules”; and note, Pushkin, that they break up along the rims of the glass–a detail you might have remembered, and which would have prompted you to be a bit more accurate.

    (bolding mine)

    I can find no definition in Wiktionary or the OED that suggests that “spicule” could mean some sort of optical phenomenon. Given that it means, generally, something sharp or pointed, cognate to “spike”, I’m not sure how it could be something that appears “around” lights — maybe some sort of spiky halo is meant?

  94. John Cowan says

    I’m pretty sure VN is talking about diffraction spikes, and he calls them spicules ad hoc because they are small.

  95. ktschwarz says

    Surely a typoed “long” is more probable than a missing “trai”?

    Possible, but I think “trailing branches” is more likely there since it’s a common phrase specifically for branches that reach downward.

    Brett mentioned that “elms with a weeping habit” are less preferred by the bark beetles. In addition, since Nabokov calls it *the* tree that could be seen through the classroom windows, it sounds like it was an isolated tree, which would be less at risk than those in rows along streets where the disease easily spreads between trees.

  96. Owlmirror says

    All the examples of diffraction spikes mention images seen or made through lenses. Would there be such spikes seen through ordinary glass?

    Maybe the glassmaking process used in that time period left enough defects and warps in the glass that lensing, and therefore diffraction spikes, did happen?

  97. So the stripes that you see when squinting at a light bulb have diffractional nature? Not just reflections from the cylindrical edge of your eyelid or eyelashes?
    (It is not that I have shortage of shamelessly diffractional phenomena when I squint, but…)

  98. @Stu, I don’t think it has to do with this usage, but after English of
    1. you may want to use the citation form when quoting a foreign word
    2. when you are code-switching, genive can be less unnatural for a native speaker

  99. Owlmirror says

    Also, I don’t think that Nabokov is correcting Pushkin so much as supplementing with his own experiences of optical phenomena seen from coaches on snow. Again, given old glassmaking methods, there might well have been a pane of glass in a coach lantern, perhaps pushed to just the right angle, which did refract and disperse light as a prism does, casting a small rainbow onto the snow.

  100. or the effect was intentional.

  101. Solar spicules are bright, short-lived jets of hot gas that shoot out sporadically from the surface of the sun. Nabokov may have been thinking of that meaning of the word, him being the cleverest boy in class and all.

  102. jack morava says

    From an online discussion:

    Those are not diffraction spikes. Diffraction spikes may appear somewhat similar, but they have an utterly different cause. (And they’re not really all that similar, either.)

    What you’re seeing is astigmatism. It’s one of the classical aberrations of optical systems, caused in this case by the fact that your eye’s lens isn’t perfectly spherical.

    In pure astigmatism, the lens is shaped somewhat like a cylinder, curved less along one axis than along the orthogonal axis. This kind of astigmatism is fully correctable by eyeglasses. Higher-level aberrations, which can also cause spikes, are harder to correct. Everybody has them to a greater or lesser extent.

    [eg me who has very bumpy eyeballs]

  103. I spent three hours trying to find my phone:( I found it together with my documents (and some flat electronical devices). Apparently I put it there because it was it was on my bed, as usual, and there were many other things there (including a cat) and general chaos around it and I thought it can be difficult to find it there so I put it in a Reliable place.

    Not unusual. When you put your diamond ring between potatoes and Cambodian textbook, half a year later you remember that you left it there, and that in September you was it there and it must be still there. But when you put it in its place in the chest (I have yarn and a machete there, and there is usually a cat atop of it, but let’s imagine it is a chest full of gems) it is like today.

  104. Always keep a cat. Whatever you’re looking for wil be under it.

  105. I was warned about this effect: whenever you are looking for something, irrespectively of the probability density function, you alway want to look under the cat. I resist the urge.

  106. Schrödinger’s glasses. They may very well be under the cat, but the measurement cannot be performed.

  107. @DM: is that kind of eucalyptus itself called a “widowmaker”? that would be neat! i only know the word as used for the soon-to-fall branches – there’s been one tenuously attached for about a year just above my reach in a street tree near my house, though it’s on the small side: more of a shoulder-bruiser than a killer.

  108. ktschwarz says

    Xerîb, thanks very much for the distinction between the fragrant blossoms and the fetid bark of Prunus padus. That makes sense. Thanks for the ALEW references also. I’ve just noticed that the etymological connection between cheryomuha and the “ramsons” words is also in Pokorny (#935). OK, this is supported by plenty of scholars who know infinitely more about it than me.

    Meanwhile, the Baltic languages need a name for Prunus padus, and it’s ieva, cognate with English yew; in Russian and some other Slavic languages the cognate word means ‘willow’.

  109. @ktschwarz, thank you for this. I like them and it never occured to me to look for cognates.

    Veirdly, iva feels as if it is meaningful name. No, I never tried to interpret it, it just feels so. I guess because of -va as in krapiva “nettle” (крапить is a verb).
    So supposedly iva is a three that eeeeeeeees:-)

  110. Or else it means: “a plant whose name has [i]”:-) I’m kidding, of course. The fact is that the word feels like a word which isn’t isolated from our derivational morphology and interacts with it somehow. I’m not confident that I felt so as a child. But all those interpretations are jokes by adult drasvi.
    крапить krapit’ “to speck[le]”)

  111. Are words for alder like (…) Finnish -aleppä possibly relevant?

    No, already because that’s a mis-segmentation: ‘alder’ is leppä, the names of both of the common species just happen to have a prepound ending in one or more -a: tervaleppä “tar alder” = black alder, Alnus glutinosa; harmaaleppä “gray alder”, A. incana.

  112. I’m grateful to DM for mentioning Weise’s law.

  113. “пластинник и скважник; первому отвечает гриб, второму губа”

    In modern usage mushrooms that have this under their hats are called пластинчатые.

  114. Ahlbeere in Duden

    Thank you for that, Stu Clayton.

  115. David Marjanović says

    That makes me suspect Weise’s law (*ḰR > *KR) in the zero grade (so, *ḱerm-, *ḱorm-, *kr̩m-), followed by morphological leveling in both directions and total confusion ever after.

    …further exacerbated by the extreme productivity of vr̩ddhi in (Balto?-)Slavic, deriving new full grades from zero grades.

    adel = Jauche

    Ha! At least in parts of Austria, adeln, otherwise “ennoble”, is still used for “spreading liquid manure over the fields” aka fertilizing the air.

    is that kind of eucalyptus itself called a “widowmaker”?

    That’s how I remember some TV documentary from 20 to 30 years ago.

    more of a shoulder-bruiser than a killer.

    That’s because it’s not in Australia, where everything kills you, except “the Giant Queensland Stinging Tree [a species of nettle] – it won’t kill you, but you’ll wish it had…”

  116. ktschwarz says

    Here’s a well-known passage about the folk-names of mushrooms (via an ancient Language Hat post on LANGUAGE IN O’BRIAN, linking to Language Log) from Master and Commander, in which Aubrey and Maturin are sharing their first dinner. Aubrey, the lovable galoot (standing in for the reader), needs to have it explained to him that the language on Minorca is not Spanish but Catalan, and Maturin discourses:

    ‘As different as Italian and Portuguese. Mutually incomprehensible — they sound entirely unlike. The intonation of each is in an utterly different key. As unlike as Gluck and Mozart. This excellent dish by me, for instance (and I see that they did their best to follow your orders), is jabalí in Spanish, whereas in Catalan it is senglar.’

    ‘Is it swine’s flesh?’

    ‘Wild boar. Allow me . . .’

    ‘You are very good. May I trouble you for the salt? It is capital eating, to be sure; but I should never have guessed it was swine’s flesh. What are these well-tasting soft dark things?’

    ‘There you pose me. They are bolets in Catalan: but what they are called in English I cannot tell. They probably have no name — no country name, I mean, though the naturalist will always recognize them in the boletus edulis of Linnaeus.’

    He’s right about no name in English: neither cep nor porcini nor penny bun had appeared in English at all in 1800, and only just barely by 1969, when the book was published.

    But I’m puzzled about the Catalan name. It was cepas in a British edition of the 1970s, but has been bolets in every edition from 1990 onward. At the same time, the old edition’s misspelling of senglar as sangler was corrected. However, according to dictionaries and Catalan Wikipedia, bolet is actually the word for mushroom in general, while cep or buixó is specifically Boletus edulis; cepàs is a known form with an augmentative suffix. So shouldn’t it be cep there, and not bolet? (I tried looking in the annotations and fan mailing lists, but got nothing helpful.)

    I hesitate to assume that O’Brian made a mistake with Catalan, since he lived in a part of France with Catalan roots. Could it be a regionalism, or a 19th-centuryism? This book has been translated into Catalan; I wonder what the translator did.

  117. Fascinating — I wonder if we’ll ever get an answer? (Once upon a time I would have said “We’ll probably never get an answer,” but years of getting answers to absurdly recondite questions here at LH have taught me to be less pessimistic.)

  118. Ktschwartz, Hat -I think I may have the answer (operative word here: MAY!)

    As ktschwartz pointed out above, O’Brian lived in a Catalan-speaking part of France: the local dialect of Catalan spoken there (undergoing language death, sadly) is known as Roussillonnais (rossellonès in Catalan): as the northernmost variety of Catalan it has a fair number of loanwords and calques from neighboring languages quite unknown to other Catalan dialects: from French (obviously), but also an older stratum of loans from neighboring Occitan varieties.

    I do not have a Roussillonnais Catalan dictionary at hand, alas, but I did a search of translations of French “cèpe” (the word for Boletus edulis) in various Occitan dialects/dictionaries -and it turns out that several Occitan varieties indeed use…”bolet” as the word designating this particular mushroom species. Including, crucially, some Gascon/Languedocian varieties (i.e. the Occitan varieties geographically closest to Roussillonnais).

    So: if Roussillonnais Catalan borrowed the word from (or narrowed/specialized the meaning of its indigenous word “bolet” through the influence of) Occitan (assuming for the sake of argument that “bolet” originally meant “generic mushroom”), then ktschartz’s first guess above (a regionalism) is probably correct.

    Incidentally, the “misspelling” of “senglar” as “sangler”, by contrast, probably has nothing to do with Roussillonnais Catalan phonology, but is simply due (I suspect) to the influence of the French word for “boar”, “sanglier” (It and the Catalan word are cognates, of course, both deriving from Vulgar Latin *SINGULARE).

  119. Fantastic, thanks! (For those unfamiliar with Catalan spelling conventions, the final -r in senglar is silent.)

  120. ktschwarz says

    Thanks very much, Etienne. If that was why O’Brian chose bolet, I would count it as a mistake, since Stephen Maturin was not from Roussillon but elsewhere in Catalonia.

    The word bolet also has some use in English; the OED created an entry for it in 2004, labeled rare but with scattered citations back to 1526, defined as “A boletus; a fungus of the genus Boletus”, and with a last citation from none other than Patrick O’Brian, as we see Maturin out hunting mushrooms at the opening of The Mauritius Command: “bolets of all kinds, blewits, chanterelles, Jew’s ears – and now, seeing a fine flush of St Bruno’s collops, he sprang from his horse, seized a bush, and scrambled up the bank.”

    (I’m doubtful of the OED’s decision to create bolet and bolete as separate headwords with different definitions, instead of one headword with slightly varying spelling and usage, i.e. restricted to genus Boletus by most but used more broadly by a few. I think it would be more helpful to combine them; I don’t believe anyone would use both and distinguish them as different words. One of the citations for bolete is from, hello again, Nabokov, of course looking down on the “timorous taste buds” of Anglophones.)

    But hey, blewits is a real English folk-name that isn’t about evil and death, and really existed in the 19th century to boot! Chanterelle, from French, is also documented by the OED in English before 1800. And from their last citation, I learn its Russian name:

    2013 N.Y. Times 6 Oct. (Late ed.) (Travel section) 5/4 There were mushrooms everywhere that morning—fields of orange trumpet-shaped chanterelles that Russians call ‘little foxes’.

    That’s Russian лиси́чка, for the color if I understand correctly?

    “St Bruno’s collops”, however, have not been documented outside of O’Brian; the suggestion on the fan mailing list was that he was trolling the readers with that one. He’s certainly skewering the mycophobic English who don’t know a good thing when they see it, teaching their children that mushrooms are all poison and throwing them away.

  121. I’m doubtful of the OED’s decision to create bolet and bolete as separate headwords with different definitions, …

    I agree. Indeed wiktionary merely says ‘bolet. Alternative form of bolete’. Although I’m a Brit, I’ve known of and eaten ‘bolet(e)’ — probably from rural markets in France. (Don’t think it would have been from Nabokov.)

    the mycophobic English who don’t know a good thing when they see it, …

    There’s a family story of an idiocentric spinster aunt, who on holidays would go out collecting mushrooms in the woodland. One time in deepest rural Suffolk, she came back with a variety nobody had seen before, claiming she knew you could eat them. (Of course no glossy illustrated reference books in those days.) Sautéed in butter, the smell also was suspicious. Everybody else balked. She was violently ill within an hour of eating them, and could keep nothing down for the whole week of the holiday.

    So it’s the ‘when they see it’ that’s problematic.

  122. January First-of-May says

    but years of getting answers to absurdly recondite questions here at LH have taught me to be less pessimistic

    This had sent me checking the Google results for my nickname within LH for whether I had ever been the one providing the answer.

    (I do recall something like that coming up at least once, when the question was sufficiently numismatical. I hadn’t yet checked enough Google results to either find it or confirm it hadn’t happened.)

  123. January First-of-May says

    Are you sure about pogany – paganus? There is a stressed o in the noun pOgan’ and AH-ing the o-s, I think is the later, mid-Russian, Muscovite phonetical development.

    IIRC there’s some evidence (mostly loanwords, IIRC one or two direct attestations from the western fringes, maybe some other stuff I don’t recall offhand) that Common Slavic *o was actually (still) /a/, or at least more like /a/ than *a was, at least as late as the early 9th century AD, despite being reflected as an O-sound in all written Slavic languages. (Presumably the relevant sound change happened in Very Late Common Slavic, shortly before the final breakup.)

    If anything it’s probably more surprising why it’s not **pogon?
    [EDIT: apparently Middle Common Slavic *o and *a were /a/ and /a:/ respectively, and Proto-Romance already merged Latin /a/ and /a:/ into /a/, but presumably the dialect that the word got loaned from made the stressed vowel longer.]

    AFAIK the Eastern Slavic reduction of unstressed /o/ to /a/ is indeed later and secondary, and IIRC even fairly narrowly areal despite making it into both Standard Russian and Standard Belarussian.

  124. David Marjanović says

    mostly loanwords, IIRC one or two direct attestations from the western fringes, maybe some other stuff I don’t recall offhand

    Mostly placenames, tons of them. Saloniki? Solun. Cattaro? Kotor. Conversely, Hinter-, Vorder- & Mitterstoder are from a pre-shift version of *studorъ “stony ground”.

    In some OHG source there’s a list of names, and one is Tagazino. That makes sense as *togo synъ, the son of the man preceding him in the list; if so, it shows the *ū > *y shift had already happened, but the rest had not.

    (…although, to be fair, German didn’t have an [ɔ] at the time, just an [o], so /a/ might still have been considered closer.)

    Presumably the relevant sound change happened in Very Late Common Slavic, shortly before the final breakup.

    …and well before the different outcomes of ToRT: the southern outcome, TRaT, makes sense if *a was still the long version of *o at the time. This also applies to Adriatic placenames: Arba > Rab.

    AFAIK the Eastern Slavic reduction of unstressed /o/ to /a/ is indeed later and secondary, and IIRC even fairly narrowly areal despite making it into both Standard Russian and Standard Belarussian.

    I’ve never heard a northern Russian dialect, but supposedly they’re famous for lacking this. (So does Ukrainian, which remains syllable- rather than stress-timed.)

  125. I’ve never heard a northern Russian dialect
    Southern Russian dialects also have okanye; it’s really only a central group that has akanye, but that zone includes Moscow and other historically important cities.

  126. John Cowan says

    apparently Middle Common Slavic *o and *a were /a/ and /a:/ respectively

    I think the best way to think about it is that in early Common Slavic we have a perfect vowel cube, where each vowel is some combination of ±hi ±frt ±long (h/t Ivan Derzhanski). Then things start to move (in no particular order):

    1) the -long vowels become laxed and the +hi -long vowels specifically become ultrashort and turn into yers, eventually to fall;

    2) the -hi -long vowels move up to /e/ and /o/, leaving -hi +frt +long counterpart of /e/ isolated as yat, eventually to move all over the lot;

    3) the -frt +long vowels centralize to /y/ and /a/;

    4) the +hi +frt +long vowel remains at /i/.

    That leaves all the ±long pairs with markedly different quality.

  127. Could anyone recommend a good overview of the history of Slavic vowels?

  128. David Marjanović says

    A simplified/slightly outdated overview is in this Wikipedia article which cites its sources.

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