I’m reading Pushkin’s Povesti pokoinogo Ivana Petrovicha Belkina (Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin), and towards the end of the first story, Vystrel (The Shot), an aristocrat is recounting an episode from his past and says, “Pyat’ let tomu nazad ya zhenilsya. – Pervyj mesyac, the honey-moon, provel ya zdes’…” (Five years ago I got married. – The first month, the honeymoon, I spent here…) The phrase “the honey-moon” is in English in the original. It’s quite striking to me that a story written in Russian in 1830 would use the English word; I would have thought that if a foreignism were wanted, it would have been the French lune de miel. Is this an idiosyncrasy of Pushkin’s, or does it reflect something about the history of the word or the concept? I will have to look into it further.


  1. V.V. Vinogradov sheds some light on the phenomenon —

  2. Excellent detective work – I’m lucky to have such a dedicated crew of readers! For those who don’t read Russian, the linked article (found in MS among Vinogradov’s papers) says that the phrase was just coming into vogue at the time, in both French and English forms, and soon became naturalized in Russian (medovyi mesyats) so that Gogol uses it as a known element of the language. Many thanks, E.!

  3. Interesting! Thanks to both of you for bringing this up.

  4. Ah but it is not a “story written in Russian in 1830”, it is a story written in Russian in 1830 by Alexander Pushkin.

  5. I have read the translated work of Pushkin’s ”

  6. Reminds me that in The Saragossa Manuscript (a Polish movie set in Spain during the Napoleonic wars and earlier) I heard what sounded like the English word nonsense.

  7. The link to Vinogradov above is broken; here’s a working link.

    French lune de miel is generally thought to be calqued from English; it’s definitely attested much earlier in English (mid-1500s) than French. The first known appearance is in Voltaire’s Zadig (1747):

    Zadig éprouva que le premier mois du mariage, comme il est écrit dans le livre du Zend, est la lune du miel, et que le second est la lune de l’absinthe.

    … though I would bet that there’s no such thing in the Zend, Voltaire just made it up, and all later references to this as an “old Persian saying” are urban legends that can be traced back to Voltaire. (If that’s wrong, this is the place to find out.)

    Despite the popularity of Voltaire, the expression lune du/de miel didn’t catch on in French at the time; the next use, as far as Hathitrust knows, is in a translation of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, from 1789. In English:

    I was more than once nearly chok’d with gall during the Honeymoon…

    But the French translator thought the phrase needed explanation:

    Le premier mois du mariage, que Mahomet appelle la lune de miel, je n’ai trouvé qu’amertumes.

    “Mahomet” is probably a garbled echo of “Zend”. There’s also a figurative use:

    Mr. and Mrs. Honeymoon were at last become mere man and wife.

    which the translator couldn’t make work, and just substituted an arbitrary name:

    Mr. et Madame Céladon, ces époux si tendres et si fideles pendant le premier mois, ne sont plus que mari et femme comme tous les autres.

    So clearly it wasn’t a familiar phrase in 1789. But after 1800, the references start accelerating; in 1826 there was a vaudeville comedy called La Lune de miel, although some theater critics still explained the title. Still, there were a lot more hits for “honeymoon” in English during 1820-1830 than for “lune de miel” in French during that time, so in fact it’s not at all surprising that Pushkin got it from English.

    What does surprise me is that French and Russian didn’t already have their own phrases. And Spanish, Italian, Polish, and a lot of other languages also seem to have calqued “honeymoon”. There are a few languages with independent phrases, e.g. Danish hvedebrødsdage (wheat bread days).

  8. kuherruskuukausi


    kuherrus +‎ kuukausi


    1. A honeymoon (period of time immediately following a marriage).
    2. A honeymoon (period of unusually good feelings).



    kuhertaa +‎ -us

    IPA(key): /ˈkuherːus/, [ˈkuɦe̞rːus̠]
    Rhymes: -uherːus
    Syllabification: ku‧her‧rus



    1. billing (stroking bill against bill)

  9. Lars Mathiesen says

    Swedish has smekmånad, same idea as Finnish. Danish has not bought into the idea yet, we use bryllupsrejse ~ ‘wedding trip’ for the custom where you go away alone together (also included in the sense of the Swedish). But for the idea of a month of harmony before reality hits I don’t think there’s anything except the English word — and in Danish usage even that’s generally aligned with the idea of 2 weeks all inclusive at Phuket Beach.

    EDIT: I’m just reminded of hvedebrødsdage which is pretty archaic but does carry the idea of things being sweet all over. I’m not sure YPNAD use it, though.

  10. Is hvedebrød sweet? Not just “wheat bread”?

    I tried searching for definitions and found one translation pair where “at give bagerbørn hvedebrød” (lit. give the baker’s children hvedebrød) was translated “carrying coals to Newcastle”. It was also in the Joseph story, Genesis 40:16, where the baker dreams that on his head were three baskets of bread/white bread/pastries/cake in English translations, or Hvedebrød in Danish.

  11. Lars Mathiesen says

    Rye was the main staple in Denmark (and potatoes), because growing conditions, and wheat bread was a luxury. But maybe a daily thing for bakers’ children. I’m told that in parts of Jutland, wheat bread is still kage ‘cake’ and not brød. (Personally I don’t find a good sourdough wheat bread to be sweeter than rye, and in practice all bread was sourdough until Carlsberg made pure yeast cultures practical around 1885, but tastes differ).

    For sweetened bread, go to Sweden. Seemingly they started adding sugar beets to bread during WWI to save on imports, and never stopped. Unsweetened black rye was not in regular supply when I lived there, but what there was was a rebranded Danish product. But that’s too late to affect Bible translations, of course.

  12. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Not quite arbitrary – Céladon is the name of a famous lover. But a way of working around a reference that doesn’t exist in the target language.

  13. Thanks as always for the superb detective work, ktschwarz! And of course Voltaire made it up, it astonishes me that anyone would take such a throwaway line seriously. I guess they were pretty credulous in the 18th century.

  14. Trond Engen says

    Swedish bread is a perversion.

    In Norwegian we say just “gi bakerens barn (or “bakerbarna”) brød”.


    Mr. and Mrs. Honeymoon […]

    which the translator couldn’t make work, and just substituted an arbitrary name:

    Mr. et Madame Céladon […]

    That looks very much like a pun, but I don’t get it.

  15. Trond Engen says

    (Drove a houseguest to the railway station and forgot to update the page.)

  16. Céladon was discussed at LH in 2008 (here and in following comments).

  17. German has Flitterwochen – nowadays mostly plural and understood as getaway vacation after the wedding, but Grimm shows that a singular Flitterwoche also existed. The first element meant “laugh”, so the compound means “week of laughter / joy”.

  18. John Cowan says

    billing (stroking bill against bill)

    Honeymoons are indeed a time for billing and cooing, or as Groucho said to Margaret Dumont[*], for bulling and cowing.

    [*] One of the greatest straight-woman actresses of her day, to the point where observers wondered if she even got his innuendos. She did, and enjoyed them thoroughly without ever showing it.

  19. Rye vs. wheat: Thanks, that explains why the “wheat bread” phrase is Danish/Norwegian/Icelandic and not elsewhere.

    Céladon: So it *is* a clever translation! Thanks, I thought celadon was just pottery!

    credulous in the 18th century: not that they’re any less credulous now, but at least it’s proof that silliness didn’t begin with the internet. The waters are muddied by the fact that there is *now* a Persian phrase mâh-e ‘asal (mâh cognate with moon, ‘asal ‘honey’ borrowed from Arabic) used for a vacation by a newlywed couple; the question is whether the phrase and custom are old, or recent borrowings from the West. Anyone know how to find out?

  20. Lars Mathiesen says

    Carrying coals… — I don’t remember seeing the phrase about the baker’s kids in the wild, current usage will be som at sælge sand i Sahara. Though that has the flavour of a hopeless commercial enterprise, I don’t know if the English phrase does — the wheat bread one is more about expecting people to be thankful for something they don’t feel a need for. Popular before Sahara was gå over åen efter vand = ‘crossing the stream to get water’ which is in the same genre, but more about expending more effort than is reasonable.

  21. I don’t know if the English phrase does

    Yes, that’s the whole point of it. OED:

    P7. to carry coals to Newcastle and variants: to supply something to a place where it is already plentiful; (hence) figurative to do something wholly superfluous or unnecessary.

    [1606 T. Heywood 2nd Pt. If you know not Me in Wks. (1874) I. 259 As common as coales from Newcastle.]
    a1614 tr. A. Melville Let. in J. Melville Diary (1829) 114 Sic a mater nather does the Kirk ciuilie, nor the Counsall or Parliament ecclesiasticallie, intreat ἀλἰα γλαυκας εις Ἀθηνας—Salt to Dysert, or colles to Newcastell.
    a1661 T. Fuller Worthies (1662) Northumb. 302 To carry Coals to Newcastle. That is to do, what was done before, or to busy ones self in a needless imployment.
    1749 H. Fielding Tom Jones II. viii. iv. 191 You are too wise a Man to carry a broken Head thither; for that would be carrying Coals to Newcastle.
    1822 W. Scott Let. 10 Feb. (1934) VII. 62 It would be sending coals to Newcastle with a vengeance not to mention salt to Dysart.
    1948 Times 21 July 5/4 Subscribers to the London Library are having parcels [of books] sent to them in Oxford. Coals to Newcastle can seldom..have had so cultural an application.
    1993 Independent on Sunday 4 Apr. (Business section) 36/2 Among the clients we supply is Sony Music in Japan—a classic example of carrying coals to Newcastle.

    N.b. “salt to Dysart” has nothing to do with “sand i Sahara”; Dysart is a town in Fife (now a suburb of Kirkcaldy):

    During the middle of the 15th century, trade with the Low Countries began for salt and coal exportation. In the 16th and 17th centuries, trade expanded to the Baltic Countries. Dysart acquired two nicknames: “Salt Burgh” and “Little Holland” as a result.

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    “Don’t carry coals to Newcastle” in Kusaal is

    Ba pʋ nɔkid na’abinni lɔbigid naafɔ.
    “They don’t throw cowshit at a cow.”

  23. Lars Mathiesen says

    “Owls to Athens” is nicely alliterative in English.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Eulen nach Athen tragen is in actual use in German. (Final stress on Athen, with /eː/ as if by monosyllabic lengthening.)

  25. John Cowan says

    And neatly subverted by owl being the word for Athens’s coins in ancient times (it is Athena’s bird). Athenians were indeed happy if you brought owls (silver coins) there.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the honeymoon weren’t in fact a turn-of-the-18C invention. As Mencken said, before then even (European) kings lived like hogs, and almost nobody could afford any time-off period extending past the wedding breakfast. Besides, what’s the point of taking a trip to the next village over, where everything is the same except that the people there hate you?

    As for shipping coal up the Tyne, see Dorothy Parker’s poem, along with Timothy Dexter’s windfall profit on the same page.

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