I’m almost finished with the Oksana Zabuzhko novel I mentioned here, and it not only makes me want to study Ukrainian, it got me interested enough in Ukrainian history to buy Paul Robert Magocsi’s A History of Ukraine. I remember when the first edition came out and I saw it in a bookstore near Rockefeller Center, where I worked; I was tremendously impressed, but $35 was way out of my price range, so I just paged through it admiringly. Fortunately, Amherst Books had a used (but unmarked) copy for $10, which happens to be exactly my limit, so I grabbed it. (There is a new edition from 2010, but at $54.95—used copies from $42.72—I’m not even going to waste time thinking about it.) Not only is it comprehensive (784 pages) and well written, it has a wide scope (“While this book also traces the evolution of ethnic Ukrainians, it tries as well to give judicious treatment to the many other peoples who developed within the borders of Ukraine, including the Greeks, the Crimean Tatars, the Poles, the Russians, the Jews, the Germans, and the Romanians”). The Amazon page has a quote from Nicholas Riasanovsky’s review that so succinctly sums up some of the book’s virtues that I’ll just reproduce it:

Professor Magocsi overcame these [problems associated with writing history texts] and still other difficulties extremely well, indeed at times brilliantly. His forty-two unobtrusive, usually page-long maps establish a better graphic setting for history than any other textbook I am acquainted with, thus confirming the distinction the author had already earned with his historical atlases. A remarkable, quite unusual, and very successful aspect of the book is the daring inclusion right in the text (although on a distinctive light grey rather than white background) of numerous documents, eyewitness accounts, and other primary sources as well as occasionally some more specialized explanatory material. The marvel is how well these insertions blend with the basic narrative and support it.

One of those light-gray insertions is an essay on “The Meaning of Rus'” that I’ll quote here to give an idea of the magisterial thoroughness and impartiality with which he discusses contested topics:

Whereas controversy continues to rage over the origin of the term Rus’, there is some consensus as to how the term came to be applied to the territory and inhabitants of the Kievan realm. Initially, the term Rus’ was associated with the ruling Varangian princes and the lands under their control. This meant, in particular, the cities of Kiev, Chernihiv, and Pereiaslav together with the surrounding countryside. The lands within this larger Kiev-Chernihiv-Pereiaslav triangle become the Rus’ land par excellence.

Beginning with Volodymyr the Great in the late tenth century and, especially, Iaroslav the Wise in the eleventh century, there was a conscious effort to associate the term with all the lands under the hegemony of Kiev’s grand princes. To the concept of Rus’ as the territory of Kievan Rus’ was added another dimension by the Christian inhabitants’ description of themselves collectively as Rus’ (the singular of which term was rusyn, sometimes rusych). Nevertheless, while political and cultural leaders from the various principalities (Galicia-Volhynia, Novgorod, Suzdal’, etc.) may have spoken of their patrimonies as part of the land of Rus’, they often referred to Rus’ as simply a roughly triangular area east of the middle Dnieper River surrounding the cities of Chernihiv, Kiev, and Pereiaslav.

Following the end of Kievan Rus’ in the second half of the fourteenth century, the successor states which fought for control of the former realm often used the term Rus’ to describe all the lands that had once been under Kiev’s hegemony. The Lithuanians claimed for themselves and conquered what they described as the Rus’ lands from Polatsk and Smolensk in the north, to Volhynia and Turaû-Pinsk in the center, to Kiev, Chernihiv, Pereiaslav, and beyond in the south. Analogously, the Poles designated Galicia, their mid-fourteenth-century acquisition, as the Rus’ land or Rus’ palatinate (Ziemia Ruska or Województwo Ruskie). By the late sixteenth century, Rus’ had come to mean all the Orthodox faithful and the lands they inhabited in the Belarusan and Ukrainian palatinates of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Finally, the rulers of the principality of Vladimir-Suzdal’ and then Muscovy fused the concept of the Rus’ land with the idea of their own Riuryk dynasty (ostensibly descended from the ninth-century Varangian leader Riuryk). For them, Rus’ meant not only all the lands under Muscovy’s control, but also other parts of the Kievan heritage that awaited acquisition in the future. In short, by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the idea that Rus’ coincided with all the lands of the former Kievan realm of Iaroslav the Wise and his descendants had become firmly entrenched in the political mind-set of eastern Europe.

Another perspective was that of the Orthodox church and the Byzantine world, of which Kievan Rus’ was a part. From the time of the first appearance of Christianity among the Rus’, the Byzantine Orthodox Church recognized the office of the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus’, by which title was meant all the lands of Kievan Rus’. When, in the fourteenth century, Byzantium agreed to the establishment of a second Rus’ metropolitanate, the Metropolitanate of Halych, in Galicia, to complement that of the Kiev metropolitan, by then resident in Moscow, terms were needed to distinguish the two jurisdictions. The region closest to Constantinople, the Galician metropolitanate, with its six eparchies on the southern Rus’ or Ukrainian lands, was called in Byzantine Greek Mikrā Rosiia – inner or Little Rus’; the more distant Muscovite jurisdiction, with its twelve eparchies, became Megalē Rosiia – outer or Great Rus’.

These distinctions were maintained during the political expansion of Muscovy. Beginning in the early fourteenth century, Muscovite rulers styled themselves grand princes, then tsars, of all Rus’ (vseia Rusii), and after the mid-seventeenth century their title was reformulated as tsar of all Great, Little, and White Rus’ (vseia Velikiia i Malyia i Belyia Rusii). During the first half of the eighteenth century, the old term Rus’ was transformed into Russia (Rossiia), when Tsar Peter I transformed the tsardom of Muscovy into the Russian Empire. Henceforth, the terms Little Russia (Malorossiia) and Little Russians were used to describe Ukraine and its inhabitants under Russian imperial rule.

As for the original term Rus’, it was really maintained only in Ukraine’s western lands, Galicia, Bukovina, and Transcarpathia, all of which after 1772 were under Austrian rule. The Greek Catholic church used the term in the title of the restored Metropolitanate of Halych and Rus’ (1808). Even more widespread was the use of the term by the East Slavic inhabitants of Galicia, Bukovina, and Transcarpathia, who until well into the twentieth century continued to call themselves the people of Rus’, or of the Rus’ faith, that is, Rusyns (rusyny, rusnatsi).

Besides the Greco-Byzantine term Rosia to describe Rus’, Latin documents used several related terms – Ruscia, Russia, Ruzzia – for Kievan Rus’ as a whole. Subsequently, the terms Ruteni and Rutheni were used to describe Ukrainian and Belarusan Eastern Christians (especially members of the Uniate, later Greek Catholic, church) residing in the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The German, French, and English versions of those terms – Ruthenen, ruthène, Ruthenian – generally were applied only to the inhabitants of Austrian Galicia and Bukovina and of Hungarian Transcarpathia. For the longest time, English-language writings did not distinguish the name Rus’ from Russia, with the result that in descriptions of the pre-fourteenth-century Kievan realm the conceptually distorted formulation Kievan Russia was used. In recent years, however, the correct terms Rus’ and Kievan Rus’ have appeared more frequently in English-language scholarly publications, although the corresponding adjective Rus’/Rusyn has been avoided in favor of either the incorrect term Russian or the correct but visually confusing Rus’ian/Rusian.

(See this recent post for Tomasz Kamusella’s ideas on “The Change of the Name of the Russian Language in Russian from Rossiiskii to Russkii,” and this old one for more on the Rusyn/Ruthenian language.)


  1. about the meaning of Rus’, i always thought it’s kinda curious that Russians in the ancient Rus’ called themselves literarily “whites”, from rusye, rusichi – blondes, or does it have some other meaning, and it came afterwards to mean blonde after them, how they chose a self-identifying name
    ancient greeks and romans called themselves after their cities names
    hunnu for example called themselves hun – human

  2. read, русый as a hair color partly overlaps with the blond spectrum, but is generally a shade darker, and never conflated with “white” (if anything, its origins imply non-whiteness, and it ultimately stems from the same PIE root as English “red”).
    Of course folk etymologies often link русый with Rus’, and as always, without a reason.
    Language – isn’t it cute how even a very low-key and quite objective discourse on Ukraine can’t resist a few swipes at Russia’s being peripheral, unoriginal, and not authentic 🙂 ?

  3. “folk etymologies often link русый with Rus’, and as always, without a reason.”
    yes, if Rus’ doesn’t mean rusyi, then what it meant in the very beginning, i wonder
    yes, rysui means maybe more like shaten than blonde, but then it would have been sounding even more like strange why to call themselves by their hair color first, not by something else like goluboglazye for example, right?

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    To what extent is Rossiia really a different word than Rus’ as opposed to a respelling of a word whose pronunciation had evolved somewhat over the centuries between St. Vladimir and not-so-saintly Peter (and as to which the evolution of pronunciation had not been the same in all the East Slavic languages as they separated from each other over time)? Or was it a redomestication of the Graecized/Latinized Rosia/Ruscia etc., which apparently just meant “Rus'”?
    (FWIW many “Russian Orthodox” in the US are not of Muscovite/Great-Russian ancestry but descend from Rusyn/Ruthenian immigrants from the Habsburg lands who switched from the Uniate/Greek-Catholic church to the Orthodox church at various points in the late 19th and early 20th century when they found themselves living in Pennsylvania or someplace like that where neither Hapsburgs nor Romanovs were in charge, although you can also find Orthodox parishes which self-describe as “Carpatho-Russian” to maintain their non-Muscovite ethnic distinctiveness.)

  5. If I recall correctly, русый is red, ginger (cf. Czech “rusovlasý” = “redheaded”).

  6. ryjii is red in russian, rusyi is then greenish, like in mermaid-rusalka, if not blonde, shaten seems also like a bit on the more brownish looking side
    see, rusye doesn’t look anything like red

  7. i don’t read the forum from which the image is, just took the first image that came up on google, they seem talk about phenotypes, so must be something not very that, endorsable

  8. literally i meant,not literary, i wonder whether people don’t mention this kind of mistakes, or whether it just doesn’t stand out that much as it surely doesn’t for me for example, that would be lucky for me, if in my language, it would stand out too like obviously and i would say something to correct the mistaken word, not just let it go
    but politeness seems interpreted differently by other people and what is polite for me would look rude for others and vice versa

  9. well, what english means itself is also obscure i guess, so maybe rus’ is really not about the hair color

  10. It has nothing to do with hair color. Here’s the OED etymology:

    Old Russian Rus′ is usually taken to be < a stem ultimately of early Scandinavian origin + Old Russian -′, suffix forming collective nouns (originally a reduced front vowel, subsequently replaced by the palatalized quality of the preceding consonant; compare čud′ Finns, perm′ Permians, lib′ Livonians, prus′ Prussians, serb′ Serbs): compare Old Swedish roþer rowing, roþrin, roþin ‘administrative subdivision in coastal Eastern Sweden’, and the first element in Old Swedish rodskarl (Swedish roskarl) inhabitant of Roslagen, all < the same Germanic base as row v.1; perhaps via a Finnic language, compare Finnish Ruotsi Sweden, Ruotsalainen Swede. Compare Arabic †Rūs, (collective noun, 9th cent.), Byzantine Greek οἱ Ῥῶς (plural, 9th cent.), post-classical Latin Rhos (11th cent., in an annal for the year 839), all with reference to the ethnic or social group from either Eastern Europe or Scandinavia.

    In short, it’s related to the English verb row.

  11. really? just all the citations are from not slavic languages, and row is like in rowing, meaning as if like vikings’ rowing their way?
    i don’t know, the folk etymology seems than more like convincing, just to me perhaps, of course

  12. read, the business of Varangians in this part of the world has indeed been, to travel in rowing boats on rivers and sea-bays; and in the early Bysant’s treaties with the Rus’, their personal names aren’t Slavic (but typically Germanic)
    There was no roads in those days, and any self-respecting Varangian should have gone on tours of duty in the Eastern Roman Empire, as their runestones back home abundantly demonstrate. How did they get from here to there? Yes, you know the answer.

  13. varangians equal slavic rusichi? i thought they were varyags/vikings from what is scandinavia now, and they were those, occupants, not natives, what’s with ryuriki and olgerds in the ruling dynasty, just was curious about self-naming of Rus, or is it that common just to accept whoever calls you whatever, i wouldn’t think so, though surely what do i know

  14. English comes from Angles, the ancient Germanic tribe which used to inhabit Angeln peninsula in northern Germany (Angeln means literally – an angle) before conquering Britain in 5th century AD.
    Supposedly, the name arose from angular shape of this peninsula.
    Etymology goes all way back to Proto-Indo-European *ank – “bend”
    A few months ago, I suggested that the etymology might be connected via Nostratic and Altaic to Mongolian word “ontsog” which means exactly that – an “angle”

  15. The Varangian hypothesis must have been a ruse.
    According to Pushkin, Rus’ comes from Latin ‘rus’

  16. Pushkin’s line is an obvious pun.

  17. It has nothing to do with hair color.
    yes, this etymology doesn’t have anything to do with colour, but it also doesn’t explain the etymology of the word rus itself, just its usage.
    Vasmer’s etymology of русый is all about colour. Don’t you think there might be a link? The Arc of Vikings linked all of Europe at the time, from England and Normandy to Sicily to Byzantium and to Kiev. But only in Kievan lands did they get to be called rus’. There is another famous Norseman who got his name from the colour of his hair – Eric the Red.

  18. The post reminded me of the song my grandmother used to sing while working around the house – реве та стогне Днiпр широкий – the wide Dnieper howls and groans.

  19. it also doesn’t explain the etymology of the word rus itself, just its usage.
    Did you see the OED quote?
    Don’t you think there might be a link?
    No no no no no! For pete’s sake, it’s a folk etymology; read thinks the folk etymology seems more convincing, but folk etymologies always do—that’s why they’re created! “Sparrow grass” looks much more convincing than “asparagus”; that’s why some people call it that. It’s much more convincing to think the sun goes around the earth: you can see it! Science may be more boring than magic and religion, but it has the advantage of being focused purely on truth; of course it doesn’t always know the truth, but it’s always trying to find it.
    I must say, this is a depressing thread. It was a lot of work typing in that long quote, which to my mind is full of interesting stuff, and read immediately got everyone focused on a fake etymology that has nothing to do with the quote. Ah well, so it goes.

  20. “read immediately got everyone focused”
    ura! i am that influential, haha, but surely no.
    and yes, the sun analogy is very funny, just the scientific etymology seems like too, you know, that, foreign words based and biased, so i say if russians themselves find it doubtful why not to question that hypothesis too, it’s not like it’s written in that, stone, fair is fair
    i therefore abandon the hair theory and adopt latin rus-country, if Pushkin himself proposed it

  21. Magocsi has an even longer (three-page) essay on the origin of the word Rus’ itself, presenting all the candidates advanced by both “Normanists” and “anti-Normanists,” from Finnish Ruotsi to Swedish roþsmenn to a tribe called Ros (rosy/rodi) living in the valley of the Ros’ river south of Kiev to Middle French Rusi from Rutenicis, the region of the town Rodez. None of them involve hair color. And, as Sashura says, Pushkin was simply making a joke.
    Aren’t you a scientist yourself, read? How can you be so indifferent to the science of language? You presumably would think people who ignored physicists and made up their own theories of how the universe works were pretty silly.

  22. Pushkin’s line is an obvious pun.
    So is mine, making a connection to “ruse”? And I did attempt to rhyme the two lines, too (no Pushkin here)
    Since these comments didn’t go in any serious direction right off the start, I think we may as well compete at offering more preposterous etymologies instead 🙂

  23. what, maybe i am enjoying the silliness most of all, that’s the most fun of reading blogs besides learning something new and getting to know people, will it the science break apart from ‘my” jokes?
    see, people still argue in factions even, normanists-anti-normanists, so maybe i want to join the anti-varangian party, can’t i?
    the tribe called ros after a river name sounds as if like maybe that was the very very first rus name, but you are right obscure things are obscure

  24. Yes, I read the quote.
    I am talking about something else. If folk etymology goes back to 19th or beginning of 20th it’s one thing. If it goes back a thousand years or more, it’s another.
    If in 882 AD a party of vikings arrives in Novgorod or Kiev, and to the question of ‘who are you? where are you from?’, says ‘we are the rowing people – rus’ – from Roslagen,’ then locals, krivichi, polyane or drevlyane, start calling them ‘the rus’ who row from Roslagen.’
    Then, by about 982, Roslagen is forgotten, they are only known as the rus who rows. Then, by 1082, rowing is only part of what they do, because they also trade, craft, rule and fight, but rus’ the name stays.
    Now, because at that time slavs haven’t started migrating North en masse and mixing with chud’ and perm’, one might assume that many of them had darker hair, skin and eyes than rus’. And the row, trade, craft and fight too. And they already have the word for red/ginger/blond – rusy/rusaya. They start using the word rus’ for red-haired settlers and explaining the meaning of the ethnonym in folk etymology terms.
    Rus’, who rowed from Roslagen, are now the red and blond-haired ones.
    Slavs and rus’ mix, Rus’ the land becomes fairer and blonder and by 1282 her people start calling themselves rusichi.
    Shouldn’t this etymology be considered as valid? A thousand years later?

  25. the sun goes around the earth
    In strictly scientific terms, it does.
    Both claims are correct. If you take the Sun as a point of reference, the Earth goes around it. If the Earth is the reference point, the Sun goes around it. It’s pure mathematics. The Sun as reference point has the advantage of providing a simpler mathematical model for descriptive purposes. That is why it is accepted as ‘the truth.’

  26. The idea that God makes everything happen as it does is simpler, for descriptive purposes, than is a simple mathematical model – because that idea eliminates the mathematics.
    However, simplicity has nothing to do with truth. For many purposes, the notion of “truth” is irrelevant and useless. And in any case, simplicity is a matter of taste, not of ontology. Nouvelle cuisine is neither true nor false.

  27. LanguageHat – thank you for typing out that whole long quote. I feel like a spam auto-comment for saying so, but you’ve answered a question i’ve had for a while. The textbooks and histories i’ve read on that part of the world have only ever said the Muscovite Russians were not the Kievian Rus and left it at that. The ruthenians were utterly unexplained. I got the impression of innumerate northern slavic ethnic groups. (I’m still not sure this was wrong, though.)

  28. Shouldn’t this etymology be considered as valid? A thousand years later?
    No no no no no! It’s an interesting fact in itself, of course, and useful in illuminating the self-image of the people involved, but etymology is strictly the actual historical derivation of the word, not what people dreamed up after the fact.
    For many purposes, the notion of “truth” is irrelevant and useless.
    Somehow I knew you’d be along to point that out.
    thank you for typing out that whole long quote. … you’ve answered a question i’ve had for a while.
    And thank you for saying that! Now I feel it was worth it.

  29. maybe i am enjoying the silliness most of all
    Oh, OK, in that case I withdraw my irritation—I’m all in favor of silliness!

  30. sorry for pulling your leg, but the quote itself points in that direction – ‘controversy continues to rage over the origin of the term Rus’.’

  31. I don’t know if this has been mentioned before, but I remember reading this in Robin Milner-Gulland’s The Russians (footnote to page 1). It explains why the vowel in Rossiya is ‘o’ rather than the ‘u’ of Rus:
    Rossiya was probably perceived as a Latinate form by the early eighteenth century (when things Roman carried prestige); however it originated as a transcription of the Greek Rhōsia, which in turn derives from the indeclinable word Rhōs that Greeks used from an early stage for the people of Rus. It has been convincingly shown that the eschatologically minded Byzantines equated the Rus (whom they first encountered as raiders) with ‘Rhōs’ (Hebrew ‘Rosh’), a supposed leader of barbarous people cited in the prophecy of Ezekiel, as a result of a misreading by Greek translators of the Septuagint (see F. Dvornik The Making of Central and Eastern Europe, London, 1949, pp. 305-14); hence the otherwise unexplained vowel change from ‘u’ to ‘o’.”

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    Who dares question the providential accuracy of the Septuagint translators? There’s also in that part of the world the o/u alternation in Romania/Rumania, and the way the byzantine self-identification as Romans/Rhomaioi got transformed along the way (via Turkish? I dunno) into e.g. Rumelia, so maybe something phonological was going on around the Black Sea as toponyms got passed from language to language separate and apart from eschatology.

  33. Googling around, I find the verse in question is Ezekiel 39.1: “Therefore, thou son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” (KJV).
    Here’s a link to the Hebrew. Transliteration: “Ve’atah ven-adam hinave al-Gog ve’amarta koh amar Adonay Elohim hineni eleycha Gog nesi rosh Meshech veTuval.”
    Here’s the Septuagint version: καὶ σύ υἱὲ ἀνθρώπου προφήτευσον ἐπὶ Γωγ καὶ εἰπόν τάδε λέγει κύριος ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἐπὶ σὲ Γωγ ἄρχοντα Ρως Μοσοχ καὶ Θοβελ
    Rhos has definitely crept in there.

  34. Also Ezekiel 38.2 FWIW. There’s a lot about this Rosh=Russia idea on the Net, much of it from (shall we say?) less than scholarly Biblical exegetical sources. But I’m off to bed now…

  35. J.W. Brewer says

    Well, for he, its, or their part, Meshech/Mosoch apparently turns up in etymological speculation about the name Moscow/Muscovy/MOCKBA going back four or five centuries. Or at least so saith Wikipedia.

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    And Moscow/Muscovy is another instance of that darn o/u alternation. See also Moslem v. Muslim?

  37. John Emerson says

    In my Romanian-English dictionary “Romanian” means Romanian, and “rumanian” means “peasant”.

  38. See also Moslem v. Muslim?
    No, that’s just Persian (where short u/i became o/e) versus Arabic.

  39. Meshech/Mosoch apparently turns up in etymological speculation about the name Moscow/Muscovy/MOCKBA going back four or five centuries
    There’s some even crazier modern stuff out there about Tubal being either Tobolsk or Tbilisi.
    Francis Dvornik was a Byzantinist, so his speculations about “Rus” becoming “Rhos” in Greek have some substance. Unfortunately, Google Books won’t let me read them.

  40. In my Romanian-English dictionary “Romanian” means Romanian, and “rumanian” means “peasant”.
    It was originally rumân, but changed to român to stress the link with Rome. Rumân was also the term for a peasant in Wallachia. I think there’s a theory that because the name for a noble in Romanian is boier (obviously related to Russian “boyar”), this suggests that there was a Romance-speaking peasant class ruled by a Slavic-speaking elite. (Can’t remember where I read, that but I’ll try to dig it up). Obviously, because of modern politics, Romanians now tend to downplay the Slavic element in their history.

  41. Ddraig Werdd says

    The theory that the ruling class had a different ethnic origin from the peasants was quit common in the region (see the Polish and the Sarmatian theory). The Moldavian ruler (who lived for a while in Constantinopole) Dimitrie Cantemir was claiming he was of Tatar descent (Khan Timur). There is also a more modern theory that at least part of the ruling class in Wallachia was of Cuman origin (Basar Aba).
    A more likely reason for why the name of the people (Wallachia was always called in Romanian Ţara Românească- The land of Romanians) came to mean peasant is probably something similar with why Turk was in the Ottoman Empire just the name of peasents or nomads. The name used the describe themselves by common people becomes the name of the common people, of the commoners

  42. marie-lucie says

    The theory that the ruling class had a different ethnic origin from the peasants was quit common
    This attitude was also common in France at a time, at least among the nobility, who viewed themselves as the descendants of the Francs, while the common people were descendants of the Gauls (in this case, it was the name of the dominant class which became that of the country, but in fact Frankish ancestry was not limited to the nobility). With the advent of universal, publicly-funded primary education at the end of the 19th century, every child (at least in public schools) was inculcated with nos ancêtres les Gaulois and their hero Vercingétorix. (Hence the modern success of the Astérix series).

  43. Vercingetorix & the Gallic tribes got a mention in my British school too. There were two different pronunciations of his name: one emphasised GET and the other TOR. I expect the French avoid this trap by not emphasising anything.

  44. Romanians now tend to downplay the Slavic element in their history.
    Are not Romanians the only group belonging to the Orthodox Church that uses the Latin alphabet?

  45. Are not Romanians the only group belonging to the Orthodox Church that uses the Latin alphabet?
    They used the Cyrillic alphabet until the 1860s, then they switched to a Roman one to emphasise their Latinity. They also purged a lot of Slavic vocabulary and replaced it with loans from other Romance languages, especially French. (Although independent Romania knew it couldn’t aspire to emulate France; it chose Belgium as its role model).

  46. This attitude was also common in France at a time, at least among the nobility, who viewed themselves as the descendants of the Francs, while the common people were descendants of the Gauls
    Yeah. It was reversed at the time of the French Revolution and used against the nobility. For instance, Abbé Sieyès saw the revolution as the Gaulish Third Estate throwing off the yoke of the Franks.
    This Celtic/Germanic dichotomy also got a lot of traction in the conflict between France and Germany in the late 19th century.

  47. J.W. Brewer says

    Well, w/r/t Paul Ogden’s question, many Americans (and Canadians and Australians and so on and so forth) belonging to the Orthodox Church go to services (as I did this morning) where the clergy and choir refer to Latin-alphabet texts while chanting in English. But as to the Old Country/ies, I believe Sir JCass is right that Romanian got de-cyrillicized along the way fairly late in the game, and I believe it may also have been a 19th C. innovation to use the vernacular rather than Church Slavonic in services. The very ancient Orthodox community in Albania (a minority as a result of the Ottoman period) now uses Latin-alphabet texts, I believe, but only switched out of Greek-language services early in the 20th century under the influence of nationalist emigres based in the U.S. (one of whom returned from Boston or some place like that to become chief hierarch in the days of King Zog). The Finnish and Estonian churches (while representing minorities in their respective historical-Lutheran-majority speech communities) have I believe always used the Latin alphabet for their non-Slavonic services, the general Russian policy of cyrillization not having been applied there during the days of Romanov rule (not sure if there are currently Latvian-language Orthodox services going on in any number, but ditto if so). The Orthodox churches in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia all have Latin-alphabet official websites, but I’m not sure how much they use the modern vernaculars versus Church Slavonic in services. (Before the WW2 adjustment of borders in Stalin’s favor those churches tended to be mostly ethnically based in those countries’ Byelorussian/Ruthenian/Ukranian minorities, who might have been more cyrilically-oriented, but I think the descendants of those populations that stayed out of the USSR often got linguistically assimilated to the local majorities.)
    To the extent the largely Orthodox indigenous communities in Alaska use their ancestral languages (variously Aleut, Tlingit, and Yupik) in services, they I believe now mostly use Latin-alphabet texts rather than the Cyrillic ones the Russian missionaries originally produced for them.

  48. J.W. Brewer says

    On another terminological point, from the block quote hat originally posted from the book I see that Professor Magosci spells the name of the 10th century Great Prince as Volodymyr rather than Vladimir, but the name of the city as Kiev rather than Kyiv. Eclectic inconsistency or “magisterial thoroughness and impartiality”?

  49. He says in the preface: “Since the writing of this book, the government of Ukraine has adopted the form Kyiv as its official transliteration for the country’s capital city. The more traditional English form, Kiev, is used here.”

  50. Volodymyr sounds more East Slavic anyway.
    @read: The thing to me is that social “sciences” and philosophy is intrinsically path-dependent, that is, concepts lose their motivation when taken out of historical context, much unlike hard science which IS usually treated in an oracular way.

  51. Ddraig Werdd says

    Not to change completely the discussion but I wanted to add something about the “re latinization” of Romanian. First there are two levels of Slavic elements in the Romanian language. The first one is very old, almost from the beginning of the language. It had a huge influence in the language (it’s probably the reason why Romanian still has cases and the sound “h” and provided a lot of words (rangeing from basic feelings to common household stuff etc). The second level was made by the language of the church and state . Excluding some basic words like God, church, cross Easter (Dumznezeu, biserica, cruce and Paste from Latin) and a few word related to the state (jude similar with Sardinian giudicati, and domnitor – ruler) the other words where from Church Slavonic (the only language of the state until the 17th century and the language of the church until the 19th century). This words (many translations from Greek) remained more isolated and still sound foreign for a Romanian speaker ( “bogat” sounds perfectly native in a way that “blagoslovire” doesn’t). Except with the church this second layer of Slavic was almost completely eliminated from the language in the 19th century ,although by then it was already beeing replaced by Greek and Turkish). Actually the biggest “losers” of the 19th century changes have been the Greek and Turkis words. There was a movement (The Latin School ) that tried to eliminate also the the first layer but there more radical ideas were mocked even by there contemporaries ( there is a word made up by them that survived, “moravuri” which is made from the existing word “năravuri” (slavic) and with the first part of the Latin “mores”). But no mater how many 19th century poets wrote about “amor” the most common words for love are still “dragoste” and “iubire” (both slavic).
    The massive adoption of words from French (and sometimes Italian) did have an effect on the first layer of Slavic words, but it was more indirect and it had the same effect also on Turkish and even native Romanian words. A lot of word where relegated to specific, lesser meanings. So uliță (slavic) became a villige unpaved road (replaced by strada as the normal word for street), maidan (Turkish) is now just an unkept urban space (instead of a public square), mahala means a bad neighbourhood (replaced by cartier), vână (native word from Latin) was replaced in almost all context by the word venă (from Latin but through French) and so on

  52. what’s oracular way? something absed on prophesies and dogmas? i don’t think so, about the natural sciences

  53. absed should be based, how i type

  54. and prophecies

  55. No, just the opposite. “Oracular” in this context means that the content of the natural sciences is independent of how we came to discover them. Optics would be the same if Isaac Newton had never lived. Psychology would hardly be the same if Sigmund Freud had never lived.

  56. interesting, how come the word started to get used in that meaning, an oracle i’d imagine someone an ancient greek or gypsy fortuneteller or nostradamus, thanks, but maybe it’s from a completely different word
    well, maybe, but einstein or freud, doesn’t seem to be that different, their influence in their respective fields, people make sciences, they can be wrong or correct, and maybe it doesn’t matter who, for example, discovers the laws of the thermodynamics, but the whole further development of physics, technology etc. since their discovery would depend on exactly who, where, when discovered those, no? exactly the same with the social sciences, it’s not like because those are universal laws of nature, they are just out there by themselves, studied or not by whoever, if we are talking about sciences

  57. Thanks for the info, Ddraig Werdd. I’ve read about this but my books on this subject are buried in boxes somewhere at the moment.
    The smattering of Romanian I learned (badly) a couple of decades ago has been rendered partially obsolete by yet another change to the spelling system (again, to make the Latin roots more obvious).

  58. this is great, includes an explanation of “an oracular persona” too, nice

  59. ‘Amber was carried down from the Baltic along the Russian rivers by red-haired giants (“the most disgusting savages the world has ever seen,” thought Persian middlemen [trading through to the Chinese])’.
    So says Colin Thubron in Shadow of the Silk Road.

  60. Trond Engen says

    Securing the trade routes may well have been the reason for the Gothic expansion, first from “an island in Scandinavia” to the European mainland and later to the black sea coast. I recently watched parts of an interview with a patriotic local historian from Gotland who saw the huge deposits of (mainly) Oriental coins as evidence for the island as the original home of the Goths. The coins are mostly from the Viking age, though. (I should add that also late Roman age/early Medieval gold coins and a fourth century Runic alphabet, the oldest known, have been found in Gotland, so the hypothesis may be that the trade routes were kept for centuries after the Gothic migrations.)

  61. The meaning of Rus, can still be seen reflected in the word ‘Rush’. So I don’t think it is the rowing aspect that gave their name.

    The Rus rushed hence and forth from their native countries initially in the North Sea, via the Baltic, to the Black Sea. This happened over sea and land, where they could dismantle their boats and use it as ‘cars’ also, to bridge the areas where the rivers had no continuum to their destination. Predominantly to do commerce and ‘en cours de route’ to settle where they thaught it was good to live.

    By this ability to stretch vast distances, overcome local resistance and being independent from local strive, they had the right mentality and skills for local rulers to be used as shock troops or personal guard.

  62. If we are going into folk etymology, I’d suggest derivation from verb

    ру́шить • (rúšitʹ) impf. to raze, to tear down.

    Compare German
    reißen • to tear (something); to pull (something) apart
    to break; to become torn apart
    to snatch; to wrench; to yank; to drag; to tug; to pull on (something)

    Cognate with English rat (“to rip up, tear, rend”), Dutch rijten (“to rip up, tear, rend”), Low German riten (“to rip, tear, rend”), Luxembourgish räissen (“to scratch, tear, rip apart”), Frisian riete (“to rip, tear”).

  63. Ha! Now if we can only connect that and “rush”…

  64. PlasticPaddy says

    Hat, you scoff but vasmer has rushit’ connected (see rukh) to Latin ruo for which wiktionary evinces a PIE root *HrewH and a cognate in Ancient Greek ὀρούω (oroúō, “hurry”).

  65. January First-of-May says

    a tribe called Ros living in the valley of the Ros’ river south of Kiev

    I think this was the theory given in my school textbooks when I was in middle school (early 2000s).

    Volodymyr sounds more East Slavic anyway.

    No, that would be Volodimer [sic].

  66. First Russian literature work The Sermon on Law and Grace (1051 AD) uses the following forms:

    praise to our kagan Vlodimer
    the great kagan of our land Volodimer
    our kagan Vlodimer
    benevolent kagan Yaroslav, son of Vladimir

    Take your pick.

  67. Well, very interesting comments idd.

    About the possible link between Rush and Reißen (Rijten, Riten, Riete);
    we don’t have to look too far imo.

    I would say, let’s just do it with the given words and we are spot on: Rush = Riet = Reed.

    To use the reed, you have to yank (also ‘ruk’ in Dutch) the leafs from the stem.

    Note: ‘Reizen’ is also used to travel or going to war.

    In that sense Rusland, is it the land of the ones who rush hence and forth or could it be the Reed-land (land full of reed)?

  68. Now we need to tie in these guys.

  69. lol

    Uhm uhm …
    I don’t know them so well, are they jerks or not?
    For sure they are a rock band.

    rock (v.1)

    “to sway,” late Old English roccian “move a child gently to and fro,” related to Old Norse rykkja “to pull, tear, move,” Swedish rycka “to pull, pluck,” Middle Dutch rucken, Old High German rucchan, German rücken “to move jerkily.”

    Meaning “cause to sway back and forth” is from late 13c. Intransitive sense from late 14c. For popular music senses, see rock (v.2). Related: Rocked; rocking. To rock the boat in the figurative sense “stir up trouble” is from 1914. Rock-a-bye first recorded 1805 in nursery rhyme.

  70. David Marjanović says

    Cognate with English rat (“to rip up, tear, rend”), Dutch rijten (“to rip up, tear, rend”), Low German riten (“to rip, tear, rend”), Luxembourgish räissen (“to scratch, tear, rip apart”), Frisian riete (“to rip, tear”).

    The actual English cognate of reißen is write, though. Semantically, you’d expect that to be the cognate of ritzen “to scratch lines”, but it isn’t, that’s just a root cognate.

    But then, I don’t know how shit happened either. (Shite is regular.)

  71. John Cowan says

    Easy-peasy. Shit is the old preterite of shite, which somehow took over the present tense as well, one of those weird things like rin > run (not true in Scots). Once that happened, the noun followed.

  72. I just realized that shit should be written in Cyrillic with letter Щ (Shcha).


  73. Reißen, rijten and write: the act of carving (like in stone)

    Making a ‘reet’ lol (as we still say for ass in Dietsch, Dutch or whatever).

    As we all know what we exc-reet. Gescheit!

  74. David Marjanović says

    Smart indeed.

  75. >Now we need to tie in these guys.

    I stand atop a spiral stair,
    John’s oracle confronts me there …

    You managed to bring it all back round to the Temples of Syrinx! I now feel fully a part of the community.

  76. David Marjanović says

    But then, I don’t know how shit happened either. (Shite is regular.)

    I had managed to forget about geographically intermediate forms like Dünnschiss “diarrhea” and Fliegenschiss “flyspeck”, both masculine (Scheiße is feminine); I’d guess they’re formed from the past participle geschissen somehow.

  77. I must say, this is a depressing thread.

    I continue to feel that way after all these years. It’s hard for me to read these threads that read shat on and kept spreading shit in.

  78. David Eddyshaw says

    The actual English cognate of reißen is write, though.

    It’s interesting to see which words get pressed into service for “read” and “write” cross-linguistically.

    Western Oti-Volta everywhere uses “blacken” (Kusaal sɔb) for “write” and forms like Kusaal karim for “read”; the latter must be generalised in meaning from an original sense “read the Qur’aan”, both words ultimately reflecting the introduction of literacy in the region via Arabic (and writing in ink, unlike the primitive English with their pathetic scrapings.)

    All the Western Oti-Volta languages have kar(V)m- “read”, but the form cannot go back even to the relatively recent time before the very closely related Mampruli and Dagbani became distinct languages, because the reflex in Dagbani would then have been *kalim (cf Mooré burkĩna = Mampruli birikyina = Dagbani bilichina); it must instead have been borrowed from one language to another some time after the rise of the Songhay empire.

    It’s an interesting thought that a purely mechanical comparison would lead entirely rigorously to the completely erroneous conclusion that there was a Proto-Western-Oti-Volta *sab- “write”, thus proving pretty conclusively that literacy in the region antedated Islam. (Similarly, one on-the-whole carefully done comparative study of Eastern Oti-Volta [much more diverse than WOV, and IMHO probably not a real unity at all] reconstructs the Hausa loanword amaa “but” to Proto-EOV. No accepted sound laws were harmed in the course of this reconstruction.)

  79. Fascinating. And we had a thread where a similar point about misleading resemblances was made about Native American languages.

  80. Re write

    書く(kaku): to write
    Ultimately from Proto-Japonic *kak- (“to scratch”). Cognate with 掻く (kaku, “scratch”). Letters were originally scratched or carved in to wood in order to write.

    (Tokyo) か​く [káꜜkù] (Atamadaka – [1])[1]
    IPA(key): [ka̠kɯ̟ᵝ]
    Tokyo pitch accent of conjugated forms of “書く”
    書かく • (kaku) transitive godan (stem 書かき (kaki), past 書かいた (kaita))

    1) write; record (words, figures) on the surface of (something)
    Kinō Chen-san wa toshokan de repōto o kaite imashita.
    Mr. Chen was writing a report at the library yesterday.

    2) compose; put (an idea, etc) into words


  81. a purely mechanical comparison would lead entirely rigorously to the completely erroneous conclusion that there was a Proto-Western-Oti-Volta *sab- “write”, thus proving pretty conclusively that literacy in the region antedated Islam.

    Purely mechanically it is similarly possible to reconstruct some Christianity-related terminology for Proto-Finnic, dated to the mid 1st millennium BCE: *pappi ‘priest’, *risti ‘cross’, *pakana ‘heathen’. They’re actually mid 1st M CE Slavic loanwords that happen to have both a wide distribution and a shape that lets them skip every nontrivial phonological innovation during the one-millennium period of initial divergence.

    ‘Read’ (*lukë-) and ‘write’ (*kirjoitta-) would be mechanically reconstructible as well, coming from earlier ‘to count’ and ‘to decorate’ (the latter is a derivative of *kirja ‘book’ < ‘decoration, marking’).

    Even much newer loanwords can occasionally slip thru the cracks: e.g. Estonian and Finnish kino ‘cinema’ could be nominally reconstructed as such for Proto-Core Finnic (ca. 0 CE).

  82. David Marjanović says

    And we had a thread where a similar point about misleading resemblances was made about Native American languages.

    The canonical example is Algonquian “firewater”: the compound would effortlessly be reconstructed for the protolanguage, but must have been calqued from sea to shining mountains, always using the inherited “fire” and “water” words.


  83. Ah yes, and with that help I found the thread I was thinking of. Etienne wrote:

    The problem with determining what the culture of Indo-European speakers was lies in the fact that, whereas historical linguists can distinguish inherited words from borrowed words, they cannot distinguish borrowed from inherited MEANING. Bloomfield gave a nice example of this: for Proto-Algonquian we can reconstruct roots for “water” and “fire”, and in all Algonquian languages a compound of these two words has the meaning “whiskey”. Were it not for the fact that the introduction of whiskey is well-known to postdate the break-up of proto-Algonquian, there would be no way for historical linguists to know whether or not this meaning (“fire” + “water” = “whiskey”) goes back to Proto-Algonquian.

    And there was considerable discussion thereafter.

  84. David Eddyshaw says

    I wonder what the West Semitic *√ktb meant originally? (Admittedly, you’re there talking about people who were writing rather earlier than most of us, but still …) Brown-Driver-Briggs mutters something about an Arabic form meaning “join together”, which looks pretty unhelpful.

    I see there is a comment from Claire Bowen, no less, in that thread in re Australian. (Nods respectfully, removes hat.)

  85. AJP Crown says

    removes hat?

  86. Removes hat, not Hat. It’s not easy to remove me.

  87. David Eddyshaw says


    My commenting hat. Don’t you wear one? I thought everybody did.

  88. PlasticPaddy says

    Genealogical Classification of Semitic: The Lexical Isoglosses
    By Leonid Kogan
    If you search within this book on Google books for ktb you will see text I cannot paste here. Or you could buy the book☺

  89. David Eddyshaw says

    I do not endorse this specific product, however the retailers might plead for me to do so. Mine are individually crafted by slave workers in Llanelli.

  90. My commenting hat.

    That’s fine. I was concerned a coup d’état was in progress.

  91. David Eddyshaw says


    Many thanks. Seems a bit ouroboran: in one place it cites the Arabic “sew” sense as primitive, in another cites John Huehnergard as suggesting that the Arabic borrowed the meaning “write ” from Aramaic (which is highly plausible.) I suppose there’s no actual incompatibility in that. Interesting that the “write” sense is there way back in Ugaritic already.

    “Sew” -> “write” looks very implausible except as a Wanderlehnübersetzung (what a useful word!) as it seems to imply book-as-codex, a pretty late development. I see that elsewhere Kogan compares Syriac and Ethiopic forms meaning “scratch, prick” though. “Scratch” goes well enough with the boring English and Japanese type, and I suppose “prick” -> ‘”sew” is perfectly plausible. So independent developments from the same root meaning. Much more helpful than BDB.

  92. Next Christmas, go as Toulouse-Lautrec:

    People from Llanelli are sometimes nicknamed “Turks”. The origin of this name is uncertain. In the mid-20th century, Llanelli was the largest town in the world where more than half the population spoke a Celtic language. During the 1950s, Trefor and Eileen Beasley campaigned to get Llanelli Rural Council to distribute tax papers in Welsh by refusing to pay taxes until their demand was met. The council reacted by sending in the bailiffs and selling their furniture to recover the money owed. The Beasleys’ neighbours bought the furniture and returned it to them.

  93. I was concerned a coup d’état was in progress

    You mean, coup de chapeau (or even maybe coup de beret)

  94. PlasticPaddy says

    I am glad you found that to be useful. He seems to like lexical comparisons for grouping semitic languages where comparisons on morphology alone are contradictory or inconclusive. So he probably spends time researching this sort of cognate.

  95. David Eddyshaw says

    Coup des caps.

  96. David Marjanović says

    it seems to imply book-as-codex

    Not necessarily. It can also be a metaphor for the appearance of text: compare text and texture, and textor “weaver” – and IIRC, 文 “text, written language, culture” also means “woven pattern” or something.

  97. “Sew” → “write” looks very implausible (…) though (…) I suppose “prick” → ‘”sew” is perfectly plausible

    I’m also immediately reminded of Finnic *kirjo- ‘to embroider’ (< ‘to decorate’), so another option might be semantic neutralization from something of this sort. I would presume there are other, more central Semitic verb roots already with the meaning ‘to sew’. (A quick lookaround turns up a root √xwṭ-, distributed in Aramean, Arabic and MSA.)

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