Trabant.

I’m about halfway through Bryusov’s novel Огненный ангел (The Fiery Angel) and am enjoying it despite my irritation with its overindulgence in the details of 16th-century magickal philosophy. In chapter 6 there’s a scene where our hero Ruprecht, hopelessly in love with the nutty Renata (who herself is hopelessly in love with Count Heinrich von Otterheim, who she thinks is the fiery angel Madiel in human form), goes to Bonn to consult with the man who is supposed to the age’s great expert on the occult, Cornelius Agrippa, and in Agrippa’s house he meets several boisterous young students, one of whom, Hans, is so meek and girlish “говорит ‘спутники’ вместо ‘панталоны'” [he says sputniki ‘fellow travelers, satellites’ instead of pantalony ‘pants’]. Bryusov’s footnote (he assiduously footnoted his own novel) says “‘Trabanter wie jene Jungfrau, die nicht gerne das Bruch nent, sagt’ — выражение XVI века [a 16th-century expression].”

I have to admit I was familiar with Trabant only as the name of a famously terrible East German car, but I looked it up and discovered it means ‘satellite’ or ‘companion,’ just like Russian спутник (and in fact I learn from that Wikipedia article that “The car’s name was inspired by the Soviet Sputnik satellite”). But where is it from? Wiktionary says “From Middle High German drabant (‘Hussite foot soldier’), of unclear origin”; Lutz Mackensen says the MHG word is borrowed from Czech drabant with the same meaning, though folk etymology connects it with the verb traben; the OED (entry not fully updated since 1913) says “< German trabant a life-guard, an armed attendant, a satellite (also in Astron.), in Italian trabante, French traban, Bohemian drabanti; of Turkish (originally Persian) origin: see drabant n.” and at drabant (“A halberdier; spec. a soldier of the body-guard of the kings of Sweden”) says “< Swedish drabant attendant, satellite: in German trabant, Italian trabante, French traban, draban, Bohemian drabanti, Magyar darabant, Romanian doroban, < Turkish (originally Persian) darbān porter, guard.” All of which leaves me confused and wondering whether any progress has been made in etymologizing this Wanderwort.

I almost forgot to mention that when I looked up Trabant in my huge Harper-Collins Unabridged, I was half amused and half appalled to find the following pair of entries:

Trabant m (a) (Astron) satellite. (b) (Hist) bodyguard; (fig) satellite. (c) usu pl. (dated inf) kiddie-wink (inf).

Trabbi m -s, -s (inf) East German car

They leave the “car” sense out of the main entry (while including “kiddie-wink,” whatever the fuck that is) and then for Trabbi (isn’t it usually Trabi?) they just say “East German car” without mentioning what it’s short for! Tsk.

Update. See also this 2013 XIX век post, which I totally forgot I’d commented on, giving the same Persian-Turkish etymology. Tsk.

Comments

  1. On another blog seven years ago someone you might know left the following comment:


    languagehat
    October 15, 2013 9:59 am
    German Drabant apparently goes back (via Turkish) to Persian darbān ‘gatekeeper, porter; guard’ (from darb ‘door’).

    https://xixvek.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/words-new-to-me-драбант/

  2. Judging by the etymological dictionaries of Pfeifer (1995) and Kluge/Seebold (2011), no real progress has been made. Kluge sees it as a Czech loanword, while Pfeifer adds that “von anderen Slawisten wird tschech. poln. drabant als Entlehnung aus dem Dt. (bei ungeklärter Herkunft) aufgefaßt”. Both refuse to speculate any further.

  3. On another blog seven years ago someone you might know left the following comment:

    Ha! My memory continues to deteriorate…

  4. ulr: Thanks! I guess we’ll never know.

  5. “kiddie-wink” is a cutesy-wootsy word British used by doting maiden aunts to describe small children. “Do the kiddie-winks want their afternoon biccies?” It may be completely antique by now.

  6. Thanks! The OED has the following citations:

    1957 P. Wildeblood Main Chance 201 Delicious milky~boo for the kiddy-winks.
    1959 P. Bull I know Face x. 183 My performance..was pretty macabre, and must have frightened the bejesus out of the kiddy-winks.
    1962 Spectator 22 June 827/2 Morality plays for the kiddie~winkies.
    1968 L. Berg Risinghill 250 The approach was fine. None of this kiddywinky stuff. They became grownup emotionally and mentally well in advance of their years.
    1970 M. Tripp Man without Friends xiii. 142 He’s at Bognor with his kiddiewinkie.
    1974 Times 13 Aug. 8/8 Dad Robinson..puts off the average incompetent father. Still, the kiddywinkles aren’t to know.

    “Delicious milky~boo for the kiddy-winks” makes me want to fwow up.

  7. And, of course, we have to throw in the town of Derbent

  8. Trond Engen says

    When I was a wee, wee lad interested in stars and space, my father (b. 1936, geodetic surveyor) taught me that the earth is a planet and the moon, circulating the earth, a drabant. Man-made objects circulating the earth were satellites, and sometimes we could see them move across the sky. When my teacher a few years later didn’t know the word drabant and corrected me, I thought he was wrong and influenced by American terminology. I grew to accept that satellite was the term of the trade, but right up until now I have believed that drabant was an antiquated latinate word.

  9. AJP Crown says

    Hans Kunglig Majestäts drabanter could have used an exercise bicycle. They don’t look all that scary but perhaps they were really sarcastic.

    Trond, En måne, naturlig satellit eller drabant är en himlakropp som kretsar kring en planet eller en asteroid i ett solsystem. (Swiki).

  10. John Cowan says

    Terra to Luna: “Did not I dance with you as trabant once?”

    Luna: “Did not I dance with you as trabant once?”

    T: “I know you did.”

    L: “How needless was it then to ask the question!”

    T: “What time of day?”

    L: “The hour that fools should ask.”

  11. Far from being terrible, the Trabant is an engineering marvel – East Germany started with nothing – no plans, no resources, no specialized knowledge. It was through sheer ingenuity they were able to make the car at all – they didn’t have enough steel, so they figured out a way of turning cotton waste from the Soviet Union into a fibreglass-like material called Duroplast that Trabant bodies were made out of. The entire car is like a masterclass on doing more with less – using a two-stroke engine with only 5 moving parts, relying on gravity to feed the fuel to the engine instead of a pump. And all of this at a price an ordinary East German can afford. Now that’s real ingenuity.

  12. In the Spy Museum in Washington DC there is (or was, when I went some years ago) a Trabant that’s cut in half, from front to back, to show how a smallish to medium sized person could wrap him or herself inside the structure of car (partly around the engine, if I remember right) and thus perhaps be smuggled into West Germany. Apparently some people made it out that way. It looked frightening.

  13. :East Germany started with nothing – no plans, no resources, no specialized knowledge
    Maybe true concerning the resources, but not concerning plans and specialised knowledge. The factory producing it was part of Audi before the war and had a tradition of producing cars going back to 1909.

  14. Trond Engen says

    Me: I thought he was wrong and influenced by American terminology

    … especially in light of the very common drabantby “satellite town; suburb”.

    AJP: Trond, En måne, naturlig satellit eller drabant är en himlakropp som kretsar kring en planet eller en asteroid i ett solsystem. (Swiki).

    Yes. Similarly Norwegian Bokmål WP on Naturlig satellitt (an ugly term):

    En naturlig satellitt, måne eller drabant er et himmellegeme som går i bane rundt en planet, dvergplanet eller asteroide.

    […]

    Et annet ord for måne er drabant.[trenger referanse]

    Store Norske Leksikon on Drabant:

    Drabant i astronomi
    Drabant er også et tidligere navn på biplaneter, det vi nå kaller måner.

    Tidligere betegnet det også romfartøyer eller liknende som skytes opp fra Jorden slik at de kommer inn i en sirklingsbane rundt jordkloden. I disse betydningene er ordet nå i vanlig språkbruk erstattet av satellitt.

  15. Trond Engen says

    As I meant to say, I came to accept that the term was antiquated (even if I still think it’s a term we need, ref. the terminological mess above, and the ugly biplanet and the even uglier naturlig satellitt). What I didn’t realize until now is that it’s not Latinate.

  16. David Marjanović says

    Trabbi (isn’t it usually Trabi?)

    Yes; apparently somebody wanted to spell out the fact that the a is short (which it is because Trabant looks Latinate enough to have final stress).

    “The hour that fools should ask.”

    Zeit zum Uhrkaufen “time to buy a watch”.

    drabantby

    Trabantenstadt, an extremely rare word outside the title of one Asterix volume.

    What I didn’t realize until now is that it’s not Latinate.

    Me neither.

  17. “Kiddie-winks” is something my mum would have said. She was born in the UK in 1942. And it would have been a conscious allusion to an older time, a Wodehousey touch.

  18. For me Trabant (as a name of a car) was always some blend of charabanc and tarantass. And now I see neither of them have anything to do with the word in question.

  19. “Kiddie-winks” would have been a conscious allusion to an older time

    Right. I never heard anyone use it or kiddie-winky except with irony.

    Trabi at a price an ordinary East German can afford
    Audi at a price an ordinary West German can afford.

  20. I was stunned by your Harper-Collins Unabridged excerpt until I realised that it’s a bilingual dictionary.

  21. What a coincidence: I’ve just begun reading Petr Čornej’s magnificent new biography of Jan Žižka (which, incidentally, is full of interesting linguistic tidbits, such as an entire chapter on the Hussite commander’s last name) and the word ‘drabant’ of course features in the Hussite anthem (modern rendition. The verses are (2:41 in the linked video):

    Vy pakosti a drabanti,
    na duše pomněte,
    pro lakomstvie a lúpeže
    životóv netraťte

    Ye X and Y
    remember your souls,
    for the sake of avarice and theft
    do not lose (your) lives

    I’ve alway taken X and Y to refer to camp followers, especially due to the reference to avarice and theft (and later loot), plus the entire song basically addresses all manner of folk present in a medieval army. This is why the translation in the wiki article above – “you beggars and wrongdoers” – never made sense to me. Even Holub’s and Lyer’s normally reliable etymological dictionary of Czech didn’t help, their entry for ‘drabant’ reads “a bodyguard”, and Šimek’s dictionary of Old Czech has “a footsoldier with a halberd”, which is somewhat anachronistic; more importantly, neither fits the context. But “a hanger on” (which is what a satellite is, in a way), makes perfect sense.
    “pakost”, fyi, is a more straightforward word, meaning “calamity, bad luck” and by extensions “ne’er-do-well”, “rogue”, “brigand”.

  22. which, incidentally, is full of interesting linguistic tidbits, such as an entire chapter on the Hussite commander’s last name

    So what’s the executive summary?

  23. D.O.: There are many villages and towns in the south Rhodopes, (and some in Bosnia), currently divided between the territitory Greece took after the first world war from Bulgaria and the current borders of Bulgaria called “Дервент”.

    https://bg.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%94%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%82 claims that it originally meant “keepers of the mountain passes” and that it derives from Persian دربند (darband) via Ottoman Turkish, “closed gate”. And I remeber “дервент” used in 19th century Bulgarian as “door guard” or maybe “bouncer”?

  24. The origin and meaning of the name Žižka – executive summary:
    Option 1: žižka/žužka = one-eyed
    Pro: attested as far back as the 16th century with this meaning, e.g. court records refer to someone as “Žižka, i.e. the one-eyed”.
    Con: not attested in the 14th/15th century.

    Option 2: derived from the name Zikmund = Sigismund
    Pro: Charles IV had the remains of St. Sigismund of Burgundy transferred to Bohemia in 1365 and a local cult sprung around them.
    Con: Jan Žižka was born ca. 1364; Žižka as a hypocoristic form of Zikmund is not attested (the stereotypical ones that turned to surnames are Zich, Ziga, Zigáček).

    Option 3: žižka is derived from one of the words beginning with ž- which have something to do with fire and light (žnout, žíhat, žár)
    Pro: Čornej specifically cites the Slovak terms rel=”nofollow”> “žiža” = “light, small fire, something smouldering or burning” and “žižka” = “candle” *
    Con: What would be the motivation? Čornej mentions two theories: a) Žižka lost his eye in/by means of a fire; there is nothing to support it. b) Žižka means “firestarter, arsonist”; this one is easily disproven by the fact that Žižka himself uses this name in official documents and he wouldn’t do that if it had any sort of negative connotation. Čornej gives the example of two other Hussite commanders – Jan Hvězda of Vícemilice known as Jan Bzdinka (= little fart) and Jan Řitka (= small butt) of Bezdědice, neither of whom signed any official document with their colorful surnames.

    Option 4: Žižka refers to some sort of eye disorder, most likely “cross-eyed”.
    Pro: Cf. modern Polish “zez”, Old Polish “zyz” (cf. “zyzooki”), whence “zyzka, zyszka”.
    Con: A bit farfetched.

    *Fun fact: “žiža” is now used almost exclusively in baby talk. “žižka” is also used for “vagina”.

  25. Thanks! Lots of piquant material there; I especially like Jan Bzdinka and Jan Řitka.

  26. One of the Imperial and Royal guard companies was called the k.k. Trabantenleibgarde. It was founded in 1519 by the emperor Maximilian.
    A picture of their colourful uniform can be seen on the german wikipedia.

  27. V, surely for Bosnia you meant Macedonia? Excuse me, FYROM or whatever.

  28. Roger C: I did mean Bosnia, and I think all of “Macedonia”, “FYROM” and “North macedonia” are all equally puerelle and/or agressively (and in some cases, maliciously) ignorant. You needn’t have been so fussy about it, but thank you for the thought.

    I was refering to the fact that the Wikipedia article I quoted claims that there is a village called “Дервент” in Bosnia also. I did not know that. I makes sense, because the southern Rhodope mountains are places where Mulsim Bulgarians traditionally live, and Bosnia is a place where, traditionally, people who are Muslim and are speakers non-Slovenian southwest slavic also do.

    Also I don’t mean to imply that non-Slovenian southwest slavic is not diverse. I just don’t know what else to call it without offending anyone.

  29. January First-of-May says

    and I think all of “Macedonia”, “FYROM” and “North macedonia” are all equally puerelle and/or agressively (and in some cases, maliciously) ignorant

    Well, you do need some way to refer to it, and North Macedonia (for the last year or so, anyway) has the advantage of being the official name of the country.

    I think I’ve seen some people using “Paeonia” (the name of an ancient kingdom, the northern neighbor of Macedonia until conquered by them in the mid-4th century BC, which roughly corresponded to the FYROM in terms of territory), though I don’t think it ever caught up except as a joke.

  30. John Cowan says

    Around here, the name Serbo-Croatian is most common (according to Dr. Google), with Serbo-Croat and BCSM tied for second place. I think FYLOSC (Former Yugoslav Language Of Serbo-Croatian) is a purely Languagehat joke.

    I have also said that if the U.S. had achieved independence in the 21C instead of the 18C, its international name would be the Formerly British Republic in the Middle of North America, pronounced “fibber-mna”.

  31. I prefer the Formerly British Republic in the Middle of the Great Expanse of Earth, pronounced “fibber-mcgee.”

  32. So, etymologically “darband” is just a “door bind”?

  33. While it makes sense to avoid some terms shanghaied by unpleasant ideologues (“Aryan” is thoroughly skunked), I don’t think anyone outside Greece needs to worry about “Paeonia.” Greek neo-Nazis do not, thankfully, dominate the earth, and nobody outside Greece knows or cares about their peculiar forms of discourse.

  34. Greek neo-Nazis really disappointed me by abandoning planned worship of Twelve Olympians.

  35. January First-of-May says

    Around here, the name Serbo-Croatian is most common (according to Dr. Google), with Serbo-Croat and BCSM tied for second place. I think FYLOSC (Former Yugoslav Language Of Serbo-Croatian) is a purely Languagehat joke.

    Well, a purely LH joke (it did, apparently, originate here, which I didn’t recall) that is occasionally spread elsewhere (particularly on Language Log) by LH regulars.
    (For the record, an unspecified Google search finds five results [plus about a dozen assorted scannos], only one of which is on LH, though one of the other four is a dead link.)

    That said, FYLOSC-or-whatever is South-Western Slavic, while the official language of North Macedonia (whatever we’re supposed to call that one) is South-Eastern Slavic (i.e. closely related to Bulgarian); I don’t recall the details offhand, but IIRC all the “South Slavic innovations” common to the two branches turned out to be shared retentions, so SW Slavic and SE Slavic might actually be primary divisions.
    (…Modulo Slovene, anyway. I’m not sure what’s going on with Slovene.)

  36. John Cowan says

    Great Expanse of Earth, pronounced “fibber-mcgee.”

    I like the acronym too, but the Americas are actually only the Second Greatest Expanse. In one of Asimov’s essays, he picks up on McKinder’s Law (“He who controls the Heartland [Eastern Europe and European Russia] controls the World Island; he who controls the World Island controls the world”) and talked of the World Island and the New World Island.

    I’m not sure what’s going on with Slovene.

    Well, there is a continuum from Standard Croatian to Kaikavian to Slovene, but throughout the last century it has been treated as being under a different Ausbau despite the comparative lack of Abstand. Apparently Croats find Slovene maddeningly pseudo-familiar (they can pick up everything except the most important words), whereas Slovenes have a lot of exposure to Croatian and understand it better as a result.

  37. David Marjanović says

    I’m not sure what’s going on with Slovene.

    It’s very diverse, and at least a third of that diversity is located in Austria and currently dying out (in favor not only of local German dialects, but also of Standard Slovene) at least as fast as it can be documented at current funding levels.

  38. I wasn’t trying to be a puke, just make a little fun. I’m very glad to know that “FYROM” is no longer a necessary word in diplomatic (in two senses) circles.

  39. V said: “I just don’t know what else to call it without offending anyone”.

    If you use the name that the locals use, you can’t go wrong. Of course that means learning and respecting the local usage, rather than relying on an outdated label like Serbo-Croatian or Illyrian or some such thing.

    If I was referring to Croatian usage, I’d call it Croatian, if referring to Montenegrin usage – Montenegrin, and so on.

    If it’s a chakavian example, the reference should always be to Croatian.

    If it’s something that applies across multiple dialects / languages, then it’s easy enough to say eg. “In Croatian, and Bosnian such-and-such is called so-and-so….” Here is an example from a related group of languages: “In English and German a ‘Finger’ is located on a ‘Hand'”

    V says: “people who are Muslim and are speakers non-Slovenian southwest Slavic”

    You mean Bosniaks?

  40. If you use the name that the locals use, you can’t go wrong.

    It would be nice if that were the case, but it’s not. In the first place, locals often use different names and hate each other’s versions. In the second place, non-locals often hate local names. It is literally impossible not to offend anyone; all you can do is decide who you’re willing to offend.

  41. You mean Bosniaks?

    Not necessarily. This definition is still broad enough to include more ethnic groups.

    Eg, according to the 2011 Croatian census, 9,647 Muslims in Croatia declared themselves as ethnic Croats.

  42. If you use the name that the locals use, you can’t go wrong.

    That would mean calling Wiveliscombe “Wivvy”.

    I’d rather die.

  43. Paeonia (and yes, I know the history of the place I live in), is sort problematic for the very same reason. Modern Greek Neo-nazis are but pale sdows of the megali idea crowd, but best not empower them. We know of the Paeoni from ancient Greek sources after all, so in their minds that equates to “that’s (modern) Greek”.

    SFReader: “So, etymologically “darband” is just a “door bind”?”
    The similarity occurred to me just after I posted that comment. Sorry for the brevity, commenting from my tablet.

  44. January First-of-May says

    Also I don’t mean to imply that non-Slovenian southwest slavic is not diverse. I just don’t know what else to call it without offending anyone.

    South-Southwest Slavic?

    (Seriously tempted to call it “Kavian” as a compromise between the three main fractions. Though admittedly this would exclude Torlakian.)

  45. January First-of-May: Torlakian is southeast Slavic. The most marginal between southeast and southwest.

  46. January First-of-May says

    …Huh, so it is. I didn’t know that. No problem with excluding it then.

  47. John Cowan says

    Nashjazikian would be another possibility, even if it does look rather Armenian.

  48. Far from being terrible, the Trabant is an engineering marvel – East Germany started with nothing – no plans, no resources, no specialized knowledge.

    I too boggled slightly at the assertion that East Germany in the late 1950s was a nation with no heritage of automotive engineering.

    The entire car is like a masterclass on doing more with less – using a two-stroke engine with only 5 moving parts, relying on gravity to feed the fuel to the engine instead of a pump.

    The Trabant was not “a masterclass on doing more with less” – its manufacture was grotesquely wasteful in resources and its engine was horrifically polluting. Build quality was appalling and reliability, consequently, very poor. It really takes some considerable effort to get a factory full of Germans to produce such a shitty car. It was kind of the “Cats” of its day; how do you get that much talent and that many resources, and end up with something that bad?

    And all of this at a price an ordinary East German can afford. Now that’s real ingenuity.

    The Trabant had at least a ten-year waiting list. If you wanted to buy a second-hand one, it would cost you six months’ wages. The official price for a new one was half that – I mean, I guess three months’ wages is affordable, more or less? But not much good if they won’t let you buy one because there aren’t enough.

    The Mini came out around the same time as the Trabant. It was far better in every possible respect.

  49. At the time when Trabant was introduced, West Germany was making this marvel of consumer minimalism

    https://i.ytimg.com/vi/UNTKZrSb8S4/sddefault.jpg

  50. David Marjanović says

    It really takes some considerable effort to get a factory full of Germans to produce such a shitty car. It was kind of the “Cats” of its day; how do you get that much talent and that many resources, and end up with something that bad?

    Berlin’s new airport was supposed to open in 2012. And Stuttgart’s new train station…

  51. Lars Mathiesen says

    Those are really impressive delays. Die deutsche Wirtschaft schafft Alles!

  52. John Cowan says

    “The German economy shafts everyone”?

  53. Lars Mathiesen says

    Well. Accomplishes, but your version is apposite. (SKOD verb (some kind of derived) from the strong homonym schaffen/schup = ‘create’. Da skabe (weak), E shape/shope).

  54. Anybody who talks about a two-stroke engine as an engineering marvel does not know what they are talking about.

  55. PlasticPaddy says

    Shaft is Schacht as in Hjalmar, who might be the father or protecting spirit of the German economy.

  56. John Cowan says

    “A Schacht is a hole, but a Schaft is a pole.” The latter is the native word; Schacht must come from Dutch or Low German where the change /ft/ > /xt/ is regular, cf. Stiftung vs. Du stichting.

  57. Who’s the Reichsbank president
    That’s a sex machine to all the chicks? (Schacht)
    You’re damn right.

  58. John Cowan says

    See also the Martha Washington Monument, a hole in the ground 555 feet deep.

  59. “according to the 2011 Croatian census, 9,647 Muslims in Croatia declared themselves as ethnic Croats.”

    I’m not entirely sure what that has to do with a “village called “Dervent” in Bosnia”.

    I suspect V was referring to a city called Derventa in Bosnia.

    According to the 1991 census, the population of the city was 31% Muslim, 26% Serb, 24% Croat and 15% Yugoslav. After the fall of Derventa to the Serbian paramilitary forces in 1992, the Muslim and Croat population was ethnically cleansed from the area. Following the 1995 Dayton agreement, Derventa was allocated to the Serbian Republic and remains overwhelmingly Serb (83% at the 2013 census).

    The original name of the city is Gornja Ukrina, named after the river Ukrina. Some time in the 18th century, the Turkish name Derventa was recorded in use.

    The etymology given by the brilliant Škaljić is:
    – Turkish dervent, derbent, from Persian derbend “pass, defile, gorge; small border fortification located in such a place”, composed of der “door, gate” and bend the present of besten “to bind, to tie”.

    Derventa is located near the border of Bosnia & Heercegovina and Croatia, and in the 18th century was near the border of the Ottoman and Habsburg empires.

  60. John Cowan says

    “according to the 2011 Croatian census, 9,647 Muslims in Croatia declared themselves as ethnic Croats.”

    I’m not entirely sure what that has to do with a “village called “Dervent” in Bosnia”.

    Nothing, I think. Rather it’s meant to show that not all Muslims in Bosnia are Bosniaks, as implied by your earlier question “You mean Bosniaks?”

  61. “not all Muslims in Bosnia are Bosniaks”

    Even if that was the case – still not clear what it has to do with the 9647 muslims in Croatia or for that matter with a “village called Dervent in Bosnia.”

  62. I was just pointing out that V’s definition “people who are Muslim and are speakers non-Slovenian southwest Slavic” which you took to mean Bosniaks is broad enough to include other ethnic groups, for example Muslim ethnic Croats.

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