bubkes/bupkis, etc.

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Dec 3 06:13:06 UTC 2010

[This is a direct reply to Wilson's commentary on Slavic etymology in
response to my post, so if this sounds like a waste of time, feel free
to skip it entirely.]

Wilson, you got everything on the nose, down to the Turkic roots. I was
sloppy in my description--both words I cited, "barabanshchik" and
"molodets", are very common Russian words with a long history, so they
would have gone from Russian to Yiddish (as many words did). Similarly,
quite a number of originally Polish words made the same trip. Indeed I
expected "baraban" to be of Turkic origin, and Russian has plenty such
words (e.g., "bashka", "bashmak"), so there is nothing particularly
unusual in that either. But my point was that these words have been in
Russian use far longer than in Yiddish, irrespectively of their actual
roots. Kogos's transliteration leaves a lot to be desired, but it seems
to have been fairly standard for 1967. In fact, as I read the
representation, there is no difference between the Russian and the
Yiddish word as listed in Kogos's "dictionary" (which is actually a
cross between a phrase book and a glossary). AFAICT, "tsch" is somewhat
confused German-inspired transliteration that could represent either
"shch" or "ch", but Kogos expressly listed "tsh" for the latter,
omitting the former entirely from the preface. Similarly, he used "ch"
for "kh"--and, as anyone who bought a Challah or seen Chanukkah
greetings on TV knows, "ch" is not really "ch". I've always found it
bizarre, but it seems to be predominant spelling for Yiddish words.
Incidentally, Kogos did get "tzatskeh" (pl. "tzatzkes") correctly
IMO--the "standard" US Anglicized "chah-chkess" (usually spelled
"tchotchkes") really grates on my ears, and I don't even speak the
language. [Note: OED has a "tsatske/tchotchke" entry where it claims
Slavic origin]

> Tsatskeh   Doll, playhing; something cute (like a girl); an
> overdressed woman; a sexually attractive girl
> ...
> Tzatzkeh   Ornament, toy; a dingus, doo-dad; a living doll, a sexually
> attractive girl; an overdressed woman; a playgirl (same as "tsatskeh")

OED claims a link to "Russian" "tsatska", to which I can only scratch my
head. But "kurwa" is a better example than "tsatska".

As for "molodets", it is not a mere exclamation in Russian--it can
easily serve as a unisex "fine fellow" description for an actual person.
My judgment may be a bit slanted from disuse, but I would say that "Ona
takoi molodets" is a perfectly fine description for most Russian
speakers for a woman who'd had some success in doing something. It looks
a bit odd, because the pronoun is feminine, but both other words are
masculine. On the other hand, "Ona takaia molodets" would sound a bit
weird to me, although it may well be acceptable to some Russian
speakers. "Molodchaga", on the other hand, is a slang-ish derivative and
[-a] is not determinative of either feminine or masculine--and, in this
case, can be used for either. And both "On takoi molodchaga" and "Ona
takaia molodchaga" would be fine--if you use that word at all (far less
common than "molodets" and possibly even something that was coined
fairly recently, like the last 30-40 years).

As for kurwa, I won't even try to pretend that I know all the
connections there--and your etymology list already does more than I
could unwind. I would not put too much stake in an [lack of] appearance
in Galperin's dictionary as that volume (well, double volume) was never
intended to be exhaustive on slang and "kurva" is certainly slang (and
something that I've heard often enough as a kid to know what it means).
In Russian the word does not mean specifically "whore" or "prostitute"
as it does in Polish--but my point was that *I* have no idea whether it
went from Polish to Yiddish to Russian or from some Proto-Slavic
language into both Russian and Polish and then into Yiddish, or from a
Slavic root that was borrowed into Yiddish, then modified and
reintroduced to both Polish and Russian, or in some other direction.

So, to restate my original comment, "barabanshchik" (however you spell
it) is a very common Russian word (meaning "drummer") that made it into
Yiddish (but clearly is not an original Slavic root); "molodets" is
another very common word that made it into Yiddish; but "kurveh" is a
variant on Polish "kurwa" and Russian "kurva" whose origin and path of
borrowing I do not know. And this was precisely the distinction I was
trying to made--between the words of Slavic origin (even if borrowed)
that clearly followed into Yiddish and words of unknown origin whose
direction of borrowing I (or we) don't know. Unlike the OED, I would
also put "tsatska" into the same category--at least AFAIK it might be
originally Russian/Slavic or it might have been derived from Yiddish.
But there is also a Russian verb "tsatskat'" and "tsatskat'sia" which
have seemingly unrelated meaning (one of the more common uses is "to
handle mildly" like "with kid gloves", which, I suppose, once could have
meant "to handle like a doll"--so it might be used in a good cop/bad cop
situation, where "bad cop" says, "Nechego s nimi tsatskat'sia"
[transliterated, not phonetic]).

Either way, you put the etymology in much better terms than I could have.


PS: I always welcome corrections of my amateur musings.

PPS: Wilson accidentally replaced "barabantschik" (drummer) with
"barantschik" (little lamb--but probably better transliterated from
Russian with "ch" rather than "tsch") in one place. This too is a word
that has been used in Yiddish--among other things (including literal) it
can also be the original description for Jew-fro. Both Baran and
Baranchik are also occasional family names. Whatever the case, Kogos
doesn't have it.

On 12/2/2010 11:05 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> On Thu, Dec 2, 2010 at 8:35 AM, Victor Steinbok<aardvark66 at gmail.com>  wrote:
>> More general observation: I noticed quite a number of clearly Slavic
>> words ("barabantschik", "molodyets"--both in Kogos's spelling) and other
>> words that were quite familiar from both languages, but with no clear
>> direction from one to the other. One example is "kurveh"--which is a
>> standard Polish slang for prostitute (kurwa) and a fairly common Russian
>> word for "hussy" or slut (kurva). I've always wondered about the origin
>> of this one. It might be related to the Slavic root kur- that basically
>> means "chicken" (Russian "kuritsa"=="hen", "kurinnyi" =="[from] chicken"
>> adj.). Then, again, it might not.
> I have no idea what these words, _barantschik molodyets_ - only the
> latter of which is "clearly" a Slavic word - mean in Yiddish. But, in
> Russian, a _baraban_, of Turco-Tatar origin, means "drum" and the
> Russian agentive, _-shchik_ in LC transliteration, is simply "-er."
> Hence, the Russian word means "drummer." Assuming that Kogos's
> _tschik_ = [tSik], then the Yiddish form is more Russian than the
> Russian, since     _-shch_ [StS] is derived from Old Church Slavic, a
> South-Slavic language, whereas Russian is an East-Slavic language in
> which the normal reflex directly from proto-Slavic is [tS], as in the
> well-known _apparat-chik_. It's the case that _shch_ and _ch_ have
> different single-letter representations in the Russian alphabet. So,
> even though it could be argued on the basis of this single example
> that /-t+StS/>  [tS], we know that this is not the case.
> Polish _kurwa_ is dated only to 1415 and its etymology is too vexed to
> go into (<  ancestor/relative of English _whore_,<  Latin _curva_,<
> Common Slavic _*kury_, etc.), Russian _kurva_ likewise (<  Pol.
> _kurwa_,<  the root _kur_ "chicken," CSl. _*kury_, etc.). FWIW,
> Russian _kurva_ is rare enough not to be included in the Bol'shoi
> russko-angliiskii slovar'.
> OTOH, Russian _molodets_, in which -de- represents a sound that can
> also be represented by -dye-, among other styles of transliteration,
> is Russian back to proto-Indo-European, being a distant relative of
> English _mild_. I learned it only as an exclamation meaning something
> like, "Way to go!", with which the BRAS is in agreement, in so far as
> literary, IME, BrE "Fine fellow!" can be translated into colloquial
> AmE. The Russian root /molod/ has to do with "youth"/"bravery," with a
> zillion derivatives.
> For those interested in such things, though it's unisex, the
> dictionary lists the word _molodets_ only as "Masc." OTOH, A word from
> the same root with the same meaning, _molodchaga_, though clearly Fem.
> WRT grammatical gender, is listed as "_Masc. and_ Fem." That is,
> _molodets_ can be modified only with Masc. adjectives, *regardless* of
> the natural gender of the person referred to. But the apparent
> grammatical Fem. can be modified with a Fem. adjective just in case
> that the referent be genetically female.
> --
> -Wilson

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