Tuesday, 3 February 2009

slaves and buggers

Today we have two words with negative connotations that are derived from words for Slavs. Slave comes from Latin Sclavus, a name used by Slavic people. This name, along with the word Slav, seems to be ultimately derived either from Proto-Slavic *slovo "word" or *slava "fame, glory". Both *slovo and *slava are from Proto-Indo-European *ḱleu- "to hear", the source of English loud and listen.

*slava "fame, glory" is found in names like Bohu-slav meaning "having the fame of God" and Miro-slav meaning "having peaceful fame". Its cognates can be seen in other branches as well: Sopho-kles meant "famed for wisdom", and Ludwig (Old High German Hlūd-wīg) meant "famed in battle".

And bugger is from the same Latin source as Bulgarian! What does everyone have against Slavs anyway?

Here are the etymologies from the OED, so you can see I'm not making them up.

slave:

ad. OF. esclave (also mod.F.), sometimes fem. corresponding to the masc. esclaf, esclas (pl. esclaz, esclauz, esclos, etc.), = Prov. esclau masc., esclava fem., Sp. esclavo, -va, Pg. escravo, -va, It. schiavo, -va, med.L. sclavus, sclava, identical with the racial name Sclavus (see SLAV), the Slavonic population in parts of central Europe having been reduced to a servile condition by conquest; the transferred sense is clearly evidenced in documents of the 9th century.

Slav:

In early use ad. med.L. Sclavus (recorded from c 800), corresponding to late Gr. σκλάβος (c 580): cf. older G. Sklave, Sclav(e, Schlav(e, MHG. Schlaff. The later forms in Sl- correspond to mod.G. and F. Slave, med.L. Slavus (951), and are closer to the OSlav. and Russian forms: see SLOVENE.

Slovene:

a. G. Slovene (Slowene), pl. Slovenen, ad. Styrian, etc. Slovenec, pl. Slovenci; the name is a survival of the old native designation of the Slavs, which appears in OSlav. as Slovēne, and is supposed to be derived from the stem of slovo word, sloviti to speak.

bugger:

a. F. bougre: - L. Bulgarus Bulgarian, a name given to a sect of heretics who came from Bulgaria in the 11th c., afterwards to other ‘heretics’ (to whom abominable practices were ascribed), also to usurers. See BOUGRE.

12 comments :

bulbul said...

As for OSlav. "Slovēne", it is traditionally transcribed as Slověne with ě standing for jať (ѣ). Which is why I find this etymology a little weird. I mean, the timeline is a little off - jať turning to 'a' before 1000 AD - and where did the '-n' go? And isn't the ultimate source 6th century Greek?

FYI, I checked Lexicon Linguae Paleoslovenicae, vol. 37 (Academia : Praha, 1985) and the verbs sloviti doesn't appear there. That's not to say it didn't exist, we're a creative bunch when it comes to words for "speak". Why in Slovak dialects alone, there are at least five - "hovoriť", "hutorec", "hvarec", "kazac", "rečovac" or even six if you want to include the Ruthenian "bisiduvati". And I'm pretty sure I forgot something.

By the way, Slovene vs. Slovak, now there's a royal mess! All native adjectives and nouns related to Slovenia and her people are derived from the root "sloven-" - "Slovenija", "slovenac", "slovenski" etc. The name of Slovakia is derived from the same root - "Slovensko" and so is the adjective "slovenský/-á/-é" and the word for a Slovak woman "Slovenka". A Slovak man, however, is called a "Slovák", a name derived from the same root as the Latin (and English) name for our country. As one of our historians has pointed out, if he is indeed a "Slovák", our country should theoretically be called "Slovácko" (with the adjective "slovácky") which makes the whole affair triply weird, because there is in fact a region called Slovácko - in the Czech Republic. Usually the 48ers are blamed for this, the logic being that they wanted to reinforce the connection to the Great Moravia and thus legitimize their political goals referring to the antiquity of our people. Bullcrap, of course. Bernolák himself used the adjective "slowenskí" in his works (Slowár slovenskí...) and it can be traced as far as 1596 and perhaps even further (I really should check).

What does everyone have against Slavs anyway?
In our defense, I'd like to point that the Bulgarians were originally a Turkic people. Not that it has anything to do with the subject at hand...

Bohu-slav meaning "having the fame of God"
Or "one who praises God". Ted, basically. In the same vein, 'Miroslav' or can be "one who praises peace". I myself prefer the interpretation "one who is famous for making peace" for 'Slavomír' :)

goofy said...

Yeah, the OED entries aren't very clear.

The etymologies of the names are from Watkins' American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. I like your derivations better.

In our defense, I'd like to point that the Bulgarians were originally a Turkic people.

I didn't know that, but I'm not surprised, considering how diverse Europe is.

goofy said...

And isn't the ultimate source 6th century Greek?



The AHD says the Greek is an alternation of Old Slavonic Slověninŭ. The OED... it's not clear to me what the OED is saying. And where did the /k/ in Greek come from?

Adam Roberts said...

The kles in eg Sophokles sounds to my ears a long way from 'slava'. I take the point about Proto-Indo-European *kleus, but it's the 'k' that bothers me ... does 'k' often mutate to 's' in use?

I ask (out of the purest ignorance) wondering if the back-formation *kleus isn't arrived at precisely via the Greek 'kles'; and whether it mightn't have been instead *lees, or *slees, with that 'k' coming in later in the Greek ('Herales' to 'Herakles' in usage). Or is this completely off the mark?

goofy said...

Adam: it's known as the centum-satem isogloss.
http://popgen.well.ox.ac.uk/eurasia/htdocs/anderson.html

It's thought that Proto-Indo-European had "palatovelar" sounds (for instance *ḱ) which became /s/ in some branches (like Slavic and Indo-Iranian,) and /k/ in other branches (like Greek, Latin, and Celtic).

In Germanic, there were further changes, and the /k/ became /h/ as in "hlud".

This sort of sound shift is called palatalization. English has pairs like dike/ditch, kirk/church, where one dialect had palatalization and the other didn't.

bulbul said...

According to the OED,
the transferred sense is clearly evidenced in documents of the 9th century.
But Jordanes (Getorum L 34-35) speaks of "Sclaveni" as a tribe of "Venethi". That was around 551, well before the Slavs of Central Europe were enslaved (if they ever were). In a similar vein, Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum (871) makes a distinction between Sclavi and Quarantani ("... Sclavi qui dicuntur Quarantani"). So are we dealing with a tribal name? And if, how come Cyril and Methodius spoke slověnĭsky?

goofy said...

Grimm quotes Jordanes, and goes on and on about "Sklave". Now I'm really confused.

On another note, perhaps the notion that Slav and Slovene are from *ḱleu- isn't very sound, since it's not in the AHD, and they tend to be not conservative in their etymologies.

Anyway, thanks for the info about Slovene vs Slovak, it's very interesting.

Adam Roberts said...

"the centum-satem isogloss" ... very interesting.

Thanks for taking the time to knock away a small portion of the crust of ignorance that covers me.

komfo,amonan said...

And where did the /k/ in Greek come from?

I always figured that initial "sl" would break a phonological rule in Greek, & so the "k" was inserted. Looking at the online Greek-English Lexicon, the only word with initial "sl" is called dubious.

bulbul said...

You mean σλιφομαχος?
That's a good point, though. There's a Greek root σκλη- "hard, harsh, tough" and if indeed σκλάβος is a form of Slověne, there could be analogy at play here. And so we could have very well been named not for our meek nature that lead us into slavery, but rather for the toughness with which we kicked Greek ass :)

goofy said...

Adam, my pleasure. I'm happy that people are interested enough to ask questions. Maybe once I've read Doctor Whom I'll have some questions for you. :)

komfo,amonan said...

@bulbul: That's the word. It seems to refer to σιλφιον, which is guessed to be of non-Greek origin. Indeed, σλιφομαχος could be an error, as σιλφιον has other derivatives that don't switch the second and third letters.