12 Months in Russian – Part 2

Posted on 09. Feb, 2012 by in Culture, History, language

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In case you missed it, this is Part 2 of the story about old Russian names for the 12 months of the year. January through June are covered in Part 1. As for the video, it has a connection albeit tenuous to this post, specifically to one of the names for September. 

Июль (July) – the old name of this month was червен or червень. The origin of this word is particularly interesting. So if you speak Russian fairly fluently, you might realize that червень is very close to червь (worm). I don’t know about you, but when I think of worms, I think of either рыбалка (fishing) or огород (vegetable garden) with its beneficial огородные черви (garden worms). Yet while July is the perfect month for doing both fishing and gardening in Russia, that’s not where the old name comes from.

Instead, the month got its name after an insect called червец (coccid). This insect was used as a source of highly valuable red dye. That is why this word червен sounds so familiar to another seldom-used word червлёный (deep-red). So July was the month when these insects were collected for making red dye. By the way, English language has several words for this deep red color: crimson and carmine, both from the Arabic word al-qirmiz meaning a coccid; the third word is vermillion, derived from the Latin word for a “small worm”, vermiculus. (Ok, I’m totally geeking out here).

Before I move on, let me just mention that other names for July were грозник, the month of грозы (thunderstorms) and страдник, from страда (harvest time).

Август (August), my favorite month, was called зарев from зарево (blaze or glow). In this case the glow is that of sunset, but the word зарево is more often used to describe зарево пожара (a blaze of a large fire). August is not just the month of spectacular sunsets, but also of abundant дары природы (bounty of nature) from all the farming and gardening. It is the month of густоед (eating well) and was also known as разносол. Now, that’s a very useful word right there. It is no longer used in its singular form, but only in plural разносолы, meaning delicious food in general and pickles in particular. And in Russia pretty much everything that can be grown or caught can be pickled.

Сентябрь (September) was known as ревун, probably from рёв (bellowing) of animals. Why, I’m not sure, so I like its other two names, хмурень and вересень, better. Хмурень comes from the word хмурый (gloomy, overcast) and вересень from the plant вереск (purple heather).

Октябрь (October) had the name of листопад (leaf fall) which is pretty self-explanatory. The weather was getting worse and worse hence the month’s other name грязник (muddy). The plus side of the muddy and chilly October was that all the field work was done for the year freeing up time for personal life. So October was a traditional wedding month or свадебник, from свадьба (a wedding).

Ноябрь (November) was грудень. It actually comes from the word груда. Right now the word груда means a heap, but back then it also meant a frozen rut in the road. So while there was no snow yet, the ground was already frozen. It was almost winter and hence November’s other name, полузимник (half-winter month).

Finally, it’s time for декабрь (December) or студёный. Ask a Russian to think of a sentence that uses the word студёный and they will likely recite a line from a poem “Russian Peasant Children” by Nikolay Nekrasov (this line, Однажы в студёную зимнюю пору… is a meme in its own right). The words стужа (bitter cold) might not be widely used either, but the word простуда (a cold) sure is. Other than студень, December was also known as ветрозим, a compound word made up of ветер (wind) and зима (winter). Brrr….

And there you have it, all 12 months of the year. Again, for most of the learners of Russian language this information has little practical value. There is no need to memorize any of the Russian words in this post since most of them fell out of use a while ago. However, if you are curious about the history of Russian language, love obscure and forgotten words and crave trivia knowledge, then you might find this post rather entertaining.

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15 Responses to “12 Months in Russian – Part 2”

  1. Sarahjane 9 February 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    Thank you very much, Yelena. This is a beautiful set of posts. Collecting strange words is one of the joys of language learning for me, too.

    When I started Russian, I began a list of locatives (sometimes called Prepositional II- that is, the irregular -у ending ones, like на мосту and на лбу). I think my husband and I must have a good 200 of them now. This list sustains me when I’m struggling- even after three years- with those dreadful глаголы движения. :)

  2. Richard 10 February 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    Sarahjane,

    There are people who would pay good money for a list like the one you and your husband have compiled! :-D
    As for getting through the verbs of motion, just think of it as a linguistic rite of passage! LOL

  3. Richard 10 February 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    Yelena,

    Thanks for another great post! I don’t quite see the connection between the music video and any of the names mentioned for September; translating lyrics from songs is difficult, I find. A hint?

    By the way, how do you say “totally geeking out” in Russian? LOL

  4. Sally 13 February 2012 at 12:00 am #

    Spasiba, Yelena,

    I have just discovered this site from a reference relating to the roleplaying game called “Mythic Russia.” (http://mythicrussia.wordpress.com/about/)

    I found your post most informative and look forward to many more!

  5. yelena 14 February 2012 at 5:07 am #

    Thank you, Sally and welcome to the blog! Let me know if there’s something in particular you’d like to read about.

  6. yelena 14 February 2012 at 5:10 am #

    Lol, Richard, your question stumped me. The nearest I can think of at the time is “я чересчур заумничала”.

  7. yelena 14 February 2012 at 5:14 am #

    Sarahjane, I’d love to hear more about your list of locatives and your collection of strange Russian words! Can I e-mail you?

  8. yelena 14 February 2012 at 5:15 am #

    Richard, sorry to keep you waiting. Sure, here’s a hint – don’t listen to the lyrics, but instead concentrate on the name of the group, Верасы.

  9. Rob McGee 17 February 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    Instead, the month got its name after an insect called червец (coccid). This insect was used as a source of highly valuable red dye. That is why this word червен sounds so familiar to another seldom-used word червлёный (deep-red).

    I guess this must also be the source of червонный, the adjective for “Hearts” in playing cards? (e.g., Червонная пятёрка = “Five of Hearts”)

  10. Rob McGee 17 February 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    “я чересчур заумничала”

    Thumbs up!

    I had to look up the meaning of the adjective заумный, and I found “overly obscure; abstruse; arcane”, etc.

    And -ничать is just a colloquial suffix that forms imperfective verbs from adjectives or nouns, often with the meaning “to act in a specified manner.”

    And чересчур means more or less the same as слишком (“too much; excessively”) though maybe there are stylistic differences between them.

    So put it all together and it means something close to “I was getting way too arcane.” or “I went off on a really obscure tangent,” etc.

  11. Katerina 18 February 2012 at 9:01 am #

    I really enjoyed this post! Just bought a book on Norwegian etymology. Now I’ll have to find one about Russian too. :-)

  12. Richard 20 February 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Елена,

    Спасибо за “я чересчур заумничала”! Ты умница! :-)

  13. yelena 21 February 2012 at 2:54 am #

    Thank you, Richard :)

  14. yelena 21 February 2012 at 3:11 am #

    Katerina, I’m glad you did. Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to read about.

  15. Lakisha Torris 18 June 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    An attention-grabbing dialogue is worth comment. I believe that you need to write extra on this matter, it might not be a taboo subject however generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers


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