12 Months in Russian – Part 2 Posted by yelena on Feb 9, 2012 in Culture, History, language
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.