Russian Words of Turkic Origin Posted by on Aug 8, 2019 in Vocabulary

Russian is a Slavic language that has shares its origins with such languages as Ukrainian or Belorussian and, earlier, Polish or Bulgarian. Most of its vocabulary comes from this common Slavic “stock.” However, a few words in Russian have Turkic origins. They probably entered Russian from the Turkic languages (the group that includes Turkish, Tatar, and Kazakh, among others) spoken in the Golden Horde (Золота́я Орда́) and the Ottoman Empire (Осма́нская импе́рия).

dried apricots

Image by Enotovyj from Pixabay

Let’s look at some of these words. I don’t speak any Turkic language, so the translations and information on cognates in this post comes from Wiktionary.


Numerous words of Turkic origin refer to food items:

  • балы́к: smoked or cured salmon spine
    Compare this with the Turkish word balık (fish).
  • алыча́: cherry plum
    The origin of this word is the Azerbaijani alça.
  • изю́м: raisins (usually uncountable)
    Related words include the Uyghur ئۈزۈم‎ (üzüm, “grape”) and Turkish üzüm.
  • курага́: dried apricots (uncountable)
    Similar to the Kumyk kurägä, dried apricots.

Society and Law

During the times of the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus, many words that entered the Old Russian language had to do with the government and social institutions:

  • тамо́жня: customs, from тамга́ — seal, brand
    Related words include the Bashkir тамға (tamğa, “brand, mark”) and Tatar tamɣa (seal).
  • де́ньги: money (currently plural only, initially singular “деньга” referred to a coin)
    Compare this to the Kazakh теңге (teñge), the name of the national currency of Kazakhstan.
  • казна́: treasury; казначе́йство is the name of the state Treasury/Exchequer
    Related to the Turkish hazine (“treasure, treasury”). Probably originated from the Iranian languages.
  • тюрьма́: prison, jail/gaol
    Compare to the Tatar төрмә (törmä, “prison”). You may sometimes see a version about this word being derived from the Latin turris, tower.

Image by PBarlowArt from Pixabay


A few animals also got their names from Turkic languages:

  • каба́н: wild boar; this word replaced the Slavic word вепрь in everyday speech
    Cognates include Azerbaijani qaban, Kazakh кабан (kaban).
  • барсу́к: badger
    Compare to the Turkish word porsuk.
  • тарака́н: cockroach
    The origin of this word is ambiguous, but many versions point to a Turkic source.
  • суро́к: groundhog, woodchuck
    One version says this word came from a Turkic language, but another implies the name just imitates the sound this animal makes.


Many items of clothing have Turkic names, but these names have been in Russian so long, it doesn’t even register any more!

  • хала́т: bathrobe, house dress, lab coat
    This word is related to such words as the Azerbaijani xələt (“dressing gown”) and Uzbek xalat (“robe”), which are ultimately derived from Arabic.
  • чуло́к: stocking
    Compare to the Tatar čolgåu, footwrap.
  • колпа́к: cap, nightcap, fool’s cap
    Similar words include the Tatar калфак (qalfaq), Kazakh қалпақ (qalpaq), and Turkish kalpak (“cap”)

Did you recognize any of the words? Do you speak any Turkic language and, if so, how accurate are the comparisons I included in this post?

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. David W Roberts:

    Fascinating post! I know a little (very) Turkish, so here are two more:
    From kara = black and taş (ş = ш) = stone
    and собака from köpek – not quite as obvious, hard k has softened to s (cf Kaiser and Caesar) and p has mutated to b (common grammatical mutation in Welsh)

  2. David W Roberts:

    I know a little (very) Turkish – no grammatical genders, hardly any irregularities, but still not very easy! Two more:
    Карандаш from kara (black) and taş (stone)
    and собака possibly from köpek (dog) – not as obvious – k sound has softened (like Kaiser and Caesar) and p has mutated to b (a common grammatical mutation in Welsh)

  3. David Roberts:

    Note the double posting – I thought it hadn’t worked the first time so I wrote it again!

    • Maria:

      @David Roberts No worries — let me know if you would like me to delete either comment.

  4. David Roberts:

    Карандаш was one of the first words I learned in Russian, and never had to make any effort to remember. However, it’s a word I puzzled over for many years. When I was about 10 yrs old one of my aunts went on holiday to Switzerland, and she brought me back a set of colouring pencils in a metal box with the name Caran d’Ache. When I started learning French a year a so later I soon realised that this was the trade name of a French company that makes stationary items like pencils, crayons, pens… A few years later I got interested in Russian and borrowed “Teach Yourself Russian” from the public library. Gave up after the first two chapters, but I’d learned the alphabet and learned the word for pencil – карандаш, which is a pretty exact transliteration of Caran d’Ache. Surely there must be some connection? Several decades later, now much more into Russian, I still couldn’t see the connection, but with the help of Google I eventually found out. One of Napoleon’s soldiers had become a prisoner of war in Russia and after the war he settled in Russia, learned Russian, and became an artist-cartoonist. Eventually he went back to France and used to sign his pencil cartoons Caran D’Ache, transliterating the Russian word for the tool of his trade. This was then taken up as a trade name by the Swiss stationary company. By this time I’d realised that the word for pencil in the other Slavic languages is nothing like карандаш, and I soon found the link to Turkik.