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Words new to me: карамболь

August 16, 2012

карамбóль, карамбóля can figuratively mean something like “confrontation, scene (as in ‘make a scene’)” but is initially jargon from billiards, describing a shot where the cue ball is made to hit a second ball and then ricochet into a third, or a game based on making such shots.

It comes from the French carambole ‘red ball in billiards,’ which comes from the Spanish carambola, which may come from the Portuguese carambola ‘carambola, star fruit.’ This in turn may come from the Marathi karambal. It’s related to English “carom” and “carambola.” The American Heritage Dictionary gives “a shot in billiards in which the cue ball successively strikes two other balls” as definition 2a for “carom,” though in English the term for the game as opposed to the shot is apparently carom billiards.

In Russian the fruit carambola is карамбóла. In French carambole, according to Le Petit Larousse 2003, means both the red billiard ball (though not the special shot or the type of game, it seems) and the fruit, listed in that order.

The context in Leskov is probably less interesting than the etymology. But карамболь in Russian, like carom in English, sounded odd to me, so odd that for a moment I thought Leskov was making up a word like плакон. Turns out it’s a regular word, used by many nineteenth-century writers. It also shows up in literature as billiards jargon, not just in the figurative meaning, as in a novel by N. N. Karazin.

—Постоянные нелады; еще шесть дней в неделю ничего, и туда и сюда, только промеж собою ничего не говорят да отворачиваются; а уж в воскресенье непременно и карамболь.

—Да почему же в воскресенье-то карамболь?

—Потому, как у них промеж собой все несогасие выходит в пирогах.

“Constant disagreements – things are actually fine six days a week, they go back and forth, only they don’t say anything to each other and turn away; but on Sunday there’s got to be a karambol’.

“But why a karambol’ on Sunday in particular?”

“It’s that the whole disagreement between them comes out in the pasties.”

See chapter 49 of Laughter and Sorrow (Смех и горе, 1871).

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