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Words new to me: эшпатон

January 4, 2013

The word эшпатон looks like and is a foreign borrowing, but is it from German (with the -шп-) or French (since it begins with э and ends with -он)? It’s clearer in the more widely used form of the word эспонтон (a third form, эспантон, also existed), which seems to come from the French esponton from the Italian spuntone. English apparently has the word spontoon as well as the term half-pike for this weapon.

Judging by one use in Pisemskii, nineteenth-century Russian writers apparently associated it with the (late) eighteenth century:

Nadezhda Pavlovna Basardina was the fifth or so of Captain Rylov’s daughters. Recently enough for her to remember he had gone about in a pleated caftan, in stockings and boots, and liked, as something probably very clever, to do tricks in front of guests with a staff as if it were a spontoon from the time of Paul.

Эспонтоны (spontoons). CC photo by George Shuklin.

The pessimistic Pisemskii’s Взбаламученное море (Troubled Seas) was published in 1863 but this part of it is set in the 1840s, when Nadezhda Pavlovna is already the mother of two grown children, so her father could easily have been born between 1760 and 1780 or so and come of age during the brief reign of Emperor Paul. Besides the spontoon and the clothes, his rank emphasizes his eighteenth-centuriness: секунд-майор was already obsolete (it was also the rank of Pushkin’s construct Belkin).

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2013 9:18 am

    Astonishingly (to me), spontoons were used in the U.S. Army “as late as the 1890s” (according to the Wikipedia article you link). The things one learns from Russian literature!

  2. January 5, 2013 11:04 pm

    I’m astonished by that article too – the spontoon continuing to serve a ceremonial function for so long makes obsolete military equipment seem like outdated language in prayers or legal documents.

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