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Words new to me: брындахлыстничать

August 6, 2013

OK, this exact word is one you’re likely to come across either zero or one times, but as this 2006 piece by Marina Koroleva on the related брандахлыст (брындахлест, etc.) says, it’s “pure pleasure to say aloud.” And -ничать, used to make verbs meaning ‘habitually do something the speaker perceives as worthless,’ is my favorite derivational suffix. (As I understand it, not every verb in -ничать has this pejorative sense, but a lot do, including new words formed with it.)

Koroleva is one of the hosts of Echo of Moscow’s We Speak Russian, a quiz show on the finer points of the language, which is a lot of fun, if a bit prescriptivist.

Here’s the one time you might see the word:

“But what’s this for, sister? Why do I need your money? Can’t I take out subscriptions for my daughter myself?”

“Well, you can do what you want, but I’m asking you to do this from me. And if you don’t want to, I’ll put it in the mail myself,” she added, reaching for the money on the table.

“No, why are you getting mad? I’ll send it tomorrow.”

“Yes, please do, and tell Liza that I’m the one sending her the journals. Let her read to her heart’s content. It’s better than moaning and bryndakhlystnichat’-ing with hussars.” (Leskov, No Way Out [Некуда, 1864], book 1, chapter 17)

So what does it mean, and where does it come from? Fasmer’s etymology of брандахлыст says the second half of the word comes from хлыстать ‘drink large amounts (of alcohol),’ and the first half may come from the German Branntwein ‘vodka,’ ultimately from the place-name Brandenburg. But the first half also looks like the Czech brynda ‘glop, swill’ and the Belarusian брында ‘idler, good-for-nothing.’

These meanings are all plausibly connected to брандахлыст because it can mean either ‘low-quality alcoholic drink, runny soup, swill’ or ‘idler, good-for-nothing, useless person.’ According to Koroleva, speakers today all know the second sense, of a frivolous person who wastes their own and others’ time, but the drink-and-liquid-food sense is obsolete. Leskov’s phrase, I suppose, means something like ‘frittering away her time with cavalrymen.’

Looking this up, I noticed the edition of Leskov has a built-in concordance with links, which reveals that the “The Rabbit Carriage” (Заячий ремиз, written 1894, published 1917) has a character nicknamed King Bryndokhlyst, who, anticipating the modern cliché, is crazy and wears a tinfoil hat (well, crown).

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2013 9:23 am

    I remember we discussed the translation of “Заячий ремиз” here, and I’m still uncomfortable with the Sperrle version, given that ремиз does not seem to mean ‘carriage’ in Russian. I used ctrl-F on the text you linked to, and the word does not actually occur in the story, so it’s no use hoping for context to clarify it. Do you know what her evidence for that reading is? (As is obvious, I still haven’t gotten that book from a library, and it still costs an arm and a leg.)

  2. August 7, 2013 10:04 am

    Google Books tells me Sperrle says “My personal preference for translating “Zaiachii remiz” as “The Rabbit Carriage” is not because I necessarily think that this translation is superior or more plausible…” Hmm.

  3. August 7, 2013 6:58 pm

    Sperrle spends a good 5 pages (150-54) of her book on the title of that story. Here’s a summary:
    1. Leskov cared a lot about titles. Other writers came to him “with requests ‘to name the child.’” He especially liked Заячий ремиз, which he planned to use for a never published and now lost 1891 story (no one can be sure, but people think it wasn’t just an earlier version of the 1894 story), even though he thought it was hard to understand.
    2. The title is confusing. Ремиз can mean lots of things in Russian, following the many meanings of French remis and remise. Ремиз “in its most common meaning defines a penalty in a card game or an insufficient take from a deck of cards. The choice of ‘rabbitlike’ (zaiachii) as a qualifying adjective for this activity is truly beyond easy grasp. A highly specialized and more obscure meaning tor remiz comes from the hunting domain: ‘a place where wild animals live and breed.’ this meaning, which makes sense when combined with the attributive ‘rabbit,’ was favored by foreign translators.” Magarshack used “The March Hare,” and McLean “The Rabbit Warren,” later “The Rabbit Refuge.”
    3. If you assume this animal-related meaning of ремиз is the relevant one, you’ve solved the problem of how to connect the two words in the title to each other, but not how to connect the title to the content of the story. And maybe the title really isn’t connected to the story – the fact that “it freely migrated from one work to the next” supports this view.
    4. But there’s another, rarer meaning of ремиз, from remise as a masculine noun in French, short for une voiture de remise (where remise is feminine). “The meaning of the French word remise as a hired carriage is not in current Russian use, nor was it in Leskov’s time. This makes this interpretation of the title completely unintelligible, something Leskov was aware of when he chose it.” But Leskov knew this meaning of remise himself, and once wrote to his sister suggesting that, in Paris, she avoid fiacres and instead take a voiture de rémise [the extra accent mark is in Leskov’s letter].
    5. There is some evidence Leskov may have had the carriage meaning in mind in his rather cryptic correspondence about the story.
    6. With the carriage meaning, the title makes a nice oxymoron: “Usually one hires a cab to get to a specific destination. But if the carriage behaves like a rabbit, it will run along an unpredictable course and most certainly will not end up where one wants to go.”
    7. Best of all, with the carriage interpretation, the title has something to do with the plot of the story: “Such a title aptly reflects one of the central episodes of the story where the main protagonist, a village police chief, is in hot pursuit of a suspected subversive, a much feared ‘socialist.’ The chase is carried out in a carriage driven by the hero’s newly hired coachman. But the police chief is not going where he thinks he is, realizing much too late that the person he is pursuing is actually his very own driver. And in good rabbit fashion the hunted party gets away.”

    By the way, I was wrong in my comments on that LH thread – Sperrle does specifically mention “coach-house” as one of the many meanings of remise.

    • August 7, 2013 7:30 pm

      Thanks very much for taking the trouble to write that out; I can see why she likes the idea, but I think I now know enough to feel safe in sticking with the traditional translation. It’s one of those trouvailles that, if you’re the one who came up with it, you can’t resist, but if not, it’s not all that convincing. In any event, I look forward to reading the story!

      • August 7, 2013 7:42 pm

        I know what you mean. I find Sperrle’s argument more convincing than you do, but there’s room for doubt. The thing is, I know exactly what she’s claiming, and I feel like Magarshack and McLean are kind of punting on ремиз – what title would you use?

  4. August 9, 2013 9:17 am

    I would stick with “Hare Park,” which (unlike “Rabbit Warren”) preserves a sense of mystery but is justifiable in terms of the actual language. (Also, заяц means ‘hare,’ not ‘rabbit.’) I mean, let’s face it, not a single native speaker of Russian is going to interpret ремиз as ‘carriage,’ and to my mind that disqualifies it as a translation, no matter how clever the arguments in its behalf. (Imagine if a Russian developed a theory that “bowl” in The Golden Bowl should be understood in the sense ‘bolus,’ which French bol has!)

    • August 9, 2013 9:50 am

      Thanks – I see now that you said which title you favored back in the comments on your post, and that Mirsky used The Hare Park, which is another point in its favor. You’ve almost got me convinced, but I wish I knew more about what multilingual native speakers in the 1890s would have made of ремиз. The -из makes ремиз look French – it’s as if The Golden Bowl were spelled with an eau or had some other marker of Frenchness.

      It’s too bad “The Rabbit Remise” doesn’t work. (Or “The Hare Remise,” if you like – to me the psychological need to distinguish rabbits from hares is a place where Russian differs from English. I know many English speakers can and do make the distinction, but I think the use of “rabbit” for rabbits and hares is even more common than “monkey” for monkeys and apes.)

  5. August 9, 2013 11:19 am

    You know, actually I think using “Remise” is brilliant — it restores the sense of mystery and avoids having to pin down the sense of the word. If I didn’t believe in entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (does the world really need yet another title for a fairly obscure Leskov story?), I’d go for it in a heartbeat. I might even overcome my purist urges regarding “rabbit” vs. “hare” because “The Rabbit Remise” sounds so great. If I could go back in time, I’d suggest it to the first translator.

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