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Words new to me: драбант

October 15, 2013

The word драбант ‘bodyguard’ comes, via Polish and Czech drabant, from German Drabant. Cf. English trabant; трабант also exists in Russian. According to Russian Wikipedia (and other online sources seem to confirm it), the word was used to describe certain soldiers for False Dmitry I, “consisting initially of Poles he brought with him, and later of hired foreigners.”  It comes up in book 1, chapter 8 of Leskov’s No Way Out (Некуда, 1864), between a reference to Marina Mniszech and a chapter about a Polish character, Justyn Pomada.

Looking back at book 1 from book 2, chapter 20, where I am now, I see the Polish theme was there all along. That’s not surprising for 1864, or for Leskov anytime, but there’s really a lot. One of the revolutionaries in the novel is a Pole and a disciplined puppetmaster who speaks now in Russian with Polish borrowings, now in Polish transliterated into Cyrillic, now in Polish in its native alphabet. Another character claims to be a Jew from Berdychiv in present-day Ukraine, but Doctor Rozanov cleverly speaks Polish to him and gets him to reveal the (apparently quite important) fact that he’s actually a Polish Jew [Sorry, I garbled this: he claims to be from Courland in present-day Latvia, and Rozanov insists he is a Polish Jew from Berdychiv or elsewhere in western Ukraine]. Russian revolutionaries suddenly come out with Polonisms like нехай (niechaj) instead of пусть ‘let, may,’ as I understand it to show their contact with their Polish comrades. Even the narrator uses a few, like досконально ‘thoroughly.’ I’m not sure how to take that yet. [Though see comments by Languagehat and Alexei K. below: my instincts on what is or isn’t a Polonism are probably off.]

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Vika Thorstensson permalink
    October 15, 2013 8:54 am

    I had no idea what драбант was. Thank you.
    On the Polish theme: I admit I have always liked the Polish/Ukrainian parts in No Way Out. Not only because they reflect so interestingly on 1863 but also… like the fact that of all the people who had so much to say about the Poles and their national character (should we mention Dostoevsky?), Leskov actually spoke Polish and Ukrainian and could approach their culture through the medium of their language. I also like the fact that of all people who spoke so ardently about the status of the Ukranian language (should we mention Katkov?), Leskov could show–in such a vivid way–the fluid boundaries between these Slavic languages: the mixture between of the dialects in the southern provincial speech and all the Polonisms that the Russians use. Leskov appears to be so much more of a real linguist than all of Katkov’s “experts” in the Russian Messenger!

  2. October 15, 2013 9:59 am

    German Drabant apparently goes back (via Turkish) to Persian darbān ‘gatekeeper, porter; guard’ (from darb ‘door’).

    Even the narrator uses a few, like досконально ‘thoroughly.’

    I don’t think that’s a Polonism; at any rate, it’s derived from the good Russian word kon ‘beginning,’ and the list of regions Dahl gives for its use don’t suggest a Polish origin (e.g., the Vologda and Vladimir guberniyas).

    • October 15, 2013 10:56 am

      Maybe you’re right about досконально. It’s a good point about the regions in Dahl, and I see that Dostoevskii used the word fairly often, though other major writers (even Leskov, except here) seem to have neglected it. On the other hand, even if it’s not in fact a borrowing and was continuously used in regions far from Poland, I wonder how contemporaries perceived it. It says something that some dictionaries of foreign words claim it’s from doskonały, though so far I haven’t found it in an etymological dictionary.

      Come to think of it, it might make more sense to treat нехай as a Ukrainianism rather than a Polonism. Maybe the real point is, like Vika T. says, the “fluid boundaries between these Slavic languages” as Leskov saw them.

      I feel like there’s a set of words, like досконально and шибко, that some Russian writers use as if they were normal, unmarked words, but other Russian writers don’t use at all, while all Polish writers use their equivalents.

      • October 18, 2013 3:10 am

        Досконально sounds like standard literary Russian to me, but don’t forget how much literary Russian was influenced by Ukrainian and Polish in the decades after Kiev came under Russian control. Look at the major polemicists/poets/preachers of the Russian church under Alexey and Peter I – Feofan Prokopovich, Stefan Yavorsky, Simeon Polotsky, (St.) Dimitry Rostovsky – all of them grew up in what was Poland and graduated from the Kiev Mogila College (or Academy).

        Шибко and нехай don’t sound Polish to me at all, but both are folksy and unacceptable in educated speech (esp. нехай, which neighbors on пущай in my world). Dahl says нехай is “нареч. малорос…. смол. кур. ниж. перм. тамб.”

      • October 18, 2013 5:30 pm

        Thank you – this is very helpful! Пущай comes up later in the novel, as it happens, and seems to mark its speaker as of a lower social class than Arapov with his нехай.

  3. October 15, 2013 11:16 am

    Yes, Vika’s comment is excellent.

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