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Words new to me: карачун

August 20, 2014

From chapter 5, section 3 of Chernyshevskii’s What Is to Be Done? (Что делать?, 1863):

It is known that many of the Big Wigs who practise have this custom: if death, according to the opinion of the Big Wig, is inevitably approaching the patient, and if, by unfortunate [chance], they cannot get rid of the patient by sending him to any mineral springs or to any place abroad, then it is necessary to place him in the hands of some other medical man; and in these circumstances the Big Wig is willing to offer money from his own pocket for his colleague to take the case. (Dole and Skidelsky’s translation, p. 401)

Tucker has “death” here too (p. 281), and Katz has “demise” (p. 390). If I only saw the English and had to guess, I would assume the Russian was смерть or кончина, but it’s карачун.

Since I just learned the word, I can’t claim to understand its stylistic nuances, but I take the use of it to be part of the narrator’s attempt to sound savvy and cynical, to talk about important things in an irreverent way, to invite the reader to join him in being unimpressed by “Big Wig” doctors. Is it anything like “if a patient is definitely going to croak” or “snuff it” or “kick the bucket”? I see Dal’ uses капут before смерть in his definition, Ozhegov marks it as substandard, and Ushakov considers it substandard and regional. There is a long and complicated, and if I’m reading it right inconclusive, etymology in Fasmer under корочун.

Карачун can also be a last name, a place name (among other things, it’s the name of a mountain in eastern Ukraine near recent fighting), or an old name for the Christmas fast.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 20, 2014 9:00 am

    I love this quatrain from Vyazemsky’s “Масленица на чужой стороне” (1853):

    Не напрасно дедов слово
    Затвердил народный ум:
    “Что для русского здорово,
    То для немца карачун!”

    I first ran across the word in Zagoskin’s Юрий Милославский (1829): “Малыш, дай ему коня да приставь к нему двух казаков, и если они только заметят, что он хочет дать тягу или, чего боже сохрани, завести нас не туда, куда надо, так тут же ему и карачун!”

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