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Words new to me: игра в жгуты

October 6, 2014
Le Jeu de la main chaude (c. 1775-80) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Le Jeu de la main chaude (c. 1775-80) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

The игра в жгуты is apparently a game equivalent to the French jeu de la main chaude or the English “hot cockles.” One player bent forward, hands stretched backward; one of the other players hit the first player’s hands with something (a switch, a thin piece of cord; the Russian name of the game comes from жгут ‘braided cord’); and the first player had to guess who it was. Because of the position of the blind player, in France the name of the game was a euphemism for the guillotine.

In Viazemskii’s Old Notebook (Старая записная книжка, this part apparently from 1850 or 1852, but published posthumously in 1884), some Turks play жгуты while others, “disturbed neither by our presence nor by their brothers’ games,” face east for their evening prayer.

The younger guests at Ol’ga Nikanorovna’s country house in Ol’ga N.’s “Two Meetings” (Два свиданья, 1865) played hot cockles, forfeits (фанты), and “most often of all French charades en action” while the older guests played cards (219).

The same pastime, or at least the same word, appears in Vsevolod Krestovskii’s The Slums of Petersburg (Петербургские трущобы, 1864-66), as the last in a long list of prison games in an enormous footnote, but in the prison version one man lies on a cot and others keep hitting him hard on the back with the cord until he guesses right and trades places with the man whose identity he guessed.


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