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Words new to me: густ

November 19, 2014

This word is rare in Russian, and perhaps not even a Russian word, but it means exactly what it seems like it should in book 1, chapter 7 of Leskov’s The Bypassed (Обойденные, 1865):

Here в этом в самом густе appears to be equivalent to в этом в самом роде ‘of just that sort.’ Or maybe in this context “that’s about the size of it.” The Polish word gust, which is cognate with Latin gustus, English gusto, French goût, and similar words, can mean “taste,” but it can also mean “type, kind, sort” so that coś w tym guście means “something of the sort.” I’ve been wrong before when I thought a word used in Russian was a Polonism, but I can’t immediately find evidence of густ being used this way in Ukrainian. (I did see “Вы по любому не в его густе” used to mean “you’re definitely not his type” in a rather ugly online quarrel from 2013 that was in Russian and another language, possibly Kazakh.)

I think this is another example of Leskov’s being fond of characters who are culturally between Russia, Ukraine, and Poland, just as he likes to create characters in some middle ground between peasants/house servants and nobles, who aren’t typical mid-century raznochintsy either. The tipsy character speaking, Il’ia Makarovich Zhuravka, earlier uses a bit of Old Church Slavic, яко же хощеши ‘as you wish’ (1.3, from Matthew 15:28). I think his surname ambiguously suggests Ukrainian origins: the toponym Zhuravka has been used in and around Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. We know that Il’ia Zhuravka is from Kiev [update 3/11/15: and we are told he is “a pure khokhol beyond all possible possibility,” 2.1], like the possibly semi-autobiographical main character Dolinskii, whose grandfather was a “half-Pole and half–Little Russian” and a member of the old Kiev aristocracy (1.3). (Somewhere Leskov wrote that his contemporaries saw him as a writer from Oryol Province, where he was born and grew up, but he associated himself with Kiev, where he lived and worked in early adulthood and was unhappily married.)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2014 8:31 am

    No relationship to густой ?

    • November 19, 2014 10:08 am

      I don’t think this густ is related to густой, which seems to come from a separate Balto-Slavic root. The у in густой was a nasal vowel in Old Church Slavic (гѫстъ), cf. Polish gęsty ‘thick, dense’ = густой. I’m no expert on Proto-Indo-European and I can’t rule out the possibility that long, long ago the ancestors of Latin gustus and OCS гѫстъ were related (though their meanings don’t seem obviously connected), but at the very least I think gust and gęsty came into Polish by quite different paths.

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