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Words new to me: потатчик

October 19, 2015

In Pisemskii’s A Thousand Souls (Тысяча душ, 1858), Ekzarkhatova, the loudly angry wife of a history teacher, complains to two consecutive school inspectors (штатный смотритель уездного училища) about her husband’s drinking. This is the result when she goes to the first one, Petr Mikhailovich Godnev, before he retires:

“You are beginning to yield to your unfortunate habit again, Nikolai Ivanich! I think you know the Greek saying: ‘Drunkenness is madness in miniature.’ Why should you want to be mad? With your mind, your education… it’s too bad, it is really!”

“Forgive me, Pyotr Mikhailich, no man could feel it more than I do,” replied Ekzarkhatov, bending his head still lower.

“You ugly mug, you!” interpolated his wife, no whit abashed by the presence of the inspector. “It’s all talk—in your heart you’re not a bit sorry! Five children and what do you do for them? Am I to steal, am I to go begging because of you?”

“Dear, dear! [Так, так]” said Godnev, shaking his head.

“Forgive me, Pyotr Mikhailich!” repeated Ekzarkhatov.

“I know you are sorry and I trust you will never do it again. Kindly go to your class,” said Pyotr Mikhailich.

“And you, Madam,” he added when Ekzarkhatov had gone, “you see I did not spare him. I gave him a good dressing-down. You need no longer fret…”

But Madame Ekzarkhatova was not to be so easily consoled.

“I needn’t fret? What did you say to him? You patted him on the back again, the cur!” she cried.

“Tck, tck! A lady should be ashamed to use such language!” said Pyotr Mikhailich. “Husband and wife should correct one another’s faults with loving kindness, not with abuse.”

“A fig for his love! He’s not worth a fig, the ugly fellow!” retorted Mrs. Ekzarkhatova. “If I had known how it would be I would never have come—you and he are as thick as thieves! [Кабы знала, так бы не ходила, потатчики этакие!]” she cried as she went out. (part 1, chapter 1; pp. 15-16 in Ivy Litvinov’s translation)

Godnev’s younger replacement (Kalinovich, the hero of the novel and possibly Pisemskii’s most famous character) listens to Madame Ekzarkhatova and sends an official report to the next higher level of the school administration. This is a disaster for the whole Ekzarkhatov family, and when Ekzarkhatova goes to Godnev for help, he reminds her that she had called him a потатчик (part 1, chapter 6).

Потатчик ‘indulgent person’ is related to the verb потакать / потакнуть ‘indulge,’ as are a number of variations on the theme: потакатель, потакальщик, потакала, потаковник, потаковщик, потатуй. The last one is interesting: according to Dal’, потатуй can mean someone indulgent or it can mean ‘yes man,’ from такать / потакать ‘say так a lot.’  I first took Ekzarkhatova’s use of потатчик as related to Godnev’s earlier “так, так” — it seemed as if she were angry that he had seemed to agree with her, but then didn’t take any decisive action. But of course there’s no problem with the “indulgent man” reading here.


One Comment leave one →
  1. October 20, 2015 8:20 am

    An interesting word for sure. Vasmer is not sure about the relation of потатуй (and presumably потатчик, which he does not mention) to the -так- words, and I definitely wouldn’t take Dahl’s word for it — he was a great word-collector, but no etymologist.

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