Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Crimean words in English.

The Thin Red Line.

Ukrainian crisis has brought back place names and events in Crimea that gave English a number of words and phrases some of which are hardly associated now with the war between Russia and a coalition of Britain, France and Turkey (plus the Kingdom of Sardinia) in 1853-1856. 

Here is a short list of Crimean words and phrases in English.

My top three are:

Balaklava (or Balaclava) — a small port to the East of Sevastopol that served as the main British base during the war. It gave name to the type of knitted hat that covers head, neck and most of the face. Patriotic English ladies are said to have produced them en masse for the troops ill-prepared for the harsh Winter campaign. Beloved of terrorists, robbers and spetsnaz in late 20th Century its name became disconnected from its origins. What's interesting is that 'balaclava' wasn't used in the hat sense in Russian until after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was imported in the English sense only recently. (choose from a selection of Balaclava articles on Wikipedia.)

Raglan — Lord Raglan was the commander of the British army in Crimea (and died there towards the end of the war.) The invention of raglan, a type of clothing that has sleeves without seams on the shoulders, is named after him. Seamless shoulders allowed freer movement and prevented rainwater from getting under coats. Raglan is still popular. (wiki article about him)

Cardigan — Lord Cardigan was the commander of British light cavalry during the Battle of Balaclava. The Charge of the Light Brigade immortalised him. Tennyson wrote the poem based on a report in The Times and when Cardigan returned to England before the end of the war he was mobbed as a national hero. Only later doubts about his role and character began to emerge. The type of knitted jacket, buttoned down the front and with thick turn-down collar is said to have been introduced by Lord Cardigan. (wiki article about him, wiki about cardigans.) 

Other Crimean words:

Crimea, Crimean War

Sevastopol (often Sebastopol) — Russian naval base and city on the Western tip of Crimea. Site of two long land sieges, during the Crimean War and during the second world war. Young Leo Tolstoy was a front-line artillery officer during the siege and wrote Sebastopol Sketches about the war. They were quickly published, were a huge success and secured Tolstoy's reputation as one of the foremost Russian writers. His method, that fully flourished in War and Peace, can already be seen in the Sketches.

Charge of the Light Brigade, see above.

The Thin Red Line — the phrase comes from the Times correspondent W.H.Russel's account the Highlanders action against the Russian cavalry charge. They formed a line only two deep. It was their gallantry that saved the day at the Battle of Balaclava. Later the phrase came to mean an overstretched defensive effort. 

Alma — is a river in Crimea, site of the first major battle between the coalition and the Russians, won by the invading army. Alma became a popular name in Britain after the battle. Crimean Alma is of Turkic origin. In Crimean Tartar it means 'apple.'

Potemkin, the battleship and the fake villages are also linked to Crimea but of an earlier period. Prince Grigory Potemkin was a favourite of Empress Catherine II. In 1780s he directed Russian military and political advances in the south against Turkey and the Tartars. He annexed Crimea for Russia in 1783. The episode with the building of fake prosperous villages, sometimes just the fronts of houses, is disputed by contemporaries and later historians. It refers to the visit of Catherine to Crimea in 1787. A German account of the trip described the massive building of fake villages on the orders of Potemkin to impress Catherine. 
The Battleship Potemkin, made famous by Eisenstein's 1925 film, was built at the end of 1890s and named after Prince Potemkin. The mutiny described in Eisenstein's film happened in 1905, during the first Russian revolution. 

There are many other references to Crimea in English. Chekhov, for example, lived in Crimea towards the end of his life. The Lady and the Dog was written there and describes Yalta, the fashionable resort city on the southern coast of Crimea. 

If you have additions to my list, they are most welcome.

Picture: The Thin Red Line, painting, o/c, by Robert Gibb, 1881, National War Museum of Scotland. Image from here.

Read this story in Russian here.


Vasha said...

"Sevastopol" is known to guitar pickers as the name of an open-D tuning, discussed here; the name probably comes from Henry Worrall's 1860 parlor-guitar composition in an open tuning "Sevastopol. A descriptive fantaisie".

Alexander Anichkin said...

Thanks, I didn't know this.

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