Friday, 25 March 2011

What's In A Name?

As with most large cities, the origin behind the name of Russia's capital is rife with different theories. Most folk tend to point towards the principal feature of Moscow (Москва - Massk-va, the stress being on the first syllable edit: no it's not, it's on the second, whoops! If a vowel in Russian isn't stressed, then it's not pronounced the way it should. So, for example, an unstressed "o" sounds like "ah") - its river, which is called the Moskva River. Naming a city according to its proximity to a geographical feature isn't exactly inspired. Regardless, what's the root of Москва?

According to some ancient Baltic languages (possibly Mordovian or Finno-Ugric), Москва could have come - via a slight mutation - from their words for 'dark' or 'muddy'. Another simply points to 'bear-river'. However, I was told a far more entertaining tale the other day regarding the origin of Москва. But first a little preamble.

In 1147, Prince Yury Dolgoruky of Rostov founded what would be later known as Moscow and set up a wooden kremlin there (кремль krem-l). Nowadays when you say the word Kremlin, most folk will associate it as the center of Russian government. What it actually means is something close to the word 'fortress'. Even though it got burned down a couple of times, Moscow has always had its kremlin in the same place.

So, if we believe my friend's account, Dolgoruky for whatever reason allegedly had an obsession with the word мост (mawst) or 'bridge'. It's not exactly a complete stretch of the imagination, there's a great big river there, and the prince probably did want a bridge. Over time, Dolgoruky kept saying мост, eventually leading to him dropping the 't' from the word.

Then, one day, while he was standing by the river, a frog (лягушка - lya-goosh-ka) leapt up the bank and croaked. Seeing as this was a Slavic frog, he did not 'ribbit'. In Russian, the onomatopaeia for a frog's croak is квак (kvak). Dogs (собака - soh-bah-ka), incidentally, do not go woof, they go гаф-гаф (gaff-gaff); pigs (свиня - sveen-yah) go хрунь (khroon); horses (лошадь - low-shad) go огого (oh-go-go); but cats (кот - cot) still go miaow regardless of language.

Dolgoruky's "мос" and the frog's "квак" came together in that moment, and thus was born Москва.


In other news, spring has decided to rear its slush-coloured head. Proof of this was demonstrated beautifully by a coworker, who suddenly noticed that his wristwatch actually had a glow-in-the-dark dial. It had been so gloomy over the past few months that it simply wasn't absorbing any light until now.

Tango continues unabated. There was a special concert a couple of weekends ago at the Central House of Artists, during which the instructors of the school I go to performed.

Also performing were two Argentine maestros, Omar Caceres and Vidala Barboza, who stole the show (sorry, Anton). The way they moved so fluidly on stage pretty much confirms that all they do in Buenos Aires is just drink and shag. Apologies for the autofocus on this one; my camera had a mind of its own for the first 20 seconds.

There are more videos from the event on youtube, which you can find by clicking this link.

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