Katsap and khokhol

“Just carry on in this spirit, idiots!”

Neighboring peoples hating each other from the heart always have some nice names in store for the other, in which they compress their contempt and aversion. In Russian-Ukrainian relations, such is the pair of names which are particularly common these days in the flames of Ukrainian and Russian forums: katsap and khokhol.

The хохол, used by the Russians to mock the Ukrainians – yes, the great Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol [pronounce Khokhol] was also called like this –, originally meant the single, long lock of hair left on the otherwise completely shaved head of the Zaporozhye Cossack warriors. The Cossacks, of course, were only one amongst the several Southern Russian, Ruthenian, Rusyn and other ethnic groups with radically different historical traditions, who were involved in the Ukrainian ethnogenesis. Nevertheless, as this nickname, documented since the 17th century, was used for all the “little Russians” in today’s Ukraine, it was in fact the first comprehensive ethnonym of the Ukrainian nation, crystallizing itself since the late 19th century. Perhaps this also contributes to the fact that today the figure of the warrior or funny Cossack is a mascot of Ukrainian identity even in such regions as Podolia or Galicia, which have nothing to do with the Cossack tradition, and where the local Ruthenians even considered the Cossacks as a different and hostile ethnic group. And perhaps also to the other fact that today they try to put a positive spin on the name khokhol, and thereby the image of the Ukrainian nation, with the long hair.

“I am XXL / khokhol. – The Ukrainian girls are the most beautiful!”

However, the origins of the name кацап – used by the Ukrainians to mock the Russians – are disputed. According to Vladimir Dal’s authoritative Great Russian dictionary, it was borrowed from the Turkish and Tartar kasab, ʻbutcher’ in the meaning of ʻwarrior, soldier’, and it also came to the Ruthenians from the Cossack territories over the Dnester.

Nevertheless, The etymological dictionary of the Ukrainian language (1985, II. 572.) is not satisfied with this etymology:

“…очевидно, утворене від цап за допомогою специфічного компонента ка-, як жартівливе позначення людей, що носять довгі бороди (Фасмер II 213, Преобр. I 302, Bruckner 211), недостатньо обґрунтоване виведення (Крымский Укр. Гр. I 20, Яворницький 342) від тур. крим.-тат. аз. kassap «м'ясник», яке походить від ар. qaşşăb.

“…obviously from tsap, ʻbilly-goat’, with the addition of the prefix ka, ʻlike’, as a comic reference to people wearing long beards (Фасмер II 213, Преобр. I 302, Bruckner 211). The explanation (Крымский Укр. Гр. I 20, Яворницький 342), which derives it from Turkish and Crimean Tartar kassap ʻbutcher’ or Arabic qaşşăb (with a similar meaning) is not satisfactory.”

The Ten Commandments of the [marriageable] daughters. A ten-piece series of postcards by Hulak Vasil, 1918. Seventh commandment: Never fall in love with a katsap!

Although the source of the pejorativeness of ethnic nicknames is, in most cases, the fact that exclusively the people disdaining us uses that name, nevertheless, it is not even so that the source of the nickname is indifferent. It just feels better if you are mocked as a formidable enemy. And it just feels better if you can mock them as miserable billy-goats.

3 comentarios:

Rupert Neil Bumfrey dijo...


MOCKBA dijo...

You may need to write about the pejorative names for political persuasions too, for fears of sinister ideologies of the far right and left has as much to do with Ukraine's disunity as fears of ethno-religious by Poland or Russia.

In any case, I heard the word khokhol before in the contexts which weren't pejorative at all - and only loosely related to Ukraine-ness. It was used for self-identification by some Cossack descendants in the Caucasus (who indeed ultimately hailed from the Sich' Cossacks of Ukraine, transferred to the new frontiers after the pacification of Crimea in 1787). I remember chatting with a gal from Nevinka (formally Nevinnomyssk, literally "Innocent Point" at a confluence of great Kuban' River and little Innocent Creek, so renamed because the name the soldiers originally gave to the stream was deemed too obscene to be suitable for the maps. The Nevinka lady said, in her mellifluous Southern accent, that she was a Khokhlushka. Does it mean "Ukrainian", we wondered? No, she said, she is a Russian Khokhlushka - that who the inhabitants of their town are, all Russian Khokhols.

That was 30 years ago, of course, and I wonder if the semantics shifted much since then.

Studiolum dijo...

It would be very good to write about them, indee. Don’t you want to?

A beautiful story, one of so many microhistories in these regions. It also attests how late development the formation of the Ukrainian nation is, and how many transitions it involved. It is a bit like the Slovak inhabitants of my former village, who came down on the Hungarian plains more than a century before the “establishment” of the Slovak nation, so they still consider themselves as “Tót” (centuries ago a neutral, now a somewhat pejorative ethnonym), and distinguish themselves from the Slovaks of Slovakia.