Legislation related to cucumbers

Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1677/88 of 15 June 1988 laying down quality standards for cucumbers. To the readers of this blog it may be interesting, I suppose, primarily from the philological point of view. As fits a EU document, over the 26 years since the quality standards for cucumbers have been laid down, they have been translated into 20-plus national languages of the European Union, all the translations being available at the URL above. (The Irish Gaelic and Croatian are disappointing omissions; I suppose Croatian readers will have to make do with the Slovenian, Slovak, and Bulgarian translations).

By comparing the translations, one can note to see the "Great Cucumber Divide", a line running from the North Sea to the Adriatic and dividing the continent in half. Almost everywhere in the Eastern, Northern, and Central Europe, the word for "cucumber" is a derivative of the Greek αγγούρια ("unripe"; all examples here and below are in plural, and in an oblique case); cf. German Gurken, Swedish gurka (similarly in other Germanic languages, except for English), Czech okurky, Slovak uhorky (similarly elsewhere in West and East Slavic), Latvian gurķiem, Finnish kurkkujen, etc.

Admittedly there is a strange non-αγγούρια island in the Balkans, with the Bulgarian краставици and obviously related Romanian castraveți. (Outside of the EU directive, we also find the same word in Albanian (kastravecë), Maceodnian, and Serbian/Croatian). So in this case the Balkan Sprachbund has a common word, but it is not the same Greek word that's common throughout half the Europe!

The south-western half of Europe is much less homogeneous. Spanish and Portuguese have pepinos, which comes, ultimately, from the Greek πέπων "melon" (as does the English pumpkin).

The English cucumber, via the French concombre is said to be derived from the Latin cucumis. In Italian, this word survived too, as cocomero, but there it is more likely to mean "watermelon" than "cucumber"; the apparently more standard Italisn word for "cucumber" preferred by the EU bureaucrats id cetriolo, which also happens to be a Greek loanword - with the original Greek meaning "citron"!

The Salahor has arrived

A classic of the Macedonian and Bulgarian poetry, Grigor Prlichev's In the Year 1762 (В 1762-ро лето) tells the (fictionalized) story of the abolition of the Archbishopric of Ohrid (which, according to most sources, actually, happened in 1767). Written in 1872, the poen has practically become a folk song in Macedonia, at least judging by the number and variety of its renditions available on Youtube.

The language of the poem, although obviously archaized for the effect, is, generally, quite easy to understand based on the modern Macedonian plus some knowledge of Church Slavonic. There is, however, one unusual word in it. In the first sentence of the poem, "a salaor arrived to Ohrid from Constantinople" (В Охрида од Цариграда дошел Салаор). The salaor then stood in front of the Patrik of Orhid (literally, "Patriarch", but in the Macedonian context, the Archbishop of Orhid - the spiritual leader of the Balkan Slavs), and delivered to him the Sultan's order, dismissing the Patrik and abolishing his office.

Now, who is a salaor? The word salaor (салаор) does not look like a typical Slavic word, so, considering the context, it can be a Turkish loanword. However, it does not appear in standard Bulgarian or Macedonian dictionaries or texts (other than Prlichev's poem). Now, one of characteristic features of Macedonian (in fact, one of its main differences from standard Bulgarian) is that Macedonian often drops the consonant h or, in intervocalic position, v, where it appears in Bulgarian. So one also needs to check salahor (салахор) and salavor (салавор) - which, however, don't appear in Bulgarian or Macedonian (or even Turkish) dictionaries or texts either. It does appear as a surname, however - Salahor in Canada and the US, Salavor in Ukraine... and Salahor is apparently attested as a Romanian word. But what does (did) it mean in Bulgarian?

The Bulgarian etymological dictionary to the rescue! (Macedonian, from the Bulgarian scholar's point of view - rarely shared by anyone outside of Bulgaria - is merely a dialect of Bulgarian, so any Bulgarian dictionary striving to comprehensively cover dialect words should include most of Macedonian words as well). The BER volumes have been appearing at the average rate of two per decade since 1971; presently, its authors have reached letter T (volume 7, 2010). And yes, volume 6 (published 2002) has a detailed article (page 443) on salahor (салахор), with spelling varieties salaor and salavor. This, indeed, is an obsolete word; its main meaning being given as "people driven ''en masse'' to do unpaid labor" (хора, карани вкупом на безплатна работа), i.e. corvée workers. Additional meanings attested in certain dialect are "laborers" (трудоваци) and "a wanderer" (скитник). The indicated etymology, however, indicates a rather different original meaning: Turkish salahor, from Turkish Turkish silâhşor, "an armed fighter; a musketeer", which itself is a loanword from Persian (selāḥšūr, which in its turn is constructed from Arabic roots.

According to the same dictionary, the same Turkish word, besides Bulgarian, entered other Balkan languages as well. Indeed, a Romanian dictionary explains salahór as an "unskilled day laborer, esp. on road or building construction projects", or (historically) "a peasant who, instead of paying taxes, would have to work on fortress repair, road maintenance and other heavy work". In Serbo-Croatian, where the word could be variously spelled as salahor, sarahor, saraor, seraor, the purported meaning would be that of a soldier whose duties involve guarding a fortress (rather than, say, going on field campaigns); it also exists there as more authentically Turkish silahšor, and refers to a member of the palace guard of the Ottoman Sultan.

A slight variation on the duties of a Salahor at the Sultan's court appears in a 19th century source, Travels in Albania and Other Provinces of Turkey in 1809 & 1810 by Rt. Hon. Lord Broughton (page 239), where "Squires of the Stable" (Salahor) are listed among the officials handling Sultan's horses.

To conclude, after reading all these definitions, we still don't know whom exactly Prlichev had in mind when he was writing about a salaor. Simply a "traveler" (скитник) would not make to much sense to refer to a person who has brought the official Sultan's order, and presumably was a person in a position of some responsibility. But a "day laborer" would make even less sense. A fortress guard, or even a "squire of the stable", is not the same as an imperial courier either; perhaps there was another shift in meaning somewhere... We do, however, now have a better idea of where and how the surname Salahor (or Salavor / Salaor) originated.


After a few really warm days...

* First bamboo shoots seen today. The old bamboo canes are apparently all dead after the last super-cold winter, but we'll have new ones...
* Volunteer tomato seedling sprout in the beds where tomatoes were grown last year. (We treat them as useless, since we'll have much bigger tomato seedlings grown indoor. In Indiana, you can let volunteer tomato seedling grow into a real plant, and it usually will bring fruit, but it will do so a month or two later than transplanted seedlings)
* New mint stems and leaves appeared above the ground. I was wondering if mint had been fully killed by the cold winter, but no, it has not.


If you read Russian, you'll read Macedonian in no time!

(This is my review of the Makedonsko russkij slovar by R.P. Usikova, Z.K. Shanova, M.A. Povarnitsina, E.V.Verizhnikova [Moscow, 2003] on amazon.com)

Modern Macedonian is a curious little language: it is a literary standard created in the 20th century for a group of South Slavic dialects spoken by people whom Bulgarian officials call "Macedonian Bulgarians", and Serb politician used to call "Southern Serbs". The actual language is a lot like Bulgarian, but there are a lot of differences in spelling between the standard written forms of the two languages (e.g., Macedonian often has a v or an f, or nothing at all where Bulgarian has an h), as well as some specifically Macedonian words, so that trying to look up Macedonian words in a Bulgarian dictionary would not be practical for most people. It is also nice to have a concise "cheat sheet" for Macedonian grammar, explaining the conjugation of verbs, the forms of pronouns (which, too, are often different from Bulgarian), etc.

There are good Macedonian dictionaries on the market, such as the weighty English-Macedonian, Macedonian-English Standard Dictionary (ISBN 9989809356), which is more complete than Usikova's volume, but also is a lot heavier; there is also a very good online dictionary. There are textbooks and grammars targeted to the English-speaking readers as well, such as a good academic grammar by Olga Mišeska Tomić (ISBN 089357385X). The fact is though, if you already grasp Russian grammar and have a good Russian vocabulary, you don't need to read the 500 pages of Tomić (or a similarly sized book on Macedonian grammar, in Russian, authored by Usikova herself). The 40-page grammar reference in the back of Usikova's dictionary, with handy conjugation tables etc, together with the dictionary itself, would let you read pretty much anything published in the Republic of Macedonia fairly easily. In my experience using this dictionary with a couple of Macedonian books or articles, I'd run into a stumbling block maybe once in 5-10 pages, and then a reference to a bigger (online) dictionary (if I can't guess the meaning of a word) or to Tomić book (if the grammar is particularly tricky) would often be helpful. And a major advantage of Usikova's book is that, while certainly not pocket-sized, it is still small enough to be fairly convenient for travel use.

Obviously, the book is written primarily for native Russian speakers, but anyone who's achieved a decent reading proficiency in Russian and now wants to "diversify" to another Slavic language can make a good use of it as well.

From a user's point of view, one certainly can slightly expand the vocabulary contained in this dictionary. Among possible candidates for additions I can list, for example, some words frequently used by Krste Misirkov in his famous "Za Makedonskite Raboti" (pretty much the first book ever written in modern Macedonian), such as arno ('good'), as well as some recent Serbian loanwords (?), such as točak (originally 'wheel', but seems to usually mean 'bicycle' in Macedonian). But, overall, the dictionary is quite adequate.