Scientists say that from ten to thirty percent of words in the Russian language are of foreign origin; and almost a quarter of this amount originated in ancient Greece. We do not even suspect how often we “speak Greek words.” The Greek words came to us “by sea or by land” together with sailors and merchants, clergy and scientists, and even with a princess! Here are some interesting facts.
- 1. Kievan Rus maintained trade relations with Byzantium; and due to this, the Greek words appeared in the Russian language related to shipping and trade: “ship”, “sail”, “bed”, “lemon”, “lantern”. By the way, the Greek verb “kimarit” (in the sense of “sleep”) on a ship’s shift meant a serious offense for Greek sailors. Russian seafarers, apparently, took their official duties casually, and therefore we added the verb “nap” to the unambiguous Greek to “sleep”.
- After the adoption of Christianity, the Russian vocabulary was replenished with such words that even now do not particularly require translation: “angelos” (messenger), “apostolos” (delegate), “prosphora” (offering). In Greece originate words “The Bible” (book), “Gospel” (good news), “Icon” (image).
- Sophia Palaiologina, niece of the last byzantine emperor Constantine XI, became the wife of our tsar Ivan III the Great. Not only precious icons, but also “scholars” books, which became the basis of Ivan the Terrible’s library, came to Russia along with them (as a dowry). Architects, artists, scientists came to Muscovy following the “princess of Tsargrad”. Of course, they brought with all them new words: “philosophy”, “mathematics”, “astronomy”, “notebook”, “school”. It is not known for certain who brought us the “symmetry-proportionality,” but the word “dragon”, for example, first appeared in the writings of Maxim the Greek, a monk and writer invited to Russia to translate Greek books.
- Many Greek words are quasi-Latin-borrowings: for example with ending in “-kratiya” (democracy), -logy (chronology), “-ema” (problem, system).
- Often in Greece originate parts of complex words: “aqua” (water), “chrono” (time), “geo” (earth). This is especially evident in the names of various sciences, where such Greek roots as “logos” (word) and “grapho” (I write) are present: geography–a description of the earth, geology–the science of the earth, autograph–”I write myself”.
- Sometimes these “strangers”, once in the Russian environment, changed their original meaning. So, the Greek word “idiotos” literally translates as “private individual”, but in Russian, an idiot is a person suffering from congenital dementia, or simply a fool. (Although the logic in changing the meaning can be traced: the ancient Greeks called so–most likely without stigma–a citizen who did not want to participate in public life. A Russian would ask in such a case: is he not an idiot?).
By the way, the Greek word “school” (σχολή) originally meant “leisure, free time, rest”; and the word “pedagogue” (derived from παιδαγωγός) literally means someone who escorts children. In ancient Greece, so was originally called “a slave who escorted the boy to and from school”, and later–the “educator or mentor.”
Mikhail Vasilievich Lomonosov wrote that the Church Slavonic language “rich in nature … was even more enriched by the Greek one.” In the Slavic language we find a “Greek abundance, and from here we multiply the contentment of a Russian word, which is great in its own sufficiency, but is useful in absorption of Greek beauty through the Slovenian…”