Among the Russophile community there is an super-fun hobby, which is to make fun of Ukrainian nationalists (aka “Svidomites”) and their propensity to ascribe ancient heritage to themselves. Depending who you read, Ukrainians have been around since Adam and Eve (aka “Adam Adamovich and Evochka Adamoribovna”). Ukrainian cavemen battled mighty mammoths, they built the pyramids, they excavated the Black Sea, etc.
The reality is that “Ukrainians” as such are a fairly recent self-defined ethnos. Probably even more recent than “Americans”, whose lineage can be traced back only to 1776. It would be, like, a modern-day American patriot claiming that Americans existed back in the days of King Nimrod, and maybe even built the Tower of Babel, using “Murican” ingenuity. Heck, that one I might actually believe. Everybody knows that Nimrods can’t build skyscrapers.
So, all of this would be hysterically amusing were it not for the fact that this a-historical nonsense is being taught, in earnest, in Ukrainian schools. And addling the minds of susceptible children. Oh well. They will grow up and learn that everything they were taught in school was bullshit. Just like American children grow up and come to realize that Davy Crockett was a racist bastard whose only good deed was that he didn’t shoot that bear when he was only three! Oh, he tried to, but the toddler’s aim was bad, and the innocent bear got away.
So, I was scrounging around for something to write about, and I saw this piece, containing the latest bit of svidomite nonsense. Apparently Ukrainian Radio (Channel 1) emitted a program in which it was stated that Ukrainian Cossacks dwelled in ancient Egypt around the time of the Pharaohs. Cited as authority for this view: Ukrainian “ethnographer” Sergei Plachinda (1928 – 2013).
Plachinda was born in the village of Shevchenko (currently Kirovogradsk Oblast), Ukraine in 1928, in a peasant family. From his earliest childhood, Sergei was forced to work for a living, even while still a schoolboy. He worked as a mechanic in his local sovkhoz, but later got a job writing for a newspaper. Writing became his ticket out of poverty. In 1953 he graduated from the Philological Faculty of Kiev University, then proceeded to Graduate School in the Shevchenko University, where he specialized in literature. In 1959 Plachinda published his first book, which was a series of short stories and sketches. In 1960, based on his volume of output, he was accepted into the Union of Soviet Writers. He continued to write prolifically for the next couple of decades. His works included literary fiction and biographies. [yalensis disclaimer: I have not read anything this guy wrote.]
After The Catastrophe (aka “Ukrainian Independence” – 1991), the aging Plachinda continued to apply pen to paper; and this is the period when his writings took (what his wiki calls) a “marginal” turn. Plachinda’s thoughts turned to history, mythology and legends. [yalensis: Rinse and Repeat with above disclaimer.] In his works on Ukrainian history and legends, Plachinda claimed that Jesus Christ was of Ukrainian origin, the argument being that Christ was of Etruscan origin, and that Etruscans were actually proto-Ukrainians. Plachinda also claimed that the Ukrainian dialect existed at the same time as Sanskrit. (Which, had he been a historical Indo-European linguist, he would have known better.) Plachinda also claimed that ancient Ukrainians learned how to tame horses; and invented such vital objects as the wheel, the plow, and the alphabet.
Again, this is all just a-historical and unscientific silliness, and people can just laugh at it; except that Ukrainian schoolchildren are actually reading such nonsense in their new textbooks. Oh well, like I said before, they’ll grow up and somebody some day will tell them it was all just a crock, upon which they wasted their growing brain cells.
The Origins of Cossacks
Citing Plachinda’s nonsense, Ukrainian Radio transmitted a segment claiming that Ukrainian Cossacks dwelled during the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The “proof”: Plachinda’s etymology [again, this guy was not a real linguist] of the word “Cossack” (Russian “Kazak“) from the Slavic word “kosa” (“braid of hair”).
The grain of truth in this B.S., is that the Slavic word “kosa” does indeed have an ancient derivation. Now, Historical Linguistics is not an exact science like Chemistry; but Indo-European Historical Linguistics is a reputable field of study with a long and factual-based foundation, called the Comparative Method. Most of the standard core etymologies are well founded. It is believed, with very solid evidence, that Proto-I-E *k’esa– (“to cut”) is the root of such words as Sanskrit śasti (“to cut down”). Latin castrāre (“to castrate”), Old Slavic kosit’ (“to cut down, as with a scythe”); and, by semantic extension, a cut, or braid, of hair, namely kosa.
This is all accepted fact. What is not accepted fact is that this ancient Indo-European root has anything to do with the word “Cossack”.
And if Plachinda had received actual professional training in Linguistics instead of indulging in the way more bogus field of “Philology” (which is to Linguistics as chiropractors are to orthopedic surgeons), then he would have known better than to draw this false etymology.
The true etymology is seen right there, in the Russian word “Kazak“, where there is a letter Z and not a letter S. (Hint: The word is actually a borrowing from the Turkic, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)
In historical linguistics, sound shifts (of both consonants and vowels) must be accounted for by regular rules and patterns. You are not allowed to just say, “This word sounds vaguely like this one, therefore the one is derived from the other.” No, my friends, that is called a “false etymology“, and only ignorant people indulge in such tricks. Smart people know better. You wouldn’t expect a reputable scholar with a post-graduate degree to say such stupid things; but again, it might speak to the dire level of the so-called “Philological Faculties” even back in Soviet times, when education was highly respected, let alone in today’s ultra-ignorant world where the Idiocracy has triumphed in every field of human endeavor.
But What About The Turks?
Here are the words as quoted from the Channel 1 Radio Emission:
By the way, the idea of seeing the semantics of the word “Kazak” in the word for a braid of hair – kosa — belonged to the outstanding Ukrainian philologist Sergei Plachinda, who noticed, on an ancient Egyptian relief, a figure with a braid. From which he was the first to deduce, that this was a depiction of a Ukrainian Cossack. This word was passed down to us in the process of formation, within the Zaporozhie region, of the new ethnicity: The Ukrainian Cossack, who possesses all the knightly virtues: skill in his craft, generosity, bravery, belief in God, and the ability to defend Ukraine fearlessly; a man for whom the steppe and freedom are the Cossack’s inheritance.
And now for the real etymology:
Scholars and other smart people believe that the word “Cossack” most likely is a borrowing from the Turkic word “kazak“, alt-form “kozak” meaning a drifter, adventurer, freebooter, robber and/or marauder. Cossacks were known to be violent (from the Latin “violare“, “to use force against”); and boisterous (from the modern English word “boyish” as in “boys will be boys”).
[yalensis: Extra credit for those who can spot the false etymology.]
For centuries and even millenia, Slavic peoples were fortunate to enjoy close contact with the various Turkic peoples. Slavs and Turks shared the Eurasian landmass. They sometimes went to war against each other, they often intermarried; and they always exchanged cultural artifacts and ideas, including words. Byzantine sources speak of the “Scythians”, a conglomeration of Turkic tribes who very much influenced Slavic history and culture. Turkic tribes and nations originated most likely in China, but spread out, eventually occupying a swath of territory that stretched all the way from Central Asia to Siberia.
In the complex history of this area, including what eventually became the Russian Empire, Turkic-speaking mercenaries were hired to protect the frontiers. The origins of the Russian and Ukrainian Cossacks are intimately tied to the frontier, and to the presence of Turkic warriors on both sides of every conflict. Hence, the word “Cossack”, which, in its purest form, simply means a mercenary soldier who is not constrained by feudal obligations.
And while it is true that Ukrainian Cossacks adopted that weird do with the top-knot and/or braid, and from that coincidence possibly invented a false etymology between hair and name; it is equally true that most Russian Cossacks wear their hair normal. Usually cut short and military style. One thing that both sets of Cossacks share is their love for their families; and also their love of adventure (from the Old French aventure) !