Word Origins: Etymologic Equivalents in English, Russian and Ukrainian

lufu → loue → luve → love

The above was the task related to the word origins and word history that I received some 20 years ago at a university exam in the history of the English language. The task was to explain how the word 'love' evolved from Old English 'lufu' to modern English 'love'. Since then, my interest in etymology (the science of the origin and history of words) has not faded.

Words seem so much like people. Each has its own "biography", relatives (cognate words in the same and other languages), ancestors and descendants. There are dead words (words that are out of use) and newborn words (neologisms).

All phenomena in our fragile world are interconnected and interdependent, including our languages. You may think you know only one language. But your mother tongue has many words borrowed from or loaned to other languages. So, actually, you know many words from other languages even not knowing these languages per se.

See for yourself. Below is a table containing some Russian and Ukrainian words that have common Arabic, Teutonic, Latin or Greek roots with relevant English words. Now see if you can figure out the meanings of these Russian and Ukrainian words. For each word, there is a hint in English to make the task easier. Type your guess in the spaces under "Meaning". Then push the button "?" to see how accurate your guess is.

Word Origins:
Guess English words based on Russian and Ukrainian equivalents that have the same meaning
Russian, Ukrainian words Meaning Check
алгебра (Ru, Uk) 1/
банк (Ru, Uk) 2/
блуза (Ru, Uk) 3/
календарь (Ru), календар (Uk) 4/
кофе (Ru),
кава (Uk) 5/
герой (Ru, Uk) 6/
мавзолей (Ru, Uk) 7/


1/ Branch of mathematics

2/ Financial establishment for keeping money and valuables safely

3/ Outer garment from neck to waist, worn by women and girls

4/ List of the days, weeks, and months of a particular year

5/ Bush with berries containing seeds which, when roasted and ground to powder, are used to make a drink by infusing with boiling water; the drink

6/ Person respected for bravery or noble qualities

7/ Magnificent and monumental tomb

Like this exercise? Continue to Word Origin, page 2.

Read more about the word origins and amusing evolution of these words: algebra, bank, blouse, calendar, coffee, hero, mausoleum.

1. Word origins: algebra; алгебра (Ru, Uk)

The word is derived from the Arabic language. 'al-jabr' were initial words of the title of a work written by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, an Uzbeck mathematician and astronomer of the 9th century. Arabic 'al-jabr' means 'restoration' ('restoration of the equation's balance by adding or subtracting like elements to/from both sides of the equation'). In the Middle Ages, this word was borrowed from Arabic to Latin (Latin 'algebra') and from Latin it penetrated into other languages of the world.

English 'algebra' was borrowed from Arabic through Latin in 1551.

Russian 'алгебра' was borrowed at the beginning of the 18th century from Latin through German and Polish: German 'Algebra' → Polish 'algiebra' → Russian 'алгебра'. In imitation of Polish, the Russian word 'алгебра' originally was pronounced with the stress falling on the second syllable. At the beginning of the 19th century, the stress moved to the first syllable.

Ukrainian 'алгебра' came to the language through the same channels as the Russian 'алгебра'.

Additional info: As early as 4000 B.C., elements of algebra were used by ancient Babylonians famous for their high mathematical culture. Nevertheless, there were no individual mathematical sciences and the indivisible mathematics existed until the 9th century. Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was the first to separate algebra from arithmetic and geometry and started to treat it as a separate science. In Europe, the word 'algebra' was used for the first time only in the 16th century by Rafael Bombelli, an Italian mathematician. It can be explained by the fact that the Holy Inquisition repressed scientific thought in Europe, while sciences thrived in the East. Therefore, later on many scientific notions and terms, especially those related to mathematics, were borrowed by European languages from Arabic. In Russia, algebra as a science was introduced by Tsar Peter I at the beginning of the 18 century.

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2. Word origins: bank; банк (Ru, Uk)

English 'bank' was borrowed from Italian ('banca', 'banco') through French ('banque'). It meant "a money-changer's desk" in both languages. Furthermore, this borrowing can be traced back to Teutonic 'bankiz' that meant "a rising ground, a bench". So, at the interlingual level, these equivalents semantically have evolved from the notion of "a rising ground, a bench" to "a money-changer's desk" to "a bank".

Russian 'банк' is a borrowing from French or German.

Ukrainian 'банк', apparently, has the same etymology as the Russian 'банк'.

Additional info: The first monetary transactions (cash settlements, currency exchange transactions, etc.) appeared with the advent of money. Special people, money-exchangers, did that job. They were already known in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. With the development of trade, the role of money-exchangers increased and the scope of their functions expanded. People started to contact them for loans.

Financial institutions that dealt with monetary transactions appeared in England in the 14th century. The new word 'bank' came into general use with the establishment of such institutions. In Russia and Ukraine, the first banks were established in the 18th century.

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3. Word origins: blouse; блуза (Ru, Uk)

Derived from Middle Latin 'pelusia' (meant "Pelusian garment"). Those clothes were blouses for crusaders. The blouses were sewed in the city of Pelusium in Upper Egypt. An Indian blue fabric manufactured in the same city was used as a material for those blouses.

The English language borrowed the word 'blouse' from Latin ('pelusia') through French ('blouse') at the end of the 18th century.

Russian 'блуза' was borrowed from French in the first half of the 19th century and meant a type of ladies wear.

Ukrainian 'блуза' was borrowed from French through Russian and had the same meaning as in Russian.

Later on, Russian and Ukrainian 'блуза' got a new additional meaning: "garment worn by workmen".

Additional info: Far back in the Middle Ages, crusaders worn loose-fitting outer garment that looked like long blouses with crosses sewed on. With time, blouses became fashionable ladies wear in Europe and gradually they came into general use in many countries. Thus, a blouse turned from a piece of men's clothing into a piece of dressy ladies clothing. Nowadays, men wear blouses as a type of loose-fitting working clothes with or without a belt.

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4. Word origins: calendar; календарь (Ru); календар (Uk)

Latin 'calendārium' is an etymological source of correspondences. The semantic evolution of that word in Latin was as follows: 'calāre' (call out, proclaim, call together) → 'calendae' (the first day of a month) → 'calendārium' (a debt book or an account book). See details in the Additional info below. In the word 'calendārium', -ārium is a suffix that means "a repository, a collection".

English 'calendar' was borrowed from Latin.

Russian 'календарь' was borrowed in the 17th century either from Polish ('kalendarz') or from German ('Kalender').

Ukrainian 'календар' was borrowed from Latin.

Additional info: The word 'calendārium' ("a debt book or an account book") appeared in Ancient Rome when there were no any calendars at all. Priests established chronology. On the first day of each month, they called people together to the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and solemnly announced about the beginning of calends ("the first day of a month"). On that day, debtors had to pay off their debts to creditors and creditors made respective entries in the 'calendāria' (plural of 'calendārium' - "debt books"). The custom to announce calends remained after the introduction of the calendar. With time, people started to enter the most important events, dates of religious ceremonies, festivals, etc. in the 'calendāria'.

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5. Word origins: coffee; кофе (Ru); кава (Uk)

The source of correspondences is generally thought to be of the Arabic origin: 'qahwe' (originally meant "wine"). Some etymologists, however, think that the name of coffee beans and drink is related to Kaffa, the region in Ethiopia from which coffee got to Arabia. (Ethiopia is the only place on the planet where indigenous coffee trees grow. Elsewhere, they are grown only in coffee plantations.)

From Arabic, this word penetrated to other languages. Compare: 'kahve' (Turkish), 'caffè' (Italian), 'café' (French).

English 'coffee' appeared in the language at the end of the 16th century as a loanword from Italian into which it penetrated from Turkish.

Russian 'кофе' was borrowed from English in the epoch of Peter the Great. Tsar Peter forced the Russian nobility to drink coffee in order to inculcate in them a taste for this drink.

Ukrainian 'кава' was borrowed from Polish 'kawa'. Polish borrowed this word from Arabic through Turkish.

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6. Word origins: hero; герой (Ru, Uk)

An etymological source of correspondences: Greek 'hḗrōs'. The word originally meant "a demigod" (a person born from a god and a human) and "a defender". Later, 'hero' came to refer to persons who performed feats and also to warriors.

English 'hero' was borrowed from Latin through French: 'hērōem' (Latin) → 'heros' (French) → 'hero' (English).

Russian 'герой' was borrowed from French in the 18th century. Before that, Russians used the wordform 'ирой' borrowed from Greek 'ērōs' without the initial aspirate 'h' (the borrowing of the 17th century).

Ukrainian 'герой' was borrowed from German ('Heroe') or French ('heros'). The wordform 'ирой', which also was used in Ukrainian, was borrowed directly from Greek.

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7. Word origins: mausoleum; мавзолей (Ru, Uk)

This word derives from Greek 'mausōleion'. That was how Greeks referred to the grave of King Mausolus, the ruler of Caria, a small country in Asia Minor in the 4th century B.C.. Ancient Romans inherited this word from Greeks and started to use it to name all impressive grave constructions for persons of importance. From Latin, this word penetrated into many Indo-European languages.

English 'mausoleum' was borrowed from Latin.

Russian 'мавзолей' was borrowed from German: 'mausōlēum' (Latin) → 'mausolée' (French) → 'Mausoleum' (German) → 'мавзолей' (Russian)

Ukrainian 'мавзолей' was borrowed from Western European languages.

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Sources used in this compilation:

Л.Ю. Куштенко. Этимологический справочник учителя английского языка – Киев, «Радянська школа», 1987
A.S. Hornby. Oxford Student’s Dictionary of Current English – Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1984

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_____________________________________________________________________ Website owner: Irina Lychak, self-employed freelance linguist, Russian translator, Ukrainian translator, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

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