"Once Again on the Origin of the Word Варежки ‘Mittens’ "

2019. № 6, 58-72

Elena L. Berezovich1, Nadezhda V. Kabinina2, Ural Federal University (Russia, Ekaterinburg),
berezovich@yandex.ru1, nadia.nvlad2010@yandex.ru2


The article discusses the origin of a Russian word varezhki (mittens).
The etymology of the word has been studied for more than a hundred years.
There exist fi ve hypotheses about its origin, including Slavic, Finno-Ugric
and Scandinavian versions. Since none of them is reliably substantiated,
the authors endeavoured to conduct their own analysis of the problem.
Having analysed all the versions, the authors fi nd M. Vasmer’s hypothesis,
according to which the Russian вáрега, вáрежка originally meant ‘Varangian gauntlet’, the most relevant. However, Vasmer doesn’t explain the stress
difference in вáрежка and варя́г. The authors attribute the stress difference
to the fact that the borrowing occurred in the period when the Old Russian
language preserved the form of the original stress *вáрягъ (from the Old
Scandinavian *váringr). Developing M. Vasmer’s etymological theory from
the semantic side, the authors rely on a number of facts recorded by the
Toponymic expedition of the Ural University to the South-Western area of the White Sea. They found out that in Russian dialects of the South-Western
area of the White Sea there is an opposition ‘Russian mittens’ and ‘Norwegian mittens’. The difference between them is in the technique of knitting:
“Russian” mittens are made using a sewing needle (this method is rough
and outdated), while “Norwegian” ones are knitted with two knitting needles, which helps to give the mittens a neat shape and make a rib on the wrist.
Believing that varezhki — “Varangian gauntlets” — had the same features as
Norwegian mittens, the authors turn to the problem of time and place of the
borrowing. Based on the complex of linguistic, historical and ethnographic
factors it is suggested that the word вáрега, along with the denoted object, entered the Russian language in the 13th–14th centuries, as a result of
Russian-Scandinavian trade contacts in Novgorod or in the largest Nordic
trade centre of the time — the island of Gotland.