Once Again on the Etymology of Russ. Malakhol’nyi

2022. № 5, 88-103

Elena L. Berezovich1, Tat’yana A. Makshakova2, Ural Federal University
(Russia, Ekaterinburg), berezovich@yandex.ru1, tatiana.makshakova@yandex.ru2


The article stadies a Russian colloquialism малахольный (malakhol’nyi) ‘having oddities, eccentricities in one’s behaviour; characteristic of such a person’. The authors analyse this word from the perspective of historical lexicology and etymology. Written sources record the word малахольный beginning from early 20th century. It is also recorded in Russian dialects and jargons. Its meanings include: ‘crazy, mentally unstable’, ‘helpless, timid, downtrodden’, ‘exhausted, sickly, thin’, etc. Outside Russian, the word exists only in other East Slavic languages – Belarusian and Ukrainian. The authors disprove different versions of the word’s etymology offered so far and suggest a new version. They claim that малахольный is a compound from мало and хольный: the second element is a descendant of proto-Slavic *хolnъjь – an adjective deriving from the verb *xoliti with the suffix -ьnъ-. This version has no obstacles as far as the word-formation goes. As for the meaning, the authors list several variants (they complement, not contradict, each other): 1. мало ‘a little’ + хольный ‘neat and tidy’ = малахольный ‘slovenly, thriftless’; this negative expressive meaning further developed towards cognitive anomalies; 2. the word хольный could imply frenzy, extravagance, imbecility – these meanings could be traces left from the family *xal-//*šal-//*xol-. Notably, the element мало intensifies the meaning of хольный, and the whole word is parallel to Smolensk dialectal халохо́льный ‘stupid, extravagant’ (where *xol- reduplicates); 3. there is a high chance that the meaning of малахольный shifted owing to its attraction to the word меланхолия.

For citation:

Berezovich E. L., Makshakova T. A.Once Again on the Etymology
of russ. Malakhol’nyi. Russian Speech = Russkaya Rech’. 2022. No. 5.
Pp. 88–103.


The research was supported by the Russian Science Foundation
(grant number 20-18-00223 “Etymological Studies and Semantic
Reconstruction of Russian Dialect Vocabulary”).