All Slavic: kobieta (woman) - (archaic) variants

polskajason

Member
English - American
In most Slavic languages some variant of žena is used for woman. Polish is a bit of an exception, using the term kobieta.

However, I just read from a Croat here that a similar word to kobieta was historically used, but s/he hints that it had a negative connotation.

Are there words with a similar root and general sense that are no longer used? How are they perceived today?
 
  • Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    The word "kobieta" was originaly a derogatory one, even offensive. The etymology of this word is not explained well enough. Some linguists suggest a common origin with "kobyła" (a derogatory word for a mare). "żona" was used i the meaning of "woman" until the XVI century.
     

    marco_2

    Senior Member
    Polish
    That's right - Brückner suggests that 'kobieta' comes either from 'kobyła' or from an old word 'kob', which meant 'pigsty' (from German 'Koben', 'Kobe'). Anyway, the word was derogatory until the 16th century.
     

    DarkChild

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    The word "kobieta" was originaly a derogatory one, even offensive. The etymology of this word is not explained well enough. Some linguists suggest a common origin with "kobyła" (a derogatory word for a mare). "żona" was used i the meaning of "woman" until the XVI century.
    That's funny because kobieta makes me think of kobila, too. Kobila in Bulgarian is mare (not offensive). The offensive word for mare or horse, though, is kranta, which can be used also for a tall and/or large woman.
     
    It is worth mentioning that the suffix -ieta can't be ancient in Polish since the old et became iot (letъ>lot) and the old ět became iat (lěto>lato). So, indeed, like Wiktionary suggests, this form must have been restructured after foreign personal names (Elżbieta etc.). Этимологический словарь славянских языков. Праславянский лексический фонд. Выпуск 10 (klepačь–konь) · 1983: 88–91 (http://etymolog.ruslang.ru/doc/essja10.pdf) mentions the parallel dialectal Polish form kobita, which looks a better candidate for etymological analysis. Nevertheless, the word is confined to Polish and semantically unclear. The above dictionary compares it with deadjectival nouns in -itъ/-ita/-ito, e. g. ulьjь "hive" → ulita "snail" and thus tries to connect with kobь (p. 101) "a kind of divination; augury; omen; doom", with the original use *kobita žena "wilful woman".
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    In old Polish the word was spelled kobiéta indicating pronunciation as /e/ ("high" e), which i dialects developed to /i/, but in standard Polish to /ɛ/.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    But does Polish have inherited words with iet? From what I imagine about the Polish phonetic evolution, it shouldn’t.
    There are few native Polish words that contain "-iet, but I think they are quite late formations, like "podnieta" (incitament) from "podniecać" so I suppose that these don't count as inherited.
     

    Panceltic

    Senior Member
    Slovenščina
    To expand on my previous reply, žena in Slovenian usually means wife (as in Polish), whereas woman is ženska. There are some fossilized expressions where "žena" can mean "woman", e.g. Dan žena (the day of the women, 8th March).
     
    I thought it might be a Lithuanian loan as the word itself looks very Lithuanian (e. g. kupeta "haymow"), but no, Лаучюте ЮА · 1982 · Словарь балтизмов в славянских языках doesn't mention it…
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I thought it might be a Lithuanian loan as the word itself looks very Lithuanian (e. g. kupeta "haymow"), but no, Лаучюте ЮА · 1982 · Словарь балтизмов в славянских языках doesn't mention it…
    Beacuse nobody knows for sure, but a Lithuanian influence can't be excluded. Polish has for instance the first name Danuta, with a clear analogy to some Lithuanian first names.
     

    jasio

    Senior Member
    I thought it might be a Lithuanian loan as the word itself looks very Lithuanian (e. g. kupeta "haymow"), but no, Лаучюте ЮА · 1982 · Словарь балтизмов в славянских языках doesn't mention it…
    Although this option cannot be entirely excluded, I would not personally bet on it. It's a paradox because of a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but socio-economical and demographic status of Lithuanian language was too low to significantly influence Polish language on a larger than a strictly regional scale. In fact, Grand Duchy of Lithuania was "Lithuanian" mainly by name, with Lithuanian language used only regionally, and by rather uneducated people (nobles were very quickly rutenised by the Ruthenian majority and then polonised, and educated classes often used Latin anyway as a lingua franca).

    I googled some sources where etymological link between kuběna and kobieta is discussed. For example here - Kobieta
    In this interesting article, I would bet on an old-German hipothesis (because of long-lasting migrations to Poland, which eventual led to dominating Slavic population with German in the Western Poland and strong presence of German speaking city populations across the whole country) or a Latin one (because of fairly large populations speaking the language and its official status in Poland). Both suggest bed/sexual connotations, which would support originally derogatory meaning of the word.

    I've also found an article CEEOL - Article Detail, where a relationship with the stem referring the magical world is suggested (adjective: *kobitā žona ‘clairvoyant woman’). This also may explain a negative connotation (compare "wiedźma"). However, in the article it's also said "Even though around 30 different etymologies were created in the 20th century, the origins of that word have never been fully proven".
     
    Yet, the Lithuanian -eta forms nouns with pejorative meaning: šemeta "fidget", meleta "chatterer", rauketa "sullen person". By the way, kabeta "woman" exists as well, but as a Polish loan (Kas yra Kabeta? | Terminų žodynas). In proper Lithuanian words the root kab- means "to hang; to hook; to hitch up" (e. g. kabus "tenacious"; kabintis ant kaklo "to fall on somebody's neck"; kabeika "caviller"), so, speculating, we might imagine some **kabeta as "who falls on somebody's neck" or "caviller" or any other such meaning.
     

    Lorenc

    Senior Member
    Italian
    The etymologies of the Polish words historically used for 'woman' (żona, niewiasta, białogłowa, kobieta) are discussed in the delightful, little known 60-year-old booklet written by Stanisław Westfal "The Polish language", which I warmly recommend to everyone; you can find it here: http://www.pau.krakow.pl/Antemurale/tomy/Antemurale_X_1966.pdf
    The discussion of the word kobieta is at pagg. 78-81 of the pdf. By the way, English wikitionary kobieta - Wiktionary says that kobieta was 'Considered derogatory until the 19th century'. This seems to be completely false, as Westfal reports that:

    Kobieta was first recorded in the satires of Bielski written about 1566-1569. It was disparaging them [sic]. [...]
    it can be safely said that it did not take kobieta long to lose its originally light character. Petrycy wrote in his translation of Aristotle (1605) that "kobiety strojów niezwyczajnych nie mają wymyślić", 'women ought not to invent extraordinary attires'. J.C. Pasek, the sprightly Mazovian nobleman, said in his Memoirs (1656-88) about the widow who was to become his wife: "Już też i żal było owej kobiety, widząc jej wielki affekt", 'I pitied that woman when I saw her great affection'.
    The 18th century finally disposed of all lowly associations with kobieta. "My rządzim światem, a nami kobiety", 'We rule the world, and the women rule us' - said the Prince-Bishop of Warmia, a writer whose language was both selective and fastidious. Another 18th century writer, Zabłocki, boasted in one of his comedies, written in 1781, that "żyjąc w wielkim świecie, wie, jak się przymilić kobiecie", 'living in the elegant world, he knows how to gain a woman's favours'.

    So it seems the derogatory character was lost (totally or in large measure) already by the mid-17th century. Westfal goes on discussing some tentative etymologies; as already mentioned in this thread, one possibility is that it's related to the old-Polish word koba 'mare, female horse' (modern Polish -- as Russian -- kobyła).
    Another hypothesis is that it's related to old-Polish kob 'pigsty'. He mentions two other, theories: that it's a loan-word of Finnish origin (?) and that it's related to the (presumably, old Slavic roots) kobi 'augurium' and veta (to talk), so that 'kobieta' might have meant something alike 'witch, fortune teller'.

    He concludes on a romantic tone, perhaps exemplary of old-fashioned Polish gallantry:

    However, they have been beset by doubt ever since they took their scalpels to this enigmatic word; no one can claim to have reached a satisfactory conclusion. Most probably they will never reach it, and kobieta will remain the secret of the hoary past, a secret unsolved and insoluble, a really adequate word for the divine and inscrutable being it denotes.
     

    jasio

    Senior Member
    Kobieta was first recorded in the satires of Bielski written about 1566-1569. It was disparaging them [sic]. [...]
    it can be safely said that it did not take kobieta long to lose its originally light character. Petrycy wrote in his translation of Aristotle (1605) that "kobiety strojów niezwyczajnych nie mają wymyślić", 'women ought not to invent extraordinary attires'.
    Whether it's long or not, is a matter of judgement. A period of 30-40 years between the two works is more than enough for a word to change the shade. When I was a teenager in 80s, the word "laska" referred to an extraordinary attractive young woman, while some 20 years later its meaning was closer to 'just a woman' - and there are some nuances depending on whether the word is used by a man or by a woman. In case of "kobieta", with a lack of mass media, specific shade might evolve independently in regions, social classes etc, leading to differences which might be preserved for decades, or even centuries. Antemurale mentions the word "białka" in context of this phenomenon, as still (in the sixties) being used in some rural dialects (p. 71 of the book or 79 of PDF), while it had been long forgotten in the other parts of Poland. My grandma pronounced "e pochylone" (as well as sounded "h" and dark 'l') until her death in 90s, although "e pochylone" theoretically disappeared from the language in 19th century.
     
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