Thursday, April 17, 2008


Remember my multi-part review of the new dictionary of Slovak? Yeah, well, it's been a year and I'm still stuck at installment no. 4 and the part of the entry with information on stylistic and pragmatic properties of the headword. The only thing I can say in my defence is that I've been sidetracked when I started looking into the history of Czecho-Slovak lexicography to understand the whys and hows of lexeme classification based on these rather loosely defined "functional criteria". In the course of that research I came across a lot if interesting stuff (with three full bookshelves to prove it). The most fascinating result of that small detour was a paper on the brewer slang of Southern Bohemia [2] published by Alena Jaklová of the University of South Bohemia. In that paper, professor Jaklová compiled from various sources a dictionary of terms related to beer brewing. It is interesting to note that those sources included not only native informants, but also various professional publications, including a (ministry of education approved) textbook for trade schools. Why so? Because of the standard/non-standard ("spisovný/nespisovný") dichotomy so firmly entrenched in Czecho-Slovak linguistic thinking. There slang terms traditionally fall on the non-standard side of the divide and thus become linguistic outcasts, shunned in polite society and even barely worthy of recording. The inclusion of slang terms in an officially sanctioned publication is therefore a major concession on the part of the prescriptivists and purists and, to some extent, an admission of defeat: what do you do when you need a word for a concept only a handful of people are familiar with? Do you stick to your guns and try invent a new word that will follow your rules (and, invariably, fail) or do you grudgingly accept the words of those few well versed in the subject even though it turns your refined stomach? The authors of those textbooks took the latter approach and prof. Jaklová agrees. She argues that in considering the status of professional slang/professional jargon, the standard/non-standard dichotomy should be disregarded altogether and the terms used by the professionals should be accepted into the standard fold. After all, who knows best what word to use for that thingamajig over there than the person who knows every single thing there is to know about it?

Aside from being a voice of reason, the paper is a veritable lexical banquet where through the professional jargon of brewers you can find out just about anything you ever could want to know about various types barley and yeast, the different stages of preparation of malt, all the apparatus involved in beer brewing and even a thing or two about the social structure of the Czech brewery and different customs associated with the production and consumption of beer. And so you can learn that in breweries of Southern Bohemia, a drak ("dragon" = boilerman) keeps a fire burning in the kiln using a osel ("donkey" = a special shovel) while checking the temperature on a pánbíček (a diminutive form of pámbú = "Pán Bůh" = "Lord", a thermometer), that the head cooper goes by the rather unflattering title vrchní Jidáš ("the head Judas") and that they don't steal beer in Budějovice, they střílí pivo ("shoot beer") - though the end effect for the brewer remains the same. Were you inclined to engage in some linguisticking, you could even argue that the Czech have at least 18 different words for beer and offer the following list as a proof:


But there is one word in this list that not only takes the cake malt, but also grabs the keg, the table and all the beer in the storage rooms:

gramatika - pivní polévka s rozvařeným řežným chlebem, údajne lehká a lehce stravitelná

gramatika - beer soup with overcooked rye bread, reportedly light and easily digestible

Let me see if I can find a recipe somewhere...

Oh and one more bit: the section on etymology claims that the term šalanda ("a large room where brewery staff changed and/or slept") is a borrowing from Arabic - "šalandí" (شلندي). Hm, perhaps. But wouldn't a French source (chaland) be much more likely? And assuming that I'm correct and the word ultimately derives from χελάνδιον (a Byzantine warship), how does a ship become a room?

[1] HUBÁČEK, Jaroslav: Malý slovník českých slangů. - Ostrava : Profil, 1988, 190 p.
[2] JAKLOVÁ, Alena: Pivovarský slang v Jižních Čechách. In: Jazyk a řeč jihočeského regiónu II. - České Budějovice : Katedra českého jazyka Pedagogické fakulty JU, 1993, p. 50-68


Anonymous said...

If Geoff Pullum has to publish The Great Czech Vocabulary Hoax in a few years, it's your fault!

Oh well, I guess beer is a welcome change after 80 years of Eskimo snow.

MMcM said...

Die Wikipedia says Schalander is from chalet, but its only source is some brewer's site that's totally broken except the Flash skip this page.

bulbul said...

Goddammit, why didn't it occur to me to look for "Schalander"? Thanks, MMcM, you're the best :)
The brewer's site works for me and this is what they have to say:


Im Rätoromanischen bezeichnetes Scalandare "das Frühlingsfest".
Im 19. Jahrhundert wurde dieser Begriff in die Zunftsprache der Brauer
übernommen und bezeichnete den Wohn- und Aufenthaltsraum der Braugesellen auf dem Brauereigelände. Heute spricht man in diesem Zusammenhang oft von der Kantine der Brauer, manche Brauereien haben aber auch Lokale oder, sowie Hoepfner, ihren Festsaal unter diesem Namen eingerichtet. Den Schalander von Hoepfner kann man übrigens mieten.

So not French, but Romansch. Hm.

Anonymous said...

you could even argue that the Czech have at least 18 different words for beer and offer the following list as a proof:

And the first two are German. Bah. ;-)

John Cowan said...

Well, if grammar could come to mean magic in Scots, why not beer soup in Czech?

John Emerson said...

The standard spoken languages of various crafts and trades have a lot of terms that don't make dictionaries.

I just looked at the 1983 Webster's Unabridged and they miss several several mining and logging terms: in logging the "faller" is the man who actually cuts the tree with a saw, and in mining the "mucker" and "slusher" are machines which drag out the ore and load it into a little train car. (They even included "mucker" as a mining term, but got it wrong.)

There's probably no use updating, because with changes in mining practices these words may be obsolete by now. bu they weren't in 1983.

Zythophile said...

I have had Danish rye-bread-and-beer soup: "light and easily digestible" would be the complete opposite of the Scandinavian version of this dish, I must warn you ...

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