The dictionary demons
by Mile Stojic
In the fight for linguistic purity, Croatian political philosophers have been most reluctant to accept the active life of words of Turkish origin used in the Croat language, convinced that in this way they were struggling against ‘Serbism’. Certain fundamental words in Croat culture are of Turkish origin, however, and there is little to be done about it. Such nouns, for instance, as: bakar [copper], boja [colour], bubreg [kidney], carapa [sock], cekic [hammer], celik [steel], cizma [boot], ducan [shop], duhan [tobacco], dzep [pocket], djon [sole], jorgovan [lilac], katran [tar], kutija [box], lala [tulip], limun [lemon], majmun [monkey], pamuk [cotton], papuce [slippers], rakija [brandy], ortak [partner], sapun [soap], sat [watch], sator [tent], secer [sugar], tambura [small guitar], top [cannon], tulipan [tulip], could not be erased from our language, in spite of strenuous efforts in that direction over many years.
We are pursued by dictionary demons. Is it not comical, for instance, that some of the doughtiest fighters for the purity of the Croat language today are called ‘Bulczú’, ‘Freundlich’ or ‘Schwarz’, comical because their very surnames possess accents, vowel mutations and consonants that do not exist in the Croat accentuation system or alphabet? It is even more comical that the doughtiest fighters against Islam and the fatal oriental influence on Croat culture mostly bear surnames of oriental origin. Before me at this moment lies the ‘Dictionary of Words of Turkish Origin in the Serbo-Croat Language’ by Sarajevo professor Abdulah Skaljic ( ‘Svjetlost ’, Sarajevo 1979), which explains that the surnames of certain prominent Croat warriors against Islam and the ‘Turkish influence’ are derived as follows:
Ljubo Cesic, surname derives from cesedzija, kasedzija (tur.) = hajduk [bandit], dzepokradica < tur. yan-kesici = ‘dzepokradica’ [pickpocket] < tur. yan = strana, bok [side] and tur. kesici from kesmek = sjeci, rezati [to cut].(1)
Stanko Sopta, surname derives from softa, sohta, sopta (pers.) = ucenik medrese [pupil in a medresa orMuslim religious school] (‘Odaklen softi gros, kad ni dzepa nema [how could a softa have a groschen, when he has no pocket even]’: Mehmedin Kapetanovic Ljubusak, Narodno blago, Sarajevo 1888). (2)
Valentin Coric, surname derives from corav (tur.) = 1. blind in one eye, one-eyed; 2. blind in both eyes (one old saying has it that ‘among the blind, the one-eyed man is king’, while another bids those engaged in a pointless enterprise: ‘batali corav posao [abandon blind work]’: Vuk Karadzic). (3)
The surname of Josip Muselimovic, meanwhile, derives from muselim (arab.), synonym for kajmekam [arab.], pasha’s representative in a sandzak given him as arpaluk (reward for services), local administrator, district head. ‘Beg Mustaj-beg, muselime licki [of Lika]’ (Kosta Hörmann, Narodne pjesme muslimana, Sarajevo 1933). (4)
Slobodan Praljak, surname derives from prljak (tur.), a steel tool used to make opanci [traditional peasant shoes], in Herzegovina also a wooden tool used to plant tobacco or cabbage. (5)
Ivic Pasalic, surname derives from pasalija (tur.) = pasha’s man, a man in the pasha’s service. ‘Until then he was Osman-pasalija, from now on he is the emperor’s Osman-pasa’ (Hörmann, op.cit.). (6)
Simun Musa, surname derives from Musa, Muslim male name (arab.) = Moses. Old saying: ‘Bujrum Musa kupusa [Musa, here’s some cabbage]’ (Vuk Karadzic). (7)
Marko Tokic, surname derives from toka (tur.) = belt buckle. (8)
And so on and so forth.
So you can see what unexpected and entertaining discoveries are made by merely flicking through a dictionary. Is it not truly comical that the people who are establishing ‘Croat self-rule’ because they ‘cannot live in one entity with the Muslims’ themselves mostly bear Muslim surnames!? Of course, all human surnames are honourable and sublime, regardless of what language they derive from, so they do often implicitly resist the narrow ideas of their bearers. I have already written about the fact that many surnames from Herzegovina are common to more than one of its peoples: Seselj - Stjepan and Vojislav; Maric - Jozo and Enver; Pervan - Tahir and Tomislav; Toholj/Tolj - Ivan and Miroslav, and so on and so forth. Do these surnames in themselves not express the reality of the common life (and often common descent) of those who live or were born in that dark, sunny land? Nomen est omen [a name is an omen] goes the Latin tag.
We are pursued by dictionary demons. By denying our neighbours, we deny also our fathers, our language, our culture and heritage, our history and our land, often without even being aware of it. In dictionaries we can sometimes read our history more precisely and reliably than we can in chronicles. Exploration of Sanskrit origins has become very popular with us Croats of late, like the business of the Persian ‘harawat, harabat’, which supposedly shows that we have certain non-Slav, Iranian roots. Just like Tudjman’s little Anatolian cubes [supposed root of the Croatian checkerboard]. Let us abandon blind work, brethren, and turn to the language of our neighbours, where we shall find our mirror. In Vienna, for instance, the noun Krobot (Krowot) [Croat] is a synonym for a hypocrital, two-faced, nasty person.
Translated from Feral Tribune (Split), 24 March 2001
Mile Stojic is one of the best known contemporary Bosnian Croat writers
1. Ljubo Cesic Rojs: Herzegovinian prewar truck driver, wartime HV general (now retired), now HDZ member of Croatian Sabor.
2. Stanko Sopta Baja: HVO and later HV general (now retired).
3. Valentin Coric: HDZBiH interior minister of Hercegovacko-Neretvanski Canton.
4. Josip Muselimovic: Mostar lawyer prominent in defence of Bosnian Croats indicted for war crimes.
5. Slobodan Praljak: HVO and later HV general (now retired), notorious for ordering destruction of Stari Most.
6. Ivic Pasalic: Tudjman’s right-hand man after death of his fellow Herzegovinian Gojko Susak, now prominent HDZ member of Croatian Sabor.
7. Simun Musa: former HDZBiH deputy minister for education and science in Federation government.
8. Marko Tokic: former HDZBiH vice-president, dismissed by High Representative Petritsch after Hercegovacka Banka affair.