In literature, I can read some type of earlier-times custom, that women машут платочком to say goodbye (waive with scarf?)

Which piece of fabric did they waive and is there a special hidden original meaning - in Russian, many things have symbolic meaning.

  • Usually they waived with a handkerchief, this is what the word "платочек" stands here for, since it is a diminutive form of the word "платок" — a handkerchief. About the special meaning, I'm not aware of any and pretty sure that the majority of Russians don't know either
    – d.k
    Jun 24, 2017 at 13:27
  • Also in this context they could use (and probably this is a more probable variant) a thing called in Russian "косынка", but in English it is still a handkerchief or headscarf, as far as I know. This is the thing, with which women used to cover their hair at church, at work etc
    – d.k
    Jun 24, 2017 at 13:29
  • Actually the words "платок" and "косынка" in Russian are synonyms in some contexts. The thing with which women covered their hair is called both "платок" and "косынка". Though "платок" can mean a thing, which is used to cover one's nose when he's sneezing, the word "косынка" is never used to mean this thing
    – d.k
    Jun 24, 2017 at 13:34
  • 1
    @user907860 funny thing that платок is itself a diminutive form of плат
    – Arioch
    Jun 26, 2017 at 8:49
  • @user907860 yep, today the word is archaic and almost never used, But it existed once before. Платье is another word sharign the same root. Ain't sure about плащ/плащаница
    – Arioch
    Jun 27, 2017 at 8:36

2 Answers 2


This is not specifically Russian.

Here's a quote from Wikipedia:

From the late 18th century white handkerchiefs were waved, generally by women (men usually waved their hats), to demonstrate approval at public events such as processions or political rallies

This has nothing to do with neither headdress (which also called платок in Russian) nor with Russian traditions apart from fashion among westernized circles of Russian aristocracy. Even more specifically - Russian aristocracy was under a heavy French influence - and you can a lot of references for waving a handkerchief in the French literature of the XIX century.

Back to the linguistic part of the question - there's no symbolic meaning of any kind, it's just that in modern Russian "махать платочком" has an ironical (yet this irony is of a kind nature) connotation.

Something like:

Ты вот уедешь на поезде, а я буду стоять на пероне и махать платочком. И вся рыдать.


As other people mentioned in comments, платочек is a handkerchief. It is a a usual thing in Russia to waive a hand or some piece of apparel (e.g. a hat) to the person leaving.

In case of a woman I can imagine that she had used the handkerchief to dab her eyes and then waived the thing she had in hands.

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