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What is the etymological origin of the word ''захолустье''?

For me, the origin of this word is a big mystery of the Russian language.

In modern Russian, this word means ''a remote place, a place that remains unaffected by new events, progress, ideas, etc.''

Vasmer's etymological dictionary, which is considered to be the most complete and credible Russian etymological dictionary, says the following about the origin of this word:

захолу́стье До сих пор не получило удовлетворительного объяснения. Сравнивали за- и ст.-слав. халѫга «изгородь», словен. halóga «кустарник, морская трава» (Маценауэр, LF 7, 217; Преобр. I, 243; Горяев, ЭС 114), но в таком случае ожидалось бы *захалужье. Влияние слова холосто́й (Преобр.) невероятно. Неудовлетворительно также сравнение с холо́п, холу́й у Соболевского (ЖМНП, 1886, сент., стр. 146). Калима («Neuphil. Мitt.», 1951, стр. 167 и сл.) пытается произвести захолустье из *захолостье от холост, что затруднительно фонетически. [Сближение с холудина, хлуд см. у Трубачева (ZfS, 4, 1959, стр. 84). Иначе см. Львов, «Этим. исследования по русск. языку», I, М., 1960, стр. 32. — Т.]

As you see, the dictionary says that no satisfactory etymological explanation has been found.

The same thing is also said in another highly reputable etymological dictionary, Preobrazhensky's dictionary.

An interesting hypothesis is put forward in the Internet: The word is of Mongolian origin. In modern Mongolian, the expression ''зах улс'' means or can be interpreted as ''a distant country,'' with ''зах'' meaning ''edge'' and ''улс'' meaning ''country.'' The similarity in the meaning and pronunciation is striking, and the hypothesis seems plausible in view of the fact that Russia was a vassal state of the Mongol Empire.

Intrigued, I did some research, and the facts found by me support the hypothesis. First, I verified in Google Translator as well as in a Mongolian dictionary that in modern Mongolian, ''зах улс'' can indeed be interpreted as a ''distant country.'' Second, the Mongolian etymological dictionary by Rajki says that the word ''улс'' originated from the Old Mongolian word ''ulus'', which can explain why it is ''захолустье,'' not ''захулстье.'' Third, in modern Kalmyk, which belongs to Mongolic languages, Russian federal subjects are called ''зах улс'' - for example, Stavropol Krai is called ''Ставрополин зах улс.''

I think that on this forum, there are many experts and fans of the Russian language, and some of them may be able to shed some light on the mystery.

Is this word, which sounds so Russian, in fact a trace of the Mongol invasion?

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    sounds very probable, all the more so that this would by far not be a single loan word assimilated into Russian language during the Golden Horde times or under its influence – Баян Купи-ка Jan 25 at 10:12
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    so you basically found out that scientists don't know and encourage amateurs to speak out? ))) – shabunc Jan 25 at 10:37
  • @БаянКупи-ка - mongolian and turkic were quite different even back then, also there's no words starting with z in that least - and there's a reason for this). – shabunc Jan 25 at 11:29
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    @shabunc i'm not aware of the exact connection between Turkic influence on Russian and Mongolian conquest, but the fact that some such borrowings harken back specifically to this period does suggest existence of a connection, as far as i know Tartars were a part of Mongolian tribes at the time of the conquest (not without reason they're called монголо-татары in the historiography, at least of the Soviet period) and Tartars' native language may have been Turkic back then as well – Баян Купи-ка Jan 25 at 11:57
  • the word улус in a sense of locality is also known unrelated to the etymology of захолустье – Баян Купи-ка Jan 25 at 14:21
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I am an amateur an have no right to make assumptions somewhere where scientists (who dedicated years studying some specific issues) failed. However I'm bold enough to say that the Mongolian origin in this particular case is highly, highly unlikely for some reasons from which one of most important one - for Slavic languages prefix за- (which is actually a merged preposition [за][1]) is very well known for forming words of similar meaning.

For instance, in Polish there's zadupie which any Russian speaker will recognize as зажопье. "Залесье", "заграница", "запад" are other examples. This fact per se casts some doubts that some foreign phrase started with зах was used in similar form. That happens though! - my favorite example is word изъян which is actually of a Persian origin borrowed through Turkic - originally it was ziyan. It is believed that Russian verb изъять influenced it's formation and now it feels like a very, very Russian word.

Other thing to consider - as far as I understand in Mongolian there's no [z] sound at all but rather a form of affricate [d͡z] for which Russian letter "з" stands (don't get fooled by Mongolian Cyrillic - pronunciation can be quite different). In Middle Mongolian even this affricate was non-existent. So to make any claims of this kind we should check how similar phrase might sound in Middle Mongolian - language tend to change.

Once again - I don't know. My counter-arguments easily can be as amateurish as your arguments. However from what I know about, from what I've read - well, let me put it this way - we still need to take into consideration a lot of additional data to back this theory.

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    Indeed. I have even better theory - the old Russian word comes from modern English the hollow star (with slightly distorted ending). That is: Folk etymology on the march. – seven-phases-max Jan 25 at 13:04
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    a counter-argument based on the degree of likelihood derived from the fact of existence of a similarly sounding Russian pronoun is unconvincing, as you yourself admit, words tend to naturalize in the borrowing language to sound quite different from the source language, especially when they belong to different families, another example is Тмутаракань – Баян Купи-ка Jan 25 at 14:13
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    @БаянКупи-ка first thing we should do - is to verify how this was pronounced in Middle Mongolian - this is starting point as to me. – shabunc Jan 25 at 14:33
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    @shabunc (''first thing we should do - is to verify how this was pronounced in Middle Mongolian'') The Old Mongolian version of ''зах'' is ''diqa,'' according to the Mongolian etymological dictionary by Rajki. I see that all modern Mongolian words starting with ''з'' start with ''d'' in the Old Mongolian. For example, the Old Mongolian version of the word ''захиа'' (a letter) is ''dikiyan.'' The Old Mongolian version of ''улс'' is ''ulus,'' so ''зах улс'' must have been ''diqa ulus.'' – Sandra Jan 25 at 16:20
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    @Sandra well, there's also non-zero probability that it was some of Mongolian languages or dialects (it depends on how to count) - may be it's a later borrowing from I dunno - Kalmyk or Buryat. Still not enough data to claim this. – shabunc Jan 25 at 16:24
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I did some additional research and now will briefly summarise my findings (which I mostly already stated in the comments under Shabunc's answer):

(1) The Old Mongolian version of ''зах'' is ''diqa,'' according to the Mongolian etymological dictionary by Rajki. I see that all modern Mongolian words starting with ''з'' start with ''d'' in the Old Mongolian. For example, the Old Mongolian version of the word ''захиа'' (a letter) is ''dikiyan.'' The Old Mongolian version of ''улс'' is ''ulus,'' so ''зах улс'' must have been ''diqa ulus.'' Thus, the Russian word ''захолустье'' is phonetically far closer to the modern Mongolian and Kalmyk versions, ''зах улс,'' than to the Old Mongolian version.

(2) Shaposhnikov's etymological dictionary says that the word ''захолустье'' was not used in the Russian language of the 15th-17th centuries and that the first mention of this word in a dictionary dates back to 1794.

(3) In view of findings (1) and (2) above, I can more or less confidently rule out the possibility of this word being a direct trace of the Mongol invasion or the subsequent Mongol yoke, which was lifted in the 15th century.

(4) In the Internet, I found many articles saying that ''захолустье'' was taken from Kalmyk, where it originally sounded ''заха улус'' and meant ''distant/edge people/settlement.'' If this is true, then the word is still of Mongolic origin, as Kalmyk belongs to Mongolic languages. However, none of the articles I saw contains any proof to confirm the statement. They are about Kalmyks in general and mention the allegedly Kalmyk origin of the word ''захолустье'' merely as a side note.

(5) The absorption of the Kalmyk Khanate by the Russian Empire occurred in ~1660, a century before the first mention of the word ''захолустье'' in a dictionary, so the Kalmyk hypothesis cannot be refuted simply by considering timings. It could be refuted by timings if the word had been used in the Russian language before the interactions between the Russians and Kalmyks.

(6) Dal's dictionary, originally published in 1863, defines the word ''захолустье'' as follows:

ЗАХОЛУСТЬЕ ср. глушь, глухое место; закоулок или малолюдная часть в городе; чаща в лесу: отдаленное и малонаселенное, малопроезжее место; затишье. Захолустник, житель глуши, захолустья. Захолюсток м. арх. скрывище, убежище, приют, и пр. заливец, где укрываются суда.

The existence of the archaic word ''захолюсток'' (shelter) seems to favour the Slavic hypothesis of the origin of the word ''захолустье''. In the Kalmyk hypothesis, it is not easy to explain the existence and meaning of the word ''захолюсток,'' which was already considered archaic in 1863.

So it looks like the word was either somehow formed in the Russian language from another Russian word in the 18th century or, less likely, taken from Kalmyk in the 18th century. In any case the word is a not a direct trace of the Mongol invasion or the subsequent Mongol yoke.

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