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While I since had learned that linguistics works in much more mysterious ways than simply “if words sounds alike, or also mean similar things, they must be related”, for a long time I presumed that the Russian word рыжий (red, ginger (of hair)) was not only related, but a direct borrowing from the French word rouge (red, vermillion (colour); blush (of face)).

I think, many people can make this or similar connections, and it could be useful to tell a more complex story.


Несмотря на то, что я узнал, что лингвистика ходит куда более таинственными путями, нежели простое «если слова звучат похоже и даже имеют сходные значения, то они должны быть связаны друг с другом», долгое время я предполагал, что русское слово рыжий было не только связано, но являлось прямым заимствованием французского слова rouge (красный, румяный).

Я думаю, многие люди могут делать такое же или подобные предположения и более сложное описание этой связи может оказаться полезным.

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  • This question is based on our discussion with Mr. Quassnoi some time ago. – theUg Feb 2 '13 at 19:13
  • Wonderful question, and thanks a lot for providing a link to the site! I have watched Zaliznyak's lectures in VK, it'll be interesting indeed to read those articles too =) – petajamaja Feb 3 '13 at 14:10
  • I had been saying "да ну в африку / иди в африку" for all my childhood.(90-th) I was although saying "чёрт" on all mishaps, until onсe a nun scared me. What I mean is that the answer depends solely on child's interests and surroundings. – Barafu Albino Apr 7 '13 at 11:46
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Short answer. Yes, they are related.

Long answer. These words both are descending from the same PIE root reudh, which stood for indicating something related red. I use phrase something related to red, since no one knows for sure (and, alas, no one most probably will know in future) whether this root in it first meaning indicated colour and than some additional meanings(blood, red-coloured fruits or berries etc.) had been derived; or vice versa.

Actually, as far as I know, red is one of the few colours (if not the only one) for which we have solid evidence of common PIE origin. English words red, rust, rusty, Russian words руда (in some dialects of Old Russian this also meant "blood" by the way), рыжий, рдеть, ржавый, French word rouge, all of them are related.

The longest answer I can provide. French is a Romance language but it's phonetics evolution was very intensive. If one would be asked to characterise this evolution in a single words, it wouldn't be too bold oversimplification to say reduction. For example, French word août (which is pronounced just u) actually originally had been latin "augustus". Something similar had happened to Latin word rubeus (red, reddish), which had been transformed to modern rouge.

As for russian рыжий it indeed is related to рудый which, in turn, is related to руда.

There is also one thing we always should remember almost each time when we are talking that two words in different languages are related in deep historical context: those relations are not always straightforward. It's not always that simple that there existed some word in some mother language and this word have precisely that meaning and had been derived from exactly that word.

For example, above mentioned Latin word rubeus claimed to be originated from rubus (blackberry). And rubus is related to wr̥dʰo (some plant with red flowers, presumably sweetbrier or rose, or part of this plant) Oh, by the way, almost forget to mention that rose is also related to рыжий, but, once again not directly. And wr̥dʰo is, once again, related to the first PIE root I've mentioned.

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    A great one, +1. – Quassnoi Feb 2 '13 at 22:42
  • Did you mean "rubeus" rather than "rebus"? – Quassnoi Feb 2 '13 at 22:48
  • This is incorrect. First, the PIE word from which both "red", "rubeus" and "рыжий" are derived was "e̯roudhros" "red" (as words with initial r- were prohibited). You still can see the vestige of the initial laryngeal in "erythrocyte". Second, the root rubus is most likely related to the root "u̯era̯d-" "sprout", from which the words "root", "wart", "вред" originate. – Anixx Feb 3 '13 at 14:27
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    @КуЪ, you've studied right, it's just that de-facto in colloquial speech it is often pronounced just [u] ) – shabunc Feb 5 '13 at 3:49
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    @КуЪ and shabunc, I just saw it somewhere the other day on EL&U: the dictionary said something to the effect of [u] being some regional dialect. – theUg Feb 5 '13 at 4:25
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In Polish and Bulgarian there existed, though now obsolete, words rydzy and рижд. The latter is still used in modern Bulgarian to denote reddish-yellow color of animals (dogs and horses).

If we look at the yotation table, say, here:

we will see that ж in an East Slavic version of the word, dz in a West Slavic one and жд in a South Slavic one is a sign that the word originated in Proto-Slavic and had been a subject to yotation.

This would give us the proto-Slavic word *rydjь.

The borrowing, thus, cound not happen later than VII century if at all (after that time the Slavic families were separated too much).

By that time French rouge had not acquired its modern reading yet.

So that's impossible that рыжий is borrowed from rouge.

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  • Related doesn't mean one derives from the other. That's similarly misled as the argument that man derives from ape, whereas science just claims a common ancestor. – 0xC0000022L Feb 14 '13 at 21:39
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    @0xC0000022L: see the original discussion here: russian.stackexchange.com/questions/338. I've just copied and pasted it as an answer by op's request. – Quassnoi Feb 14 '13 at 21:43
  • alright then. I also looked at the other one before you linked it. Thanks. – 0xC0000022L Feb 14 '13 at 21:45

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