Once Again on the Origin of the Word Варежки ‘Mittens’

Publication type Article
Status Published
Affiliation: Ural Federal University
Address: Russian Federation, Ekaterinburg
Affiliation: Ural Federal University
Address: Russian Federation, Ekaterinburg
Journal nameRusskaya Rech’
EditionIssue 6

The article discusses the origin of a Russian word varezhki (mittens). The etymology of the word has been studied for more than a hundred years. There exist five hypotheses about its origin, including Slavic, Finno-Ugric and Scandinavian versions. Since none of them is reliably substantiated, the authors endeavoured to conduct their own analysis of the problem. Having analysed all the versions, the authors find M. Vasmer’s hypothesis, according to which the Russian вáрега, вáрежка originally meant ‘Varangian gauntlet’, the most relevant. However, Vasmer doesn’t explain the stress difference in вáрежка and варя́г. The authors attribute the stress difference to the fact that the borrowing occurred in the period when the Old Russian language preserved the form of the original stress *вáрягъ (from the Old Scandinavian *váringr). Developing M. Vasmer’s etymological theory from the semantic side, the authors rely on a number of facts recorded by the Toponymic expedition of the Ural University to the South-Western area of the White Sea. They found out that in Russian dialects of the South-Western area of the White Sea there is an opposition ‘Russian mittens’ and ‘Norwegian mittens’. The difference between them is in the technique of knitting: “Russian” mittens  are made using a sewing needle (this method is rough and outdated), while “Norwegian” ones are knitted with two knitting needles, which helps to give the mittens a neat shape and make a rib on the wrist. Believing that varezhki – “Varangian gauntlets” – had the same features as Norwegian mittens, the authors turn to the problem of time and place of the borrowing. Based on the complex of linguistic, historical and ethnographic factors it is suggested that the word вáрега, along with the denoted object, entered the Russian language in the 13th–14th centuries, as a result of Russian-Scandinavian trade contacts in Novgorod or in the largest Nordic trade centre of the time – the island of Gotland.


Keywordsварега, варежка ‘mitten’, Varangian, Russian dialects, Russian language, Scandinavian languages, Russian-Scandinavian contacts, etymology
AcknowledgmentThis research is supported by a grant from Russian Science Foundation, project No. 17-18-01-351 «Contact and Genetic Relations of North Russian Vocabulary and Onomastics».
Publication date12.12.2019
Number of characters26571
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