The Universe of Discourse

Fri, 05 May 2023

Water, polo, and water polo in Russian

I recently learned January First-of-May's favorite Russian anagrams:

  • австралопитек (/avstralopitek/, “Australopithecus”)
  • ватерполистка (/vaterpolistka/. ”Female water-polo player”)

Looking into this further, I learned that there appear to be two words in Russian for water polo. Ватерполо (/vaterpolo/) is obviously an English loanword. But Во́дное по́ло (/vódnoye pólo/) is native Russian; вода́ /vodá/ is water.

(Incidentally во́дка /vódka/ is the diminutive of вода́, it's the smaller and more adorable version of water. I feel like this one etymology encapsulates a great deal of the Russian national character.)

I am not sure where Russian got the word по́ло for polo. The English word is borrowed from Tibetan པོ་ལོ /polo/, meaning “ball”. Russian might have gotten it directly from Tibetan, or (more likely) via English. But here's a twist: The Tibetan word is itself a borrowing of the English word “ball”!

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