pictured a 'Saray', Turkish for palace

Much like (eng.) saray, the words derive themselves from Ottoman Turkish latinized: saray ("palace", "mansion", "castle"), which itself is derived from Persian سرای ("hall", "dwelling", "mansion", "palace", "seraglio")

The words don't deviate much from one another, generally referring to an Ottoman Turkish palace or a seraglio in the context harem of palaces. The city of Sarajevo derives itself from this.


Croatian: ((HJP - "Croatian Language Portal" - hjp.znanje.hr))


saraj m. inan.

  1. Every grand palace, a court for Sultans, Viziers, and other high officials.
  2. Harem ((seraglio))
  3. ((Metonymy)) Things belonging to a Sultan.

However, if we take a look at the Russian definition:

Russian ((en.wiktionary)):

picture of a shed


сара́й (saráj) m. inan.

  1. shed, storage building (small wooden construction)
  2. uncomfortable, untidy room, pigsty

It's almost as if it were an intentional and ironic mistranslation of the original word. Completely polarized meanings.


How and when did this change occur? Was it politically motivated during Russo-Turkish conflicts? Or maybe a pidgin word that Russian-based merchants picked up from Middle Eastern trade? Though, would be interesting to see how that came about.

  • Can you check the etymology of the Russian and Ukrainian words? Maybe they are loaned directly from Iranian (Scythian or Ossetian are possible donor languages) with a different meaning. May 19 '16 at 10:00

Both South Slavic and East Slavic borrowed this Persian word via Turkic languages, but separately - ie long after the Slavic languages branched.

It is only in East Slavic that the Russian meaning occurs - not in Iranic, not in Turkic nor in South Slavic.

If we can observe a tendency in Russian borrowings from Turkic, I would ascribe it less to conflict - there were Russian conflicts with the French and Germans too, and the South Slavs had plenty of conflict with the Ottomans - than to Russia's colonial relationship with the Caucasus and Asia generally.

Происходит от перс. sarāi, sarā «дворец». Перс. слово восходит к др.-ир. *srāða-, которое родственно готск. hrōt «крыша». К тому же источнику через посредство франц. sérail следует возводить и сера́й, сера́ль. Русск. слово заимств. через тюркск.; ср.: тур., кыпч., уйг., тат. sаrаi «дом; дворец; каравансарай; комната для жилья; стойло; тележный сарай». Сюда же Сара́й — город на нижней Волге (Лаврентьевск. летоп. под 1261 г.), ср.-греч. Σαράγιον (ХIV--ХV в.).

See also: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Russian_terms_derived_from_Turkic_languages

  • I'm not at all sure бардак is Turkic, rather than an expressively shortened and suffixed бордель. May 22 '16 at 23:21
  • You may be right. I find claims of both etymologies, and a third one (French barda). May 23 '16 at 9:31

This is roughly similar to the case of the borrowing of the French word château into Brazilian Portuguese. In French, château means castle; in Portuguese, chatô means humble residence - more like a bachelor's little flat than like the picture you posted, but still the irony is perceptible.

In this case, I think, there are two factors that made possible for the import semantically shift in such way: first, Portuguese already had a word for castle, castelo; second, castles are not a part of the Brazilian landscape. So there would be no need to import a word for something that, 1. already had a name; and 2. wasn't that important to really need a new name.

Perhaps there are similar issues considering these words in Russian and Serbo-Croat; perhaps the palace culture in the Balkans coincided with Ottoman domination, while Russia developed palaces of its own, or in the context of German or French influence, and so coined a local word for palace, or imported it from Western Europe, so when "saraj" was imported, the semantic slot for "palace" was already occupied?

  • "while Russia developed palaces of its own, or in the context of German or French influence, and so coined a local word for palace, or imported it from Western Europe, so when "saraj" was imported, the semantic slot for "palace" was already occupied?" Could well be the case - there are words like "терем", "палаты(полаты)", which, I believe, existed in (old) Russian long before the "сарай" was borrowed. [No proof found yet, sorry.]
    – tum_
    Oct 21 '16 at 14:44
  • In modern Russian the word for palace is "dvorets". There were ancient word "palata" and "terem". Terem is a Greek borrowing, "palata" is evidently a cognate to "palace", also a borrowing, ultimately from Latin. Now Russian uses a Slavic word.
    – Anixx
    Jan 20 '17 at 6:40

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