The role of live material in verification of etymological hypotheses: The case of Russian čepuxa ‘nonsense’

2023. №3, 77-98

Elena L. Berezovich
Ural Federal University, Yekaterinburg, Russia;


The article discusses the problems of etymologization of words with an expressive (and often derogatory) meaning, using the example of Russian čepuxa ‘nonsense’. The previously existing versions of this word’s origin are analyzed, their vulnerable aspects are noticed. The author develops the unpopular version by A. B. Strakhov, who interpreted the word as a formation with the archaic prefix če- and the root pux-; initially, čepuxa meant, probably, a kind of substance from a multitude of small particles, perceived as insignificant, not valuable (the result of fluttering, gutting, pulling, grinding). Against the background of the etymologization of čepuxa, a group reconstruction of the word family čepux-//čepuš- (functioning mainly in vernacular speech, dialects, jargons) was carried out. It made it possible to explain the meanings in the word family (including those quite distant from the semantics of the etymon — ‘to rain fine’, ‘to fuss’, ‘to have sex’, ‘female buttocks’, etc.), to separate the elements of this word family from heterogeneous homonyms (e.g., words with the root sop-), to reveal the origin of some non-obvious words from the word family pux-//puš- (puška ‘nonsense’). The conclusions of the article demonstrate the need for a close and detailed analysis of the data of non-standard language varieties, to which modern etymology rarely resorts. In addition, the author points out the need to verify some etymological decisions made earlier “on the tip of a pen” with a lack of lexical data and in the absence of corpora that etymologists can now use. The vulnerability of uncritical replication of etymological versions (especially in popular science literature) is shown, in which the authors use unverified material, substitute bare assertion for hypothesizing, etc.

For citation:

Berezovich E. L. The role of live material in verifi cation of etymological hypotheses: The case of Russian čepuxa ‘nonsense’. Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2023, 3: 77–98.


The research funding from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation (Ural Federal University Program of Development within the “Priority-2030” Program) is gratefully acknowledged. The author is sincerely grateful to M. Bjeletić, B. L. Iomdin, V. S. Kuchko, Ya. V. Malkova, and I. Ianyshkova for their help during the preparation of the article for publication.