Lâstik and lastik

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March 18, 2017 by AK

In The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success, Geoffrey Lewis mentions a certain late-Ottoman author and civil servant:

…Kemalpaşazade Sait, alias Lâstik (‘Galoshes’) Sait, who held several senior posts in government service but was best known as a writer of articles on literature for the newspapers Tarik and Vakit, and as a minor poet. The reason for his nickname was that he was reputed never to take off his galoshes even in summer.

Since the Russian word lastik (лáстик) means “eraser” (BrE “rubber”), I thought for a second that Said Bey might have been a perfectionist keen on killing needless words until the text was suitably laconic. The next moment, he turned a semblance of Chekhov’s Man in a Case.

Both the Turkish and the Russian word were derived from Greek via late Latin, after which the transmission routes may have diverged. Lâstik entered Turkish from the French, evolving from the adjective in gomme élastique. The stress must remain on the last syllable: it is typical of Turkish and in line with the original. The circumflex above the a indicates that the initial l should be palatalized, as in French (Turkish also has a “dark,” “hard” l). The modern meaning of the word seems to include a wider range of rubber items than just galoshes, including the eraser.

The Russian word, ластик/lastik, strictly stands for one thing: a piece of rubber or rubber-like material used for erasing pencil or pen marks. (The other meaning, a durable cotton fabric used as lining, supposedly from “lasting,” is virtually extinct.) The stress is on the first syllable, and the l is hard. Like канва (from Fr. canevas) and кадриль (from Fr. cadrille), ластик feels completely domesticated in Russian, thanks partly to its ending, akin to a Slavic suffix, and partly to its root, pleasantly reminiscent of native words like ласточка (a swallow) and ластиться (to make up to somebody). There is no consensus view of its path from late Latin to Russian but I have an amateur theory of my own.

I think it’s a shortened version of the dated word гум(м)и(э)ластик (gum(m)i(e)lastik), whose origin – also a conjecture of mine – is not the French gomme élastique but, rather, the German-Latin gummi elasticum. See, for example, Der practische Naturforscher by the “practicing physician” Dr. Franz Walchner of Bühl, printed in Karlsruhe in 1842. This would explain the position of the stress and offer a plausible source for another Russian word, гуммиарабик, from gummi arabicum.


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