The Origins Of The Word “Ogre” – Where Hungarians The Original Ogres?

Webster suggests that Ogre (which it defines as “1. a hideous giant of fairy tales and folklore that feeds on human beings:MONSTER. 2. a dreaded person or object.”) may have originated in French from the Latin “Orcus – God of the Underworld.  I use this older hardcover copy of Webster’s dictionary, which happens to sell for 5 cents used.

Wasson and Wasson in their fascinating book on mushrooms  – Mushrooms, Russia, and Historyseek to advance a different theory – that ogre comes from one of the tribes that invaded the Slavs during harvest time, driving them into the forest to live.  Namely, the tribe that is today refered to as the Hungarians.  I let Wasson and Wasson tell their story of the Slavs being pushed into the forest by the pillaging ogres.

If you’d like to read the rest of their book, you can get it at the links at the end of this article for free.  You won’t believe how much it costs on Amazon,  so I won’t even suggest you buy it.  But if you do buy it, buy it through that link because Amazon will send me a check for $160 when you do that.  Fascinating book that I couldn’t stop reading (especially the parts written by Valentina Wasson).

Yes, whoever seeks seriously to understand Russia must make the needed effort of intellect and imagination to comprehend the full and awful meaning of war in the history of the Slavs. This is the first and great imperative. (In the winter of 1939-40, when the Finnish army seemed for a time to hold its own with heroic courage against the Russian forces, how often did my American friends remark to me that,  after all, the Finnish successes were not surprising, since Russia had had no warrior past!) As compared with the West, and especially the English-speaking world, war for the Russians has been a calamity of a wholly different and greater order of magnitude. Pause for a moment and consider this. In the wide range of the English vocabulary are there words of more awful potency than ‘Huns’ and ‘Tartars’? It was in the fourth century that the Huns burst like a rocket out of Asia into Europe, and the Mongol hordes followed them seven centuries later. This was all long ago and far away. The Huns in the end were stopped on the fields of France, and the Tartars never got into the West.

Yet the mere names of these far-off peoples of ages past still trail clouds of terror in the minds  of nations then unborn, in continents then unknown. The earliest description of the Tartars by an unidentified Englishman who sojourned among them will explain in some measure the fearful impact of that strange and pitiless people on the European mind:

They be hardie and strong in the breast, leane and palefaced, rough and hufshouldred, having flatte and short noses, long and sharpe chinnes, their upper jawes are low and declining, their teeth long and thinne, their eye-browes extending from their foreheads down to their noses, their eies inconstant and blacke, their countenances writhen and terrible, their extreame joynts strong with bones and sinewes, having thicke and great thighes,  and short legs, and yet being equall unto us in stature: for that length which is wanting in their legs is supplied in the upper parts of their bodies.

The Slavs, let us remember, met the Huns face to face, and the Russians bowed to the yoke of the Tartars for three full centuries. Nowadays we hear glib talk of ‘genocide’, a new word meaning the murder of a people; but the Slavs dwelt for centuries on the highways of the Great Migrations, and, had their powers of survival been less, they would have been absorbed or exterminated many times over. Other nations and tribes did disappear in the ethnic maelstrom of the Steppes. ‘Huns’ and ‘Tartars’ are not the only linguistic contribution to the West of the Asiatic invaders. No one knows for sure the origin of the word ‘ogre’; it probably comes to us from the people called Ugri, known to us as the Hungarians, who drove or were pushed into the Danubian plain in the 9th century.

Our word ‘horde’ comes from the language of the Tartars. For them (as for the Russians to this day) ordd is simply the headquarters of a marching host, and the Golden Horde was the supreme headquarters on the Volga of the Tartars who subjugated the Slavs of the steppes and of Moscow. In a lexicon that comes down to us from the library of the poet Petrarch (the Codex Cumanicus) we learn the curious fact that the Asiatic invaders referred to the Holy See of Rome as the Horde (ordd) of Christendom. The West in taking over the word changed its meaning to cover the swarms of ferocious invaders. In India the same word, now Urdu, came to mean the language of the nomad camps.

The quote above is excerpted from pages 40 and 41 of the fantastic book Mushrooms, Russia, and History available here for purchase on Amazon (at quite an expensive price) or here (Volume 1 and Volume 2 both as PDF files)to be read free of charge.  I strongly recommend this book for those with an interest in a discussion of Slavic culture with an emphasis on Russia and also with discussion of European and world culture in general.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at  He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing.  You can find more of his writing at  If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email.  You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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