The authors R. Gordon Wasson and Valentina Pavlovna Wasson spent a great deal of time and effort investigating why some cultures (such as the husband’s American culture) loathed wild mushrooms, while other cultures (such as the wive’s Slavic culture) adored them. The relation between the English word “grub” and the Slovak hrib or the Russian grib is illustrated in the passage below from their book Mushrooms, Russia, and History.
Their Wasson and Wasson’s passage relates to Slovak in the following way. In the Slovak language, the entire family to which mushrooms belong are calledhuba and a specific type of mushroom with a spongy underside to its cap is called hrib like the Russian grib. It is common for a word from Serbian, Russia, Polish as well to be identical to a Slovak word, aside from the fact that their G’s are represented as H’s in Slovak. Here are Wasson and Wasson, from their book Mushrooms, Russia, and History.
To what a world of wonder and delight the fungal vocabulary of Russia transports us! Every mushroom, good or bad, comes under the general name of grib. When the farm-boy of the American prairies returns home after a hard day hungry for his ‘grub’, he is using in all likelihood a word with the same origin as the Russian peasant child who gathers his griby in the woods.
Both words go back to a prehistoric root of the Indo-Germanic tribes that expressed the scratching and stirring and rooting and grubbing of the soil which gave to primitive man his vegetable food. Our archeologists piece together meanings deduced from the rubbed and worn artifacts of peoples who died long before the spoken word could be committed to posterity by writing. But the very words that those peoples spoke also come down to us, Likewise rubbed and worn, their sounds and meanings slowly changing on the tongues of numberless generations, yet still identifiable. In the linguistic cousinship of ‘grub’ and the Russian grib we see one example, out of an infinite number, of the common cultural heritage that unites at the deepest levels the Slavs and the West, kindred stock of one great Indo-European family.
Of the distinguished mushrooms, the first to appear in the spring of the year are the smorchki, or morels. They are not uncommon in America too, but in the New World they are gathered and relished almost solely by transplanted sons of Europe.
The quote above is excerpted from 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 www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. 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.