A Forgotten Idiom with the Meaning of Measure and Degree

2023. № 3, 21-39

Yana E. Akhapkina, National Research University “Higher School of Economics” (Russia, Moscow), yakhapkina@hse.ru


Widely understood semantics of quantity includes the meaning of
measure and degree, from the maximal intensity of a feature, the meaning of ‘very’, to its complete absence, the meaning of ‘not at all’. In Russian speech, the prepositional-dative combination po + dative case in one of its uses turns into a sample, a prototype formula. For instance, the reproducible combinations po chesti — by honour, po sovesti — by conscience and po pravde — by truth refl ect the meaning ‘correctly, properly’, recorded, in particular, in the Small Academic Dictionary. The Russian National Corpus shows that by the end of the twentieth century a similar usage was formed in the combination po umu — by mind. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the sema ‘sample’ in combination with the sema ‘maximal manifestation’ or ‘total absence of a sign (action)’ was observed in the expression that has gone out of use today: ni po bulatu — (nor) by bulat. The internal form of the combination refers to Damascus steel as a model of strength, durability, resilience and sharpness. In the examples from the texts of A. O. Ablesimov, I. M. Dolgorukov, A. A. Shakhovsky and G. F. Kvitka-Osnovyanenko ni po bulatu — (nor) by bulat means, appa rently, ‘not at all, not in the slightest’. In M. N. Zagoskin, the formula byt’ chestnym po bulatu — to be fair by the
bulat comes close to the meaning ‘in the highest degree’.

For citation:

Akhapkina Ya. E. A Forgotten Idiom with the Meaning of Measure and Degree. Russian Speech = Russkaya Rech’. 2023. No. 3. Pp. 21–39.


This article is an output of a research project implemented as part of the Basic Research Program at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE University).