Nosferatu (word)

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The name Nosferatu has been presented as possibly an archaic Romanian word, synonymous with "vampire". However, it was largely popularized in the late nineteenth century by Western fiction such as Dracula. Probable etymology of the term might be derived from the Romanian Nesuferitu ("the insufferable/repugnant one") or Necuratu ("the unclean one", spiritus immundus), terms typically used in vernacular Romanian to designate Satan (the Devil).

Origins of the name[edit]

The etymological origins of the word nosferatu are difficult to determine. There is no doubt that it achieved popular currency through Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula and its unauthorised cinematic adaptation, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922). Stoker identified his source for the term as 19th-century British author and speaker Emily Gerard. It is commonly thought that Gerard introduced the word into print in an 1885 magazine article, "Transylvanian Superstitions,"[1] and in her travelogue The Land Beyond the Forest;[2] ("Land beyond the forest" is what Transylvania means in Latin; literally, "across/through the forest"). She merely refers to it as the Romanian word for vampire: "More decidedly evil is the nosferatu, or vampire, in which every Roumanian peasant believes as firmly as he does in Heaven or Hell."[3] However, the word had already appeared in an 1865 German-language article by Wilhelm Schmidt.[4] Schmidt's article discusses Transylvanian customs and appeared in an Austro-Hungarian magazine, which Gerard could have encountered as a reviewer of German literature living in Austria-Hungary. Schmidt's article also mentions the legendary Scholomance by name, which parallels Gerard's Transylvanian Superstitions.[1] Schmidt does not identify the language explicitly, but he puts the word nosferatu in a typeface which indicates it to be a language other than German.

Nosferatu does not correspond to any existing word in the Romanian language in any historical phase (aside from that introduced by the novel and the films).[5] Internal evidence in Dracula suggests that Stoker believed the term meant "not dead" in Romanian, and thus he may have intended the word undead to be its calque.[6]

Peter Haining identifies an earlier source for nosferatu as "Roumanian Superstitions (1861)" by Heinrich von Wlislocki.[7] However, Wlislocki seems only to have written in German, and according to the Magyar Néprajzi Lexikon, Wlislocki was born in 1856 (d. 1907), which makes his authorship of an English-titled 1861 source doubtful. Certain details of Haining's citation also conflict with David J. Skal,[5] so this citation seems unreliable. Skal identifies a similar reference to the word "nosferat" in an article by Wlislocki dating from 1896.[8] Since this postdates Gerard and has a number of parallels to Gerard's work, Skal considers it likely that Wlislocki is derivative from Gerard. There is also evidence to suggest that Haining derived his citation for Roumanian Superstitions from a confused reading of an extract in Ernest Jones's 1931 book, On the Nightmare.[9]

Gerard's claim that nosferatu was Romanian might be incorrect. If the assumption is incorrect, then research into the etymology of the term needs to start by identifying the domain-language. A leading alternative etymology is that the term originally came from the Greek "nosophoros" (*νοσοφόρος), meaning disease-bearing.[10] F. W. Murnau's classic film Nosferatu strongly emphasizes this theme of disease, and Murnau's creative direction in the film may have been influenced by this etymology (or vice-versa).[11]

However, several difficulties with this explanation should be noted. Gerard clearly identified the word as Romanian and proponents of the "nosophoros" etymology (as well as most other commentators) seem to have little doubt that this is correct, even though Gerard's limited familiarity with the language gives her little authority on that point. If this Romanian identification is taken to be correct, the first objection to the "nosophoros" etymology is that Romanian is a Romance language. While Romanian does have some words borrowed from Greek, as do most European languages, Greek is generally considered to be only a minor contributor to the Romanian vocabulary—absent any other information, any given Romanian word is much more likely to be of Latin origin than Greek. Second, while *νοσοφόρος would be a regular compound according to the conventions of Greek morphology, the word itself is not known in any historical phases of the Greek language. That is to say, the word *νοσοφόρος simply is not known to have ever existed in Greek, which would seem to make the burden of proof rather high for proposing it to have been the original form of another word in an entirely different language. One instance of a Greek word similar to *νοσοφόρος, νοσηφόρος ("nosēphoros"), is attested in fragments from a 2nd-century AD work by Marcellus Sidetes on medicine plus another of the Ionic dialect variant νουσοφόρος ("nousophoros") from the Palatine Anthology,[12] but the supporting evidence for a relationship between this apparently very rare term and nosferatu is still very weak.

The glaring difficulty with the *νοσοφόρος etymology is that no source has ever presented an argument for it any more substantial than that the two words, one of which may not have even existed, are vaguely similar in sound and meaning. No derivation has been proposed that would accord with a regular derivational process, and no citations of any intermediate forms in primary sources have ever been presented.

In some versions of the "nosophoros" etymology, an intermediate form *nesufur-atu,[11] or sometimes *nosufur-atu is presented[10] but both the original source for this and the justification for it are unclear. This form is often indicated to be Slavonic or Slavic. It is likely that either Old Church Slavonic or the protolanguage Proto-Slavic is intended. As with *νοσοφόρος, this supposed Slavonic word does not appear to be attested in primary sources, which severely undermines the credibility of the argument.

Another common etymology suggests that the word meant "not breathing", which appears to be attempting to read a derivative of the Latin verb spirare ("to breathe") as a second morpheme in nosferatu. Skal notes that this is "without basis in lexicography", viewing all these etymological attempts with similar skepticism.[5]

A final possibility is that the form Gerard gave is a well-known Romanian term without the benefit of normalized spelling, or possibly a misinterpretation of the sounds of the word due to Gerard's limited familiarity with the language, or possibly a dialectical variant of the word. Two candidate words that have been put forth are necurat ("unclean", usually associated with the occult)[13][14] and nesuferit ("the insufferable").[5] The nominative masculine definite form of a Romanian noun in the declension to which both words belong takes the ending "-ul" or even the shortened "u", as in Romanian "l" is usually lost in the process of speaking, so the definite forms necuratu, nesuferitu and nefârtatu are commonly encountered (translatable as "the unclean", "the insufferable one", and "the devil", respectively).

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Gerard, Emily (July 1885). "Transylvanian Superstitions". The Nineteenth Century: 128–144. 
  2. ^ Gerard, Emily (1888). The Land Beyond the Forest: Facts, Figures, and Fancies from Transylvania. Harper & Brothers. 
  3. ^ Wolf, Leonard (1997). Dracula: The Connoisseur's Guide. Random House. 
  4. ^ Hogg, Anthony (2011). "Unearthing Nosferau", Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist, 28 February. Accessed 28 March 2011. The article in question is Wilhelm Schmidt, "Das Jahr und seine Tage in Meinung und Brauch der Rumänen Siebenbürgens", Österreichische Revue, 3(1):211–226.
  5. ^ a b c d Skal, David J. (2004) [1990]. Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web Of Dracula From Novel To Stage To Screen (Revised ed.). Norton. pp. 80–81. ISBN 0-571-21158-5. 
  6. ^ "For all that die from the preying of the Un-dead become themselves Un-dead, and prey on their kind. And so the circle goes on ever widening, like as the ripples from a stone thrown in the water. Friend Arthur, if you had met that kiss which you know of before poor Lucy die, or again, last night when you open your arms to her, you would in time, when you had died, have become nosferatu, as they call it in Eastern Europe, and would for all time make more of those Un-Deads that so have filled us with horror." (Stoker 1897). This seems to be the motivation for Leonard Wolf to gloss nosferatu as "not dead." (Stoker, Wolf 1975)
  7. ^ Haining, Peter (2000). A Dictionary of Vampires. Robert Hale. pp. 184–185. ISBN 0-7090-6550-7. 
  8. ^ von Wlislocki, Heinrich (1896). "Quälgeister im Volksglauben der Rumänen". Am Ur-Quell 6: 108–109. 
  9. ^ Hogg, Anthony (2010). "Examining Roumanian Superstitions." Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist, August 22. Accessed 28 March 2011.
  10. ^ a b Stoker, Bram (2006) [1897]. Paul Moliken, ed. Dracula (Literary Touchstone Edition). Prestwick House. p. 349. ISBN 1-58049-382-3. 
  11. ^ a b Melton, J. Gordon (1999). the Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Visible Ink Press. pp. 496–497. ISBN 1-57859-071-X. 
  12. ^ Liddell, Henry George; Robert Scott; Henry Stuart Jones (1940) [1843]. A Greek-English Lexicon (9th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-864226-1. 
  13. ^ Buican, Denis (1991). Dracula et ses Avatars: de Vlad l'Empaleur à Staline et Ceausescu. Editions de l'Espace Européen. p. 96. ISBN 2-7388-0131-5. 
  14. ^ Dunn-Mascetti, Manuela (1992). Vampire: the Complete Guide to the World of the Undead. Penguin. p. 111. ISBN 0-14-023801-8. 

References[edit]

  • Buican, Denis (1991). Dracula et ses Avatars: de Vlad l'Empaleur à Staline et Ceausescu. Editions de l'Espace Européen. p. 96. ISBN 2-7388-0131-5.  (As a native Romanian, Dr. Buican's opinion that nosferatu is a mishearing of necuratu carries particular weight.)
  • Dunn-Mascetti, Manuela (1992). Vampire: the Complete Guide to the World of the Undead. Penguin. p. 111. ISBN 0-14-023801-8. 
  • Gerard, Emily (July 1885). "Transylvanian Superstitions". The Nineteenth Century: 128–144. 
  • Gerard, Emily (1888). The Land Beyond the Forest: Facts, Figures, and Fancies from Transylvania. Harper & Brothers. 
  • Haining, Peter (2000). A Dictionary of Vampires. Robert Hall. pp. 184–185. ISBN 0-7090-6550-7. 
  • Liddell, Henry George; Robert Scott; Henry Stuart Jones (1940) [1843]. A Greek-English Lexicon (9th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-864226-1. 
  • "Magyar néprajzi lexikon". Retrieved 2007-02-22.  ("Hungarian Ethnographic Lexicon")
  • Melton, J. Gordon (1999). the Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Visible Ink Press. pp. 496–497. ISBN 1-57859-071-X. 
  • Skal, David J. (2004) [1990]. Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web Of Dracula From Novel To Stage To Screen (Revised ed.). Norton. pp. 80–81. ISBN 0-571-21158-5.  (Skal reprints a large quotation of the relevant Wlislocki material)
  • Skal, David J. (1996) [1996]. V Is for Vampire: The A-Z Guide to Everything Undead (Original ed.). Plume. p. 304. ISBN 0-452-27173-8. 
  • Stoker, Bram (1897). Dracula. Archibald Constable and Company. 
  • Stoker, Bram (2006) [1897]. Paul Moliken, ed. Dracula (Literary Touchstone Edition). Prestwick House. p. 349. ISBN 1-58049-382-3. 
  • Stoker, Bram (1975) [1897]. Leonard Wolf, ed. The Annotated Dracula. Crown. p. 193. ISBN 0-517-52017-6. 
  • von Wlislocki, Heinrich (1896). "Quälgeister im Volksglauben der Rumänen". Am Ur-Quell 6: 108–109. 
  • Wolf, Leonard (1997). Dracula: The Connoisseur's Guide. Random House.  (The information relating to the "Nosferatu" from the article written by Mrs. Gerard in 1885 is reprinted in pp. 21-22).

Literature[edit]

  • Peter M. Kreuter, Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa. Berlin 2001