Приствольные круги

by Don  

Every once in a while it's simply a great joy to know an incredibly obscure piece of Russian vocabulary. The wife of one professor of Russian I know prides herself on knowing the Russian phrase for werewolf. (There are quite a few shape-shifters in Russian folklore.) So imagine my geekoid linguistic pleasure when the other day I ran across the phrase that means the circle of bricks or rocks that lie on the ground encircling the trunk of a tree. Such a circle is called приствольный круг. Heck, I don't even know what that is called in English.

I wish I could say that the phrase was connected with some exotic folk tale where Баба Яга the boney-legged witch captured a streamful of русалки mermaids and forced them to dance around a tree until they turned into stone, but in fact it is much more straight-forward than that. The root ствол means the trunk of a tree or bush. The prefix при- means nearby. Круг simply means circle. Thus пристволный круг means “a circle near a trunk.”

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