Wednesday, October 03, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

Can't find Louis Prima doing "Satellite," which is goofy. Nor could I find old Omicron and Nudnik cartoons, which were goofier. But I found this.

Russian sputnik "satellite" literally means "traveling companion." It has roots in the Old Church Slavonic supotiniku, a compound of su- "with, together," poti "way, journey," and the agent suffix -nik "person or thing associated with or involved in," which is common in Russian (cf. kolkhoznik "member of a kolkhoz").

The electrifying impact of the satellite's launch on America can be gauged by the number of new formations in -nik that blossomed around this time. The dog launched aboard Sputnik 2 (Nov. 2, 1957) was dubbed muttnik by the "Detroit Free Press." Meanwhile, the U.S. satellite which failed to reach orbit in 1957 (because the Vanguard rocket blew up on the launch pad) was derided as kaputnik (in the "Daily Express"), flopnik ("Daily Herald"), puffnik ("Daily Mail"), and, my favorite, stayputnik ("News Chronicle").

The most enduring -nik, of course, was beatnik, coined in 1958 by San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen from the Beat generation (1952) phrase popularized by Jack Kerouac.

The -nik suffix also is used in Yiddish, and it had made some slight inroads in American English at least a decade before Sputnik via this path. (e.g. nudnik "a bore").