Whence the name Sipsik for a favourite Estonian ragdoll character? 

Keywords: Estonian language, lexical history, etymology

The article discusses the Estonian dialect word sipsik ‘kid, brat’, which has a rather narrow distribution area, and its possible loan etymology. The word sipsik has been introduced to wider public by the popular children’s book of the same name, written by Eno Raud. The article assumes that sipsik has a Latvian relative žipčiks ‘a quick, agile, playful (mostly) boy’. The Latvian žipčiks is widespread in Latvian dialects as well as colloquially, being recorded in Mīlenbachs-Endzelīns dictionary and its supplementary volume (ME 4: 811). The Latvian word derives from the Russian noun жи́вчик ‘live bait (fish); a lively, very agile person; a visible throbbing at the temple, a nervous twitch of the eyelid; spermatozoon’. The semantic field of the original source word refers to a bold, agile and active creature, which is also true of the Latvian and Estonian counterparts. It is not unequivocally clear whether the Estonian sipsik is a direct borrowing from Russian or whether it has travelled to Estonian through Latvian. Both ways are possible and equally plausible.


Lembit Vaba (b. 1945), PhD, Foreign Member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences,