We have previously brought up the Slavic svoboda as pondered by Jacob Grimm.  But there is more to say here.

People Got to Be Free

What does swoboda mean?  First, let’s note that the same word appears in all Slavic languages.  Some examples:

  • Belorussian свабода 
  • Bulgarian свобода
  • Croatian sloboda
  • Czech svoboda
  • Macedonian слобода
  • Russian слобода
  • Serb слобода
  • Slovak sloboda
  • Slovene svoboda
  • Ukrainian  свобода
  • Upper Lusatian swoboda
  • Polish swoboda
  • Old Polish słoboda, świeboda

According to Brueckner the root here is swobo- to which was added the Slavic ending -da as in  łagoda.  Why would Brueckner think this?  Well, the Swebi had a “b” in there and both Slavic and Germanic are Indo-European so it kind of makes sense…    

Except this is wrong.

And the clue resides in Brueckner’s own etymological dictionary just on the prior page where he discusses another word – swawola. It means “wantonness” (in the sense of “being hard to control”) or “frolicking”.

Here Brueckner says that swawola is composed of “two words“.  What are those two words?  Swa– meaning “one’s own”. And wola meaning “will”. Thus, swawolny means as much as “willful” or “wanton”.

Brueckner did not pick up on the fact that swoboda/swaboda is also composed of two words.  What are those words?

Well, the first is the same as in swawola – it is swo- or swa – (or, if you will, svo- or sva-) meaning, “one’s own”.

The second is more interesting.  -boda is derived from the act of “being”.  “To be” is być or biti.  However, the “t” may have come from an earlier “d” as in d>t – call that, appropriately, a “Slavic Grimm’s law.”  The “d” still comes up in places.  Just google пусть всегда будет солнце.


If you think this has something to do with the English “body” you are right.

From the Online Etymological Dictionary:

“body (n.) Old English bodig “trunk, chest” (of a man or animal); related to Old High German botah, of unknown origin. Not elsewhere in Germanic, and the word has died out in German (replaced by leib, originally “life,” and körper, from Latin). In English, extension to “person” is from late 13c. Meaning “main part” of anything was in late Old English, hence its use in reference to vehicles (1520s). Contrasted with soul since at least mid-13c. Meaning “corpse” (short for dead body) is from late 13c. Transferred to matter generally in Middle English (as in heavenly body, late 14c.). Body politic “the nation, the state” first recorded 1520s, legalese, with French word order. Body image was coined 1935. Body language is attested from 1967, perhaps from French langage corporel (1966). Phrase over my dead body attested by 1833.”

Although the likewise online English Wiktionary is a slightly less “authoritative” source, it’s worth quoting its current statement on the matter as well:

“From Middle English body, bodiȝ, from Old English bodiġ, bodeġ (body, trunk, chest, torso, height, stature), from Proto-Germanic *budagą, *budagaz (body, trunk”, also “grown), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰewdʰ- (to be awake, observe). Cognate with German Bottich (body, trunk)Bavarian Bottich (body, trunk) and Swabian Bottich (body, trunk).”

Swoboda means “one’s own body”.  That such a word boda was known to the Slavs can be seen from the name of the Goddess (?) Boda worshipped in Poland as seen here (Lada, Boda, Leli).

We note too that the Suevic name Marobodos is rather interesting in this context (adjudged “Celtic” with –bodus meaning See the ever helpful Wörterbuch der altgermanischen personen- und völkernamen by Moritz Schönfeld (the reference to Holder is to Alfred Holder’s Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz, volume 2, p. 434).

Incidentally, if Berlin is a Slavic word… why is Berli-bodus not Slavic exactly?  Or is it now that Berlin is not a Slavic name?

What’s funnier yet is that the scientific folk etymology would have boduus mean “raven” (apparently the closest explanation is the Irish Badhbh which actually means a (bad) war deity that appeared in the form of a crow. Here is another one:

So there you go.

Can you see it now?

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April 15, 2017

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