by J. P. Maher For the Saker Blog
Over my head the woodland wall rises;
The ousel sings to me.
…The woodland birds shake out their glee for me.
Irish monk A.D. 800 ca. Translator Robin Flower. 1947
The bird called ousel here is now known in English as the blackbird. Its sweet song is briefly heard in the first few minutes of the film “The Sound of Music”. This is the species referred to in the place name Kosovo Polje – “Field of Blackbirds.” But what bird is the English “blackbird”. In Serbian he is called kos. There is a difference between black bírds and blackbirds. In English the good old word ousel has largely been displaced by the clumsy and misleading compound noun blackbird.
Ornithology. Among North Americans, Australians, and South Africans, only ornithologists can identify the species in question. The species is unknown “in the colonies.” Kosovo’s bláckbìrd is no crow, nor raven, no starling nor grackle, but Turdus merula. This bird is the European cousin of the North American rusty-bellied thrush (Turdus migratorius), which Yanks and Canucks call the “robin”. French Canadians call it “le merle américain”. This bird bobs over the fresh spring grass, stops, cocks its head to watch for an earthworm, though its diet is mostly berries, and then it strikes. In Europe the closely related bláckbìrd nearly identical in behavior and song, but unlike the American cousin, the ousel’s beak is bright yellow, and the male’s plumage indeed is black.
In Britain and Ireland robin is the name of another species, Erithacus rubecula.
The “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie”, of the English rhyme, were of the species Merula. For North Americans the feel of the Serbo-Croatian place name Kosovo can only be had from a free translation, “Field of Robins”. German Amselfeld is appropriately quite beautiful.
Serbophobes flag their extreme ignorance of this (and many other) Kosovo facts, for example Christopher Hitchens: “Clouds of blackbirds still do go wheeling and shrieking above Kosovo Polje, the bleak and windy site of the great Turkish victory over Serbia (and Albania) in 1389.” Blackbirds do not swarm; one or two hop across the grass hunting a morsel.. This bláckbìrd ~ kos sings sweetly in the spring and early summer. In Slavic lands the bird’s name was often given to men who sang with beautiful voice and is inherited as a common family name.
Fushë Kosova is the Albanian for Kosovo Polje, Ousel-Field, Field of Blackbirds, German Amselfeld. On the internet a photo has been posted, of a “flock of blackbirds at the infamous ‘Field of Blackbirds’.” May 4, 2006: www.flickr.com/photos/kosovakid/ 140317824. Those “black birds” are not bláckbìrds.
Professor Ronald Wixman has published the same error:
The word Kosovo does not come from Serbian Field of Black Birds, but from the Albanian Kos (meaning a high place) and Va meaning a vale, valley, or flat area. Kosova means the high plateau (look at a map and you will understand why.” email@example.com
Can Mr. Wixman be serious? A problem is that Albanian va means ‘ford’ and Albanian kos means ‘yoghurt’.
A favorite “Kosovar” folk etymology for “Kos-ova” derives the second member from Turkish ova ‘plain’. Wixman and Hitchens were refuted a century ago by a Scottish philologist, Peter Giles (1909):
“…[W]ords of this kind … express but one idea under a single accent, and when this has taken place, no one but the student of language any longer observes what the elements really mean. When the ordinary man talks of a “blackbird” it is certainly not present to his consciousness that the learned Englishman is talking of a black bird, unless for some reason conversation has been dwelling upon the colour rather than other characteristics of the species.”
In December 1995 the television “Discovery Channel” produced a series “Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation”, narrated in the USA by CNN’s Agit-Prop lady Christiane Amanpour. The timing helped to blot out memory of Croatia’s US-managed “Storm /Oluja” blitzkrieg that saw the “ethnic cleansing” of Serb Krajina. One scene is repeatedly used, spliced between interviews and news reel clips. Viewers see flocks of grackles or starlings taking off from bare trees. The intent of the producers is to defame the Serbs. Guilt by association: sinister blackness. Lugubrious chords on a cello provide mood music.
The North American viewer was expected to take this scene as a Leitmotif of the “black birds” referred to in the name of Kosovo. But the grackle footage is internal evidence of incompetents at work, out to demonize, for grackles are not pleasant birdies. Bare trees are wintry.
The motif of the black birds establishes the ignorance and scurrility of the Serb-hating media and governments over the past twenty years. Hitchens, Little, Silber, Wixman et al. seem not to know that there are some 200 toponyms in Slavic lands or formerly Slavic lands. They range from Greece and Albania to Turkey, Poland. former Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine, Russia and Germany. For the following list I have used, besides linguistic studies, National Geographic, Falling Rain Genomics. Postal codes are also helpful.
SLAVIC PLACE NAMES FROM KOS: KOSOV KOSOVA KOSOVO
Kos Bosnia-Herzegovina (BH) 
Kos Bulgaria BG
Kos Montenegro (MN)
KOSOV masculine, possesive adjective
Kosov Belarus (BR)
Kosov Czechoslovakia (Cz)
Kosov Russia (R)
Kosów (Polish language) Ukraine (UK)
Kosów (Polish) UK
KOSIV Ukrainian (UK)
Kosów Poland (PL)
KOSSOW German map: in German double SS = [s]; single S = [z]
Kossow UK German map
Kossau Schleswig-Holstein Coswig (Anhalt), Germany.
Coswig (bei Dresden), Germany.
Kosova Buljina CRO
Kosova Makhala BG
(Mahala is Turkish, via Persian from Arabic, for settlement, often a slum).
Kosova Turkey (T)
Kosova Hora Cz
Kosova Makhala BG
Kosova Hora Cz
κοσοβιτζα GR Epirus
National Geographic Map Maker enters thefollowing names, but the places have the same coordinates):
Kosova i Madhë ALB
Kosova i Vogël ALB
Kosova Megali ALB
Kosova Mikra ALB (Greek language)
KOSSOWO G map
Kosovo Macedonia FYROM
Kosovo Polje BH
Kosovo Polje Serbia
Kosovo Polsko BG
Kossowez BG German map
Albania, Global Gazetteer. 2000. Albania.2000.
Presentation Copyright 1998-2000 by Falling Rain Genomics, Inc. Directory of 2880532 of the world’s cities and towns, sorted by country and linked to a map for each town. Tab separated list available for each country. Data presentation demonstration only. No liability whatsoever assumed. Presentation Copyright 1998-2000 by Falling Rain Genomics, Inc. August 5, 2000: Revised.
Amselfeld 2000. Die Stimme Kosovos. http://www.amselfeld.com
Atlas Svjeta 1974. World Atlas. Zagreb. Jugoslavenski leksikografski zavod [Yugoslav Lexicographic Institute].
Bach, Adolf [1890-1972]. 1952-1954. Deutsche Namenkunde. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
Bathe, Max. 1963. Der deutsche Zetacismus im Spiegel slawischer Ortsnamen aus Ottonischer Zeit. Pages 229-130. In Bielefeld 1961.
Bielefeldt, Hans Holm, Editor. 1961. Slawische Namenforschung. Vorträge aus der II-en Arbeitskonferenz der onomastischen Kommission beim Internationlen Slawistenkomitee in Berlin vom 17. 20. Oktober 1961. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts fur Slawistik.
Cambridge Atlas of Mediaeval History. Byzantium.
Flower, Robin, editor & translator. The Irish Tradition. 1947, 1994. Dublin: Lilliput Press.
Giles. Peter. Evolution and the Science of language. In A. C. Seward, 1909. Darwin and Modern Science. Essays in commemoration of the centenary of the birth of Charles Darwin and of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of “The Origin of Species”.
Hitchens, Christopher. The Nation. 17 April 2000.
Miklosich. Franz (Fran Miklošič). 1875. Vergleichende Grammatik der Slavischen Sprachen. Vol. II Formenlehre. Manulneudruck 1926 Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
_________ 1860-74. Die Bildung der Slavischen Personen- und Ortsnamen. Drei Abhandlungen von Franz Miklosich. 1927.Manulneudruck aus Denkschriften der Akademie der Wissenschaften, Historische Philosophische Klasse.
National Geographic 2000. Map Machine. Kos kosov- kosov kosiv kosova kosov kosovë
State 1997 (February).
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996. Report submitted to the Committee on Foreign Relations U. S. Senate and the Committee on International Relations U. S. House of Representatives by the Department of State in accordance with Sections 116(d) and 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended.
Pokorny, Julius. 1959. Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch. Bern: Francke Verlag.
Vasmer, Max. 1940. Die Slaven in Griechenland. Heidelbrg: Carl Winter.
Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation. 1995. BBC. Allan Little and Laura Silber.
- Not related: Kossowa Sri Lanka; Greek island of KΩΣ Kos. ↑