Magazine article Russian Life

Insults That Taste Russian

Magazine article Russian Life

Insults That Taste Russian

Article excerpt

With so many borrowings entering the language of those who once called themselves russichi, it is getting harder and harder to tell what is a true Russian word, if there even is such a thing. To paraphrase the famous saying: scratch a Russian word and you will find a Turkish, Tartar or a Greek root. Well, except perhaps for authentically Slavic words like Yarilo (the Sun God in pagan Rus).

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But let's forget about etymology--an all-too-serious science for this space. Instead, we will simply consider some descriptive words which sound and look authentically Russian, and which are fun to say and use (if not always a good choice among "educated folk").

Start with [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which forced its way into the language from criminal argot. How do we translate this? Forget the dictionary. As one of my teachers used to say, "true translation begins where the dictionary ends." A [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is an obnoxious, arrogant and unrefined person whose very appearance makes you cringe. A sleazeball with a slovenly gait who makes passes at your daughter would be a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. An arrogant, ill-shaven tourist, smelling of booze and trying to jump the queue at Sheremetyevo customs? Definitely a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

Another pejorative of this ilk is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], best defined as a sly dog. The film [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], is the story of such a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--a Soviet-style fixer with contacts in both high and low places, someone who could open any door. A [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] could thus be seen as an entrepreneurial [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. An unscrupulous, obnoxious salesperson could well fit this image, but then in today's Russia, those characteristics are less pejorative than they used to be.

Here's another: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. This is someone who may be nice, but who has a low sense of discipline, commitment and no goals in life. It is someone you cannot trust with anything serious.

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is another tasty Russian word. Formerly a synonym for "lackey" (in pre-revolutionary Russia), in post-revolutionary Russia it is applied almost exclusively to waiters or barmen. …

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