Magazine article Russian Life

Postscript: Tired of a "Glamorous" Life

Magazine article Russian Life

Postscript: Tired of a "Glamorous" Life

Article excerpt

Russian lawmakers recently handed down a warning: Watch your Russian language! (See Notebook, page 7). The resolution may stick in the craw of free-speech advocates, the "liberal" intelligentsia, and "zapadniki" (Westernizers), but it strikes just the right note for "slavyanofily" (Slavophiles). If they were alive today, Slavophile Fyodor Tyutchev might applaud the measure, while Westernizer Pyotr Chaadaev (who said that the only thing Russians had to teach humankind was how to oppress one another) would smirk at such "kvasnoy patriotism"--(kvas-patriotism).

Side-stepping the centuries-old Slavophile vs. Westernizers debate, I feel our Duma deputies should get kudos for at least drawing attention to this acute problem. The infamous "novoyaz" (pejorative contraction for "novy yazyk," "new language") makes many Russians cringe, myself included.

It has been at least seven years since the word "razborka"("settlement of accounts") entered our lexicon through the "back door." It is a mob corruption of a pre-existing word that means "taking apart, dismantling, sorting out." And the infiltration is so complete that we do not even recognize the word in its original meaning. As when an announcement pasted to Moscow's Intourist Hotel pronounced "Razborka by Ingeokom" (see photo). At first, I jumped to the conclusion that, for some strange reason, a local, Intourist-centered mob group was seeking a little P.R. for its settlement of accounts, but then the old meaning of the word came back and I remembered the hotel was being dismantled.

In fact, we journalists and translators should be the ones to take the heat for linguistic incongruities. Like writers and artists, we are on the cutting edge of linguistic invention. And, when someone like TV anchor Yevgeny Kiselyov talks about a political squabble as a "razborka," the genie is out of the bottle: millions of TV viewers have heard the usage, and, like the sparrow in the Russian proverb, "once it's out, you can't catch it." So next it shows up in headlines in Kommersant and the infiltration is complete.

The bill in question, in addition to barring crude slang from the media and public speeches, bars unnecessary use of foreign words "if they have Russian equivalents." Of course, one hopes that common sense will reign here and we won't fall victim to Russians' penchant for "peregiby" ("extremes, distortions"). Like in the 1920s, when a similar campaign sought to stomp out adopted foreign words like "inzhener" (engineer) and replace them with artificially-constructed Russian words. After all, what's the point of calling a hamburger a "bulochka s myasom" ("bun with meat")? …

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