Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Why Some Russians Call Americans ‘Pindoses’ – the Etymology of an Ethnic Slur

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 12 – Most ethnic slurs are so obviously derived from the names or stereotypes of another ethnic group that one need devote little time to where they come from, but one, increasingly used by Russians about Americans as tensions between the two nations have grown, has a curious and interesting etymology.


            That is “pindos,” a term of abuse which is ever more often seen in Russian articles about Americans. Its origin is not immediately obvious, although it appears that almost all Russians know that it has a negative connotation. According to, the Russians owe this linguistic innovation to the Serbs of Kosovo (


            The way American soldiers dressed in Yugoslavia, with heavy packs and with bulletproof vests suggested to the Serbs, the site says, that they looked like penguins. And since the word for penguin in Serbian is “pindo,” the Serbs applied it as a term of contempt for the Americans.  They referred to the British as “half-penguins,” and that slur also appears to have survived.


            Some websites suggest a different origin. They suggest “pindo” derives from the Spanish “pendejos” or idiot. But it seems probable, the Russian site says that Russians got their term from the Serbs, a version supported by the Wikipedia article on the subject which notes that the term has proven remarkably generative.


            Some Russians now speak of “Pindostan” as a variant and dismissive term for the United States, and others use “pindo” to denounce other Russians who say anything against Russian President Vladimir Putin.


            Some idea of the meaning of the term for those who use it is conveyed by the Urban Dictionary which lists among the synonyms of “pindo” the following: slutty, amerikos, dumb, fagot, lame, gringo, stupid and yankee (

ADDENDUM: Few recent Windows have provoked as much discussion as this one, with various writers pointing to alternative origins for the term and challenging the Russian author’s etymological assertions.  Nenad Kostić, the culture editor of the Serbian daily "Naše novine," writes that the word “pindo” does not exist in Serbian and was not used to describe American or British soldiers. The origins of the word or at least its negative use need to be found elsewhere.


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