Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Dozen New Words and Phrases that are Redefining Russian Life

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 2 – Political developments come so thick and fast that they are often forgotten only hours or days after they occur – unless they leave traces in the language and thus redefine how people, who make use of words and phrases used to encapsulate them, view a larger range of events.


            Many Americans, for example, could not provide a detailed description now of what happened 40 years ago at the time of the political crisis that came to be known as Watergate. But few do not instantly understand that the addition of the suffix “-gate” to any word means that it has the potential to grow into a major scandal.


            Thus, it is important to keep track of such linguistic innovations because some may come to play a larger role in the future than stories attracting more attention right now. Consequently, has performed a very useful service by providing definitions of 12 new terms that have entered the Russian lexicon over the last month (


            Which ones will survive is an open question as are the connotations they may take on, but they are worth noting, and both the terms themselves and the definitions Snob provides are given below:


  • Atmosphere of Hatred. First used by Boris Nemtsov in 2010, the term entered general use among Russians following his murder at the end of February this year to describe the sense Russians have that hatred is spreading among them.


  • “Spring Sharpening.” A term used by Putin’s press secretary to criticize what he said was the obsessive speculations among Russians about why the Russian president disappeared from sight for ten days.


  • Dolce and Habbana. A brand that is now for many Russians a synonym for all that is wrong with Europe after the firm supposedly announced that it was working on the creation of “synthetic children.”


  • “Life for Putin.” An echo of the title of Glinka’s opera, this term came into widespread use after Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he was prepared to die for Putin whether he was in office or not.


  • “What Color is Your Dress?” A question prompted by the appearance on social networks of a dress that appears to be one color in one light and a different one in a different light, something Russians extrapolated to describe the way in which one event looks one way to some and very different to others.


  • “Mulbabar.” According to the founder of Snob, this word is the name the ancient Sumerians gave to the planet Jupiter and by extension applies to any world in which there are no serious conflicts or disagreements.


  • The Fire in Novodevichy. A reference to a destructive fire in one of the Russian capital’s most important cemeteries, often extended by Russians in social network commentaries to refer to all kinds of disasters in their country and sometimes leading them to say “the Kremlin is burning.”


  • “On the Recommendation of the Special Services.” Kseniya Sobchak used this term to explain why she was leaving Russia to save herself from attacks. Now, Snob says, it is being used by Russians to describe how to act in any situation where no guidance from anyone is required, such as “to go to work” or “to lie down to sleep.”


  • “Path to the Motherland.”  The name of the film about the Russian occupation of Crimea, this term is now being used by Russians to refer to the illegal acquisition of anything, including by shoplifting.


  • Northern Lights and Solar Eclipses. While normally such things cause people to engage in apocalyptic predictions, among Russians, at least in March 2015, Snob says, they led many Russians to celebrate what must have appeared to them not as a violation of the natural order but as evidence that despite everything it is continuing.


  • “Tannhauser.” The name of the Wagnerian opera whose performance in Novosibirsk led the Russian Orthodox Church and other conservatives to demand it not be shown because it offended their sensibilities, the term now is being applied more generally to any such objections.


  • Bread on Holidays. This term refers to a decision of the mayor of Tomsk to distribute free bread to pensioners on especially important holidays, an implicit comment on how the Russian authorities often deal with the population.

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