Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Soviet Citizens Made Animals Heroes of Anecdotes So ‘Without Saying Anything, They could Talk about Everything,’ Mikhailin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 1 – Soviet citizens routinely made heroes of the anecdotes they told about their lives because by doing so, they could exploit both the general characteristics of animal breeds and the inclination of people to see each animal as uniquely identifiable, according to Vadim Mikhailin.

            In a new book, Beaver, Breathe! Notes about Soviet Anecdotes and the Sources of the Anecdotal Tradition (in Russian; Moscow: NLO, 2021), the Saratov State University linguist says this allowed them, “without saying anything to talk about everything” (

            On the one hand, Mikhailin says, this was a continuation of the pattern in traditional societies where jokes and stories often featured animals because people had more or less fixed views about what each animal represented in terms of character and behavior and therefore served as a rich basis for the creation of metaphors.

            But on the other, because animal stories often at least on the surface appeared to be about animals rather than human beings, making animals the subject of anecdotes in Soviet times was a form of self-protection against officials who wanted to stamp out any criticism of the then-existing order.

            Mikhailin’s new book, a selection of which the portal has now published, provides details on this phenomenon which has generally gone under-appreciated while also including enough Soviet anecdotes to make it interesting even to those who value the stories themselves more than the underlying conditions that give rise to this particular form.

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