New Slang for Sevastopol: Nine Key Concepts for Understanding Recent Events
Paired to illustrative images from the Web
by Vladimir Savich. Translated by Zachary Bos
Tyranny is a growth industry. Each day brings exciting new developments. These events imprint themselves upon the world in the form of newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, dictionaries. In order to keep pace, language is constantly changing, evolving fresh forms to cover new forms of political degeneracy, stretching to describe new varieties of corruption and war-mongering. Nazi, genocide, Auschwitz, Gulag, Communism, class struggle: each word brought into being to describe actions previously thought unimaginable or impossible.
These days, social media sites like Twitter and VK are erupting with new words and new uses for old words as users figure out ways to speak about recent events in the eastern part of Ukraine. To help our readers keep up, we’ve selected nine such terms to explain, place into context, and expand upon in a convenient, Buzzfeed-style format.
Readers, be warned! Opportunities to use these new words are now limited within the borders of Russia proper. Just this spring, the Duma instituted new penalties for swearing in films, theatre, and print and broadcast media. Just as the name Trotsky was banned in the USSR, and the word “liar” is banned in legislatures across the world, the obscenities known as mat are prohibited by law.
In light of this delicate legal situation, we must advise readers eager to show off their tongues’ new tricks to do so only in private. As authors we cannot condone, encourage, lionize or celebrate any speaker of dirty words. For it is profanity, and not autocratic kleptocracy, which is the real threat, the true enemy and foe of civilization. We certainly do not salute their daring epithetry.
Accordingly, this little lexicographic project of ours is not appropriate for children—attractive though it may be to their young novelty-seeking minds!—or, for that matter, political imbeciles of any age.
With these caveats on our intended audience and appropriate usage firmly in place, let us wish you good luck and udachi as you enrich your word hoard.
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1. багаж // #bagazh. From French bagage, meaning luggage: the burdens one elects to bear when venturing abroad.
Now that we are back in the USSR, let’s open the newspaper. What do we find inside? No way—reports about false victories and Potemkin successes! It’s like nothing has changed since the era of Soviet journalism.
The media with a single voice shouts, proclaims, the maxima dictum mantra: Putin outplays the whole world! Always! In any situation! Deploy Russian troops on the border with Ukraine? He outplays!
Withdraw Russian troops? He also overplays! Refuse to recognize the President of Ukraine? He outplays! Recognize the President of Ukraine? Goal! He again outplays!
Those dead bodies who lie in bagazh, he undoubtedly outplays!
The American newspapers would report the same as “casualties.” They no longer see dawn, sunlight, sunset, wives and children, they don’t see anything, because they have been outplayed by Mr Putin.
Don’t worry, they are not people. Think of them as a load of cargo: “two hundred units,” weight such-and-such, stack them just so.
Putin outplays the US; he outplays Europe. He is the strongest coolest guy in the world and he squats in first place in all the world rankings. He’s going to outplay us all and get himself that Nobel Prize.
2. xуйло // #huylo. An expletive equivalent in usage to “dumb fuck” or “dick-head.” Idiomatically, the term is akin to being called a person who falls on his own petard. Has been adopted for use in languages including Yiddish, Ukrainian, and Russian.
Putin-Huylo, we call him sometimes, or Mr W, after his name: Vladimir Vladimirovich. Mr W loves his dog more than he loves people. Dog is a true friend. Dog doesn’t sell out its master. Dog always tells the truth.
Mr W recently heard an interesting story, and shared it with his dog:
Do you know, my friend, that I was born in October? And people that born in October, they are the best people in the world. Yes. Yes. European scientists reported it in a scientific magazine. You know, I don’t like Europeans. They are liberals, democrats, libertines and sodomites. But in this case, the fags are right. I was October-born and have a strong and muscular body. I swim. I run. I jump. I have a big brain. I’m overachieving all around. Actually, my enemies say about me that I’m bald and small and generally look like a gnome. But those are enemies. In reality… I’m a pilot! I board submarines under the sea, and command their commanders! I put out fires! I subdue nations! I’m… I’m… I’m a hero. I’m Superman, my pal! Just call me number one!
The dog looked sadly at his master and said:
My dear W, don’t believe everything you read. Believe me, your trusted friend. I’ve never cheated you, not once. Look here: You’re not Superman. You’re no titleholder, no giant. You’re just Huylo.
* * *
We predict that this most useful word “huylo” will enter into the English language and be forever linked to the name of Mr Putin, like Gorbachev’s become associated with the word perestroika. It’s already begun to happen! A recently discovered star was named in Mr W’s honor by the learned astronomers of Ukraine: “Putin-Huylo,” they named it, meaning “Putin is a Dickhead.” Mr W’s fame reaches even unto the heavens.
NB: The photo above was published in a newspaper in a former Soviet territory, with the following caption: “Vladimir: leave Ukraine alone!”
3. КРИМнаша // #KRYM-nash. Literally, “Crimea [is] Ours.” This slogan has become ubiquitous on social media, sometimes paired ironically with the nonsense phrase nyash-hyash to sum up the mentality of the aggressive patriots who approve of Putin’s recent territorial gamesmanship.
I recently received a letter from Russia, from an old friend. Come to think of it, it could have come from any of a number of people from back home, each of them looking like the wretches in the painting above. Anyway. My friend wrote:
—Vlad, what are you doing in crappy America? Have you forgotten your Russian soul? Come home, boy! Let’s drink vodka. There is reason for a glass of Stolichnaya!
He gave me his reason for celebrating, underlining it two times: Krymnash!
(If you open the encyclopedia, you will read in the article about Crimea that it is actually the “Avtonomnaya Respublika Krym,” that it is “part of Ukraine.” The term Krymnash, meaning the territory temporarily occupied by Russian troops, is not mentioned.)
—Come to Krymnash, my friend wrote. —Mr Huylo has brought us happiness and prosperity. Peace and tranquility!
(Mr Huylo destroyed the satellites of the Bandera Corporation. Threw them in the trash, along with the Ukrainian language.)
—Now we can talk in Russian language, whatever you want. We can say Putin, hero! Putin, he is all ours! Putin, reclaimer of Russian lands! The opposition, is bullshit! Because now we have freedom of speech. (Well, matter of fact, we can’t say Putin is a huylo, because the new KGB would pull out our tongues.) Otherwise, all is well. The sun shines. Birds sing. We sit on the beach and enjoy life. Look at the photo I’ve enclosed; the caption is “We are Krymnash!” Come to Krymnash, my friend, we wait for you!
I don’t write back. All I would have to say to him, too all of them, is: No way. I got my papers, I got my pay. I’m not going to pack my bags; I will not make my way back to those black Russian rivers. I won’t be going back to Krymnash. I’ll only return when Mr Huylo returns freedom to Avtonomnaya Respublika Krym, part of Ukraine, so that the encyclopedia won’t be in error any more.
Maybe at that time, “Krymnash” will also enter into English, to be used as synonymous with Mr Putin (who is known also as “Huylo”). When Huylo gets the kick in his ass that’s coming to him, Crimea will once again be “Avtonomnaya Respublika Krym, part of Ukraine,” and Krymnash will once again only mean Putin, that is, asshole.
4. маршрyтка // #marsrutka. The Eastern European version of the ubiquitous minibus. Shortened from marsrutka taksi, literally “routed taxi;” from German Marschroute, meaning “walk-route.” The collapse of municipal transport in some cities makes it impossible to commute without the help of marshrutkas. In systems where fare is paid directly to the driver, it is common practice for riders to pass fellow passengers’ money forward hand-to-hand, and to pass back any change in the same way.
Once upon a long time ago, that is to say, many years ago, the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol wrote his immortal novel-in-verse, The Wanderings of Chichikov, known to English readers as Dead Souls. Near the end of the poem, we find this elegiac passage:
Ah, troika, troika, swift as a bird, who was it first invented you? Only among a hardy race of folk can you have come to birth—only in a land which, though poor and rough, lies spread over half the world, and spans versts the counting whereof would leave one with aching eyes.
Today there are no more troika, nor horses to pull them. They’ve been replaced by the rattling marsrutka. Gogol didn’t know about this form of transportation; but if he were here today, risen from the dead, I know he would exclaim excitedly in a fit of poetic admiration:
Ah, marsrutka, whither then are you speeding?
The great writer, would he then be surprised, or shocked, to find out what route it is this vehicle takes each day?
Stop one, magistrate’s court. Two, City People’s Court. Three, a psychiatric clinic for children. Four, the psychiatric hospital for adults. Five, the outpatient hospital. Six, the May Day district court. Seven, the prison house.
Then finally stop eight, the Old North Cemetery. Where, newly dead once more, Nikolai Gogol will lay down again, tossing and turning in his coffin long after he should have returned to sleep. Who can sleep, with such an itinerary churning in one’s consciousness?
5. свобода // #svoboda. Literally, “freedom.” The word is used as the name of a far-rightist political party in Ukraine; of centrist Eastern European broadcasts of Radio Free Europe; and of a leftist journal published in Switzerland in 1901-02 by a group of self-styled revolutionary socialists. (A journal which was derided by Lenin as “a worthless little rag.”)
Do you hear that rumble? Sometimes freedom and democracy arrives on a tank! . . . Alright, maybe you are thinking that doesn’t make any sense. Is it possible that peace, freedom, equality, prosperity, and progress can have arrived on an army tank?
For me, the answer is unequivocal: Yes! As long as there is not any flag fluttering on this tank, be it Russian, North Korean, Cuban, Syrian, etc. These flags bring with them poverty, illegality, totalitarianism and gulag.
A year ago, the Ukrainian flag belonged to a totalitarian country. There has since been a cardinal change, and today that same flag is a symbol of hope.
The gun barrel of a tank can bring death, sure, but it can also point a way to freedom. Totalitarian propaganda says the opposite and many people believe it. Consider the messenger and also ask: Cui bono?
Those who don’t agree with this I fear are waiting eagerly for their bullet to the head or, worse than death, treatment in some distant archipelago of psychiatric hospitals.
It’s like Abraham Lincoln said: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” You can keep people in prisons and mental hospitals, in dark damp basements of the soul, you can torture and threaten and destroy then, but you can never kill their desire to be free, equal, and happy. That invisible flag keeps waving.
6. лачуга // #lachuga. Shanty, hovel, shack; the sort of dwelling inhabited by serfs, ditch-diggers, and other miserable classes of being. By extension, outhouse, latrine, bog: the shitty little house one visits only to take a shit.
This photo (worth at least a thousand roubles) perfectly characterizes Russia as she is today. The inscription on the door proclaims: “No entry for Obama and Merkel!”
And to think, in the United States itself, the backwards people of Norfolk Nebraska put an outhouse on the bed of a truck, and hung a sign on the front calling it Obama’s Presidential Library. Then they drove this little tableau up and down Main Street in their annual Odd Fellows parade. Odd indeed, to have so little pride in your racism that you call it satire. Or do they not teach what satire is in American schools?
Now, getting back to Russia: I can’t speak for Obama and Merkel, but what concerns me that there is some idiot who thinks anyone at all who would seek entry into this shit-hole of a shack.
(I myself would refuse absolutely to go in, even if the little man inside promised to make my books more popular than Harry Potter.)
7. колорадский // #koloradi. A derogatory term to describe separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Eastern Ukraine, whose black and gold military ribbons—worn as a symbol of loyalty to Russia—resemble the carapace of the dreaded Colorado potato beetle.
Many years ago, I wore a red tie and sang patriotic songs as a young Pioneer of the USSR. And was called into regular service against attacks of the Colorado potato beetle, what we called the Kоloradi (and which, we were told, were sent against our proud country by the CIA).
Many of you obviously know about these insects. Those who don’t know about these ruthless enemies of the potato can open Wikipedia and read the following information:
The Colorado potato beetle, Leptinotarsa decemlineata, also known as the Colorado beetle, the ten-striped spearman, the ten-lined potato beetle or the potato bug, is a significant pest of potato crops. It is approximately 10 millimetres long, with a bright yellow / orange body and five bold brown stripes along the length of each of its elytra or wing-cases.
Now then. Every summer us Pioneers were brought to potato fields on which we waged battle against the enemy. We called him Colorado. Soviet propaganda identified this beetle’s biological aggression as a form of American imperialism. Not long after, the famous Liverpool quartet The Beatles were painted with the same brush and decried as an instrument of capitalist sabotage. For a while the Colorado potato beetle had the upper hand; we could not win, but only hope to pacify him and learn to live with the damage he created.
This year, so to speak, Colorado has returned to the USSR. Quite so, the USSR, not Russia. For today’s Russia is trying hard to deform itself into a duplicate of the evil empire.
The present-day Colorado bug doesn’t threaten only potatoes. The ultra-patriots of Russia have on their chest striped ribbons in the colors of the potato beetle, the black-and-gold of St George, patron of glory in war; and it is their goal to subordinate the free realm of Ukraine (if not the whole world) to the control of Beetle Central Command, that is, Mr Putin’s Moscow.
I want to remind civilized humanity that if we do not repel this penetration we may be left not with an empty potato field, but with a nuclear desert.
Citizens of the world! We must go all in in the fight against Colorado!
8. погост // #pogost. From Old East Slavic погостъ. Originally, a term referring specifically to the guest-houses or inns used by nobles and ecclesiastics (cf. гость, “guest”) during their visits to rural communities on the periphery of Russian civilization. The word has since expanded in meaning to refer (via synecdoche) to the settlements surrounding such inns, to the parishes serving those settlements, or (via metonymy) to the graveyards situated in those parishes.
Earlier this summer the majority of the universe was watching the World Cup in Brazil. Citizens in every kind of community—from tiny hamlets and provincial backwaters, to booming frontier towns, regional trading centers, and even capital cities—tuned in to cheer on their home team. Indeed, team spirit makes even the most cosmopolitan person into a provincial, rooting for the local team in a happy manner that a cynic would call, truthfully, a kind of primitive prejudice.
Russia’s team was also playing on the football lawns of Brazil. Hmm. To paraphrase a Russian proverb, Russia wins games with Kalashnikovs, not soccer balls. Should we worry? Isn’t sport war by other means? No, rest easy, fans of the world. Fortunately for us, weapons aren’t often allowed in stadiums.
Without them, we knew the Russian team’s chances weren’t good. Nevertheless in the stands there were Russian football fans shouting: Russia ahead! Only forward!
Today, everywhere in Russia this slogan rings out as the Russian orison, plea, mantra, conjuration, wail, and rally-cry. Too bad neither the Duma nor the Russian Orthodox Church have the foggiest idea as to what is meant by “ahead” and “forward.” (Nor, for that matter, do the Russian people… )
In Russia, things are not as in the rest of the world. There is no collective solidarity, only the orders of one’s superiors. In Russia, the concept of “progress” depends on the ruler, just as the concept of “north” depends on the orientation of Earth’s magnetic field, which as it shifts pulls every navigator in the world along with it.
For all of its huge population and vastness, there is essentially only one person in all of Russia, namely President Huylo, who was also Prime Minister, who is also tsar, chief spymaster, and military superintendent. And of course, who is also a god. What else does it mean to be all-seeing, capricious, jealous, insecure, and all-powerful?
An overwhelming segment of the Russian people believes that their idol leads them to happiness. By that measure, the Russian people are the most religious population on the planet. They are impious bad believers who forget the truth. Go team, they say. Woe unto those who don’t cheer.
9. крaсный // #krasnyhi. From a Slavic root крaснa, meaning “red” or “beautiful.” Used in the phrase krasnyj ugol, the Shining (or “Red,” or “Beautiful”) Corner, where Orthodox households would display sacred icons. Following the Revolution, Soviet leaders renamed this krasnyi ugolok, Little Red Corner, and instructed families to use the wall space for propaganda images, official portraits, and wall-newspapers.
There is an icon in my house. I took it with me when I left my homeland forever. This icon, and one photo of my parents; that’s all that I have today to remind me evermore of the lost part of my life.
The photos passed through the border without much trouble. The frontier guard, looking intently in my eyes, asked: —Who is this? Dissidents? Sakharov, Bonner… Solzhenitsyn?
I sighed and answered: —These are more than dissidents.
The commissioned officer held his hand over the handset of the phone he was speaking into. He was waiting for my explanation.
—These are my parents.
The officer discontentedly looked at me. —Jokes will be there, he said, nodding his head toward the setting sun, —but here, behave seriously. The officer pushed my suitcase aside and tipped his head toward my bag.
—What’s inside the bag?
—It’s nothing, I replied calmly, —only underwear. Open it if you want.
The officer thought a moment and said, —Is not necessary. You can pass. Next, please.
Luck was on my side. Because if the officer had opened the bag and found the icon that lay inside I would have had a big problem. The icon had artistic value; although it was my property, it didn’t bear the state seal showing that I had obtained permission to take it outside of the USSR. The piece of home I wanted to carry with me, so that it could become part of my new home? Contraband. My homeland is infamously jealous.
Many years have passed. Krasnyhi hang again in every home. Whether this is for good or ill, people can decide for themselves. However, I’ve been reading the news from Ukraine, where Russia is sending in weapons, and making mischief. Provoking war which, given the personalities involved, carries with it the risk of conflagration and nuclear catastrophe. Carnage that can turn the world into a cute little krasnyhu.
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About the Authors
Vlad* Savich was born in the USSR, where he was educated, married, and fathered his daughter. As soon as the chance appeared to leave, he did. At present he lives in Montreal, where he writes, directs for the theatre, and breathes the air of freedom. He can be found online at savich.lit.com.ua. (* = He prefers not to be called Vladimir, so as not to be associated with the disreputable activity of a certain barnardine Russian leader.)
Zachary Bos is a writer, translator, and the former deputy editor of The Republic of Letters. At present, he works with journals including The Battersea Review, Pusteblume, Clarion, and New England Review of Books. He lives in Massachusetts, where he works for Boston University and directs the publishing activity of Pen & Anvil Press. He keeps a commonplace blog at thewonderreflex.blogspot.com.