March 01, 2005

Virtual Russian

Virtual Russian

So there you are, sitting in front of your компьютер, connected to the Интернет with your браузер program open to your favorite Web-сайт. After entering your логин and your пассворд (though the more “proper” Russian term is пароль), you enter a technical news форум. You скрол down the page (ignoring the баннеры at the top) and read where one company is seeking a Flash-дизайнер; another, a webмастер. A third company has announced the release of a new program, a download-менеджер, implemented as a Java-апплет. A хакер in Asia has released a new вирус. While reading the new посты, you note that there are several оффтопик messages, as well as some containing спам. Afterward, you visit an interesting блог, or maybe just do some серфинг.

As you may have noticed by now, a really important skill for understanding much of modern Russian computer-speak is the ability to transliterate. It wasn’t always this way. Back at about the time when high-powered executives at companies like DEC and IBM estimated the total worldwide demand for computers to be – at most – several dozen units, the term электронная вычислительная машина (“electronic computing machine”) was coined in Russian. This healthy mouthful was nearly always shortened to the time-saving ЭВМ (“eh-veh-em”), and as it became clear that computers would develop along fundamentally electronic lines, the first word (letter) atrophied and was often omitted.

When computers became personal, вычислительные машины became “персональные” until the early 90s, when компьютер finally overwhelmed the old, bloated collocation, and Russians started using the “персональный компьютер,” or “ПК.” In today’s jargon, even компьютер has given ground in everyday slang (and on the Web) to the shorter “комп.” Terms used for “software” evolved in a roughly parallel manner. Originally, “software” was described by the term “программно-математическое обеспечение” (“programmed mathematical support”), abbreviated “ПМО.” Many manuals still refer to “программное обеспечение,” “математическое обеспечение,” or just “обеспечение.” Today, on the Internet, the single-syllable word “софт” (or less frequently, “прога,” short for “программа”) rules.

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