March 01, 2015

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones

Judging by the year’s round-up articles on language, 2014 was a watershed year for Russian – “watershed” in the sense of the language going over a cliff. In 2014 civility went out of style and name-calling was in.

It began when a new government came to power in Ukraine. The Russian government first called it a хунта (junta), implying illegitimacy, and then a фашистская хунта (fascist junta). And although there were accusations of ethnic cleansing in Ukraine, the terms фашизм (fascism), фашист (fascist), and the adjective фашистский have all lost their original meaning: a right-wing, authoritarian government and its adherents. Today the words simply mean “really bad.” Some people may say the Ukrainian government is the ethnically impossible жидо-фашистская хунта (a Jewish-fascist junta) or even the ethnically and ideologically ridiculous жидо-либеральная-фашистская хунта (Jewish-liberal-fascist junta), but they are really just saying “bad, bad, bad.”

During the Crimean take-over, the name-calling was more witty than mean, as if no one could quite believe what was going on. The Russians called their troops вежливые люди (polite men) for not firing a shot, while the Ukrainians called them зелёные человечки (little green men), for their green uniforms without insignias – as if they came from outer space.

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