March 01, 1998

Linguistic Escapades in Lingua Russe



Linguistic Escapades in Lingua Russe

Time was, speaking French for the Russian elite was considered комильфо (comme il faut or proper) whereas speaking Russian was моветон (mauvaix ton, bad form). The nobles would occasionally utter some Russians words like muzhik, and yet this sounded pejorative – e.g dressed – а ля мужик (a la muzhik).

These days, the Russian elite – the political elite at least – have more or less forgotten комильфо language (and manners for that matter). The only French word that likely is widely spoken in the Kremlin is the non-translatable брют, as in champagne. But even this Frenchism may soon disappear. President Yeltsin recently promised President Jacques Chirac that Russian wine producers will stop labeling their wares with the French terms шампанское or коньяк (champagne, cognac), words the French consider trademarked. Russians will apparently now call their champagne and cognac “sparkling wine” and “brandy” (шипучее вино and бренди, respectively).

As to the once-pejorative muzhik, it is now associated in elite circles with machismo. Public opinion here seems to feel that a president messing around with куртизанки (courtisanes – female aides) is a sign of a “real man” (настоящий мужик). There was even widespread public sympathy for Minister of Justice Sergei Kovalyov, who was fired after he was caught on video cavorting with some кокотки (from the French cocottes) in a banya (an escapade later dubbed “Banyagate”). Some papers and journals publicly acquitted Kovalyov, saying that the politicians’ амурные дела (affairs of the heart) or альковные страсти (from the French alcove, bedroom) were his private business and that it is wrong to будировать этот вопрос (to hype the issue, from the French bouder). This is an example of how poor Russian makes it into media parlance. Interestingly, Lenin once criticized this pretentiously incorrect idiom, for initially будировать in Russian meant what it means in French – to be capricious, to show one’s discontent.


Digital Subscription Required

Get unlimited digital access for just $2 a month.

Don't have an account? signup

About Us

Russian Life is a 29-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

800-639-4301
802-223-4955