I just read an illuminating post by Sergei Zhuk, Soviet Baby Boomers – Closed Cities, CHMO and Soviet Regionalism, which anyone interested in the phenomenon of closed cities should read—I knew of their existence, but had no idea how they actually functioned in Soviet society and what the consequences were when the country collapsed. (This is one of a series of blog posts at Russian History Blog in response to Raleigh’s Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia’s Cold War Generation, which I mentioned here.) He discusses phenomena like “envy of Moscow” and the “Dnipropetrovsk Mafia” (from which, by 1996, 80% of the major political leaders of Ukraine came!); what makes it LH material, however, is the following passage:
This envy of Moscow produced a new anti-Moscow folklore that initially began among military personnel of the military garrisons in the secret closed cities, and later on spread all over the Soviet Union. As early as the 1950s, provincials began calling Muscovites chmo (acronym from combination of the Russian words chelovek Moskvy i Moskovskoi oblasti – a resident of Moscow and Moscow region). According to the retired Soviet military officers, in the 1950s a sudden influx of the physically weak and effeminate, but smart, young conscripts from Moscow region into the Soviet Army, patrolling the secret nuclear closed cities around Moscow, resulted in their senior officers complaints about unpreparedness of these young soldiers from Moscow for the requirements of military service. Eventually, Soviet military officers from the garrisons in the closed cities used acronym chmo in their documents to mark the names of the conscripts from Moscow and Moscow region. In the 1960s and the 70s this acronym left the closed society of military garrisons from the secret cities, penetrated first the “wide Soviet army circles,” then reached the Soviet civilian population, and became a popular word used to characterize any weak and effeminate male character. As a result, people forgot about the origin of this term, which was directly related to the military personnel of the Soviet closed society.
It’s referenced to “Interview with Ivan Mikhailovich K., a retired colonel of the Soviet Army, June 3, 1990, Kyiv, and interview with Valentin V. Piskarev, a retired colonel of the Soviet Army, March 12, 1991, Moscow. These officers explained the origin of the word chmo.” Now, on the face of it this would appear to be just another acronymic folk etymology on the order of “port outward, starboard home” or “for unlawful carnal knowledge”; this feeling is strengthened by the fact that there is a word chmok, defined identically to chmo in my Dictionary of Russian Slang as “worthless or unpleasant person,” and these look suspiciously similar to the American slang words shmo and shmuck, which are unquestionably derived from Yiddish. On the other hand, modern Russian does make use of an amazing variety of acronymic words, so I’m not rejecting that explanation out of hand. Does anybody have any verifiable information that would shed light on this?
Also, when he talks about “Soviet labor camps scientific facilities, known as ‘shabashki,’” doesn’t he mean “sharashki”?