Of course I wanted to find the original Russian of the diary online, and I was pleased to turn up this site: it’s full of scanning errors and only goes up to the end of 1929, but it will be a welcome companion up to that point. It also allows me to see how much has been cut from the English version, which can be distressing; I have no idea on what basis they made the abridgment, but some of the stuff they left out is at least as interesting as some of what they kept. Here are two brief entries that do not appear in the English version; translations are mine, obviously, and the Russian is below the cut. (I note also, for the benefit of readers of the English version, that a note has inexplicably been omitted at the end of the Feb. 10, 1914, entry: the book of which he says “They have confiscated my book, arrested it” is his Poeziya gryadushchei demokratii, a collection of translations from Whitman; it was in fact published later that year, by Sytin.) First, an entry from 1912 that involves acquisition of correct gender forms; I guess I can understand why it was left out, since it deals with Russian grammar, but it sure is interesting. Does anyone know if it’s typical for little girls to use masculine forms for themselves for several years?

June 14. Today Lidochka [his daughter Lydia, then five] said “я сама” [ya samá, 'I myself (fem.)] for the first time. Until now she’s talked about herself in the masculine: я пошел, я сказал, я сам [ya poshól 'I went,' ya skazál 'I said,' ya sam 'I myself,' (all masc.)]. But today I’m sitting and writing about [Lydia] Charskaya [writer of popular fiction], and L. is picking bluebells under the window, and suddenly I hear her say to her girlfriend: я сам, я сама сосчитаю [ya sam, ya samá soschitayu, ''I myself (masc.), I myself (fem.) will count (them)].

The omission of the next one I find strange, since it’s a valuable witness to the character of Viktor Shklovsky, a major figure in Russian literature, from the summer of 1917 (the ellipsis at the start is in the Russian edition, which itself is heavily abridged):

24 [June](…) We went to the Intimate Theater [on the Kryukov Canal embankment] and there we saw Viktor Shklovsky, who was a commissar in the 8th army. He tells us of horrors. He behaved heroically and received a new George cross. It’s remarkable that his cousin Zhorzhik was wounded on the Western front on the very same day. When Shkl. talks about something terrible, he smiles and even laughs. This is a particularly attractive trait. “It’s lucky for me that I was wounded, otherwise I would have shot myself!” He was wounded in the belly—the bullet went right through him—but he acts like it was nothing.

14 июня [1912]. Сегодня Лидочка первый раз сказала: я сама. До сих пор она говорила о себе в мужск. р[оде]: я пошел, я сказал, я сам. А сегодня я сижу и пишу о Чарской, Л[ида] под окном собирает колокольчики, и вдруг я слышу, она говорит девочке подруге: я сам, я сама сосчитаю. [...]
24 [июня 1917]. (…) мы пошли в Интимный театр и видели там Виктора Шкловского, к-рый был комиссаром 8-й армии. Он рассказывает ужасы. Он вел себя к[а]к герой и получил новенький Георгиевский крестик. Замечательно, что его дв[оюродный] брат Жоржик ранен на западном фронте – в тот же день. Когда Шкл. рассказывает о чем-ниб. страшном, он улыбается и даже смеется. Это выходит особенно привлекательно. – “Счастье мое, что я б[ыл] ранен, не то застрелился бы!” Он ранен в живот – пуля навылет – а он к[а]к ни в чем не бывало.


  1. Valera Fooksman says:

    It is indeed quite common to hear masculine forms used by girls and when addressing them. Not necessarily little girls: many teens and young adults do that too, with the tone that is kind of playful and somewhat sexually charged and paints the object as maybe a cute toy more then a woman, and could be used in conversations with boyfriends or close friends. This usage likely stems from the usage in earlier years noted by Chukovsky, which in turn may have couple reasons: one is that masculine forms are simpler and shorter, and another one is that cute seriousness with which маленький человек (a little man, itself a masculine term even when describes a female!) of any gender sometimes behaves.

  2. Very interesting—thanks!

  3. Wikipedia:
    Shklovsky developed the concept of ostranenie or defamiliarization in literature. He explained this idea as follows:
    “The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.” (Shklovsky, “Art as Technique”)
    This sounds like Cézanne, only Cézanne was presumably doing it a bit earlier. I wonder how this kind of thing moved from French painting to Russian literature in one generation (the Russians owned a lot of French paintings, of course). This is a great topic for someone to investigate (he said hopefully).

  4. ostranenie or defamiliarization
    Connected etymologically to to ostrakon?
    (Classical Greek for ‘earthenware vessel; or tile or potsherd’. In classical Athens, the shards were inscribed to vote for involuntary exile of the person whose name was most so inscribed on a prescribed minimum of shards; for the person with the most get-out-of-town votes, the only option was an even more maximum defamiliarization.)
    (to ostreon means ‘oyster’. I don’t know whether it would be a false etymology or true to connect ostreon and ostrakon, which also means ‘animal shell’ – like for a snail or turtle – etymologically to [Gr.] to osteon, ‘bone’.)

  5. Connected etymologically to to ostrakon?
    No, it’s a derivation of stranny ‘strange’ (and to preempt the next question: no, those two words are not related either).

  6. to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known
    I’m pretty sure this brief goes for all the Impressionists.
    The idea philosophically would be to perform either a phenomenology as distinct from ontology, or a phenomenology as stemming from ontology — to paint this ‘or’ (perhaps without taking a side).
    How appearances are connected to reality; and whether the mind in its activity, or a knowable part of its activity, mirrors or recovers or makes transparent such a coherence or unity in the perceiver between perception and perceived.

  7. defamiliarization = ‘to make the visible a little hard to see’
    [...] speech is not dirty silence
    Clarified. It is silence made still dirtier.
    It is more than an imitation for the ear.
    –Stevens, The Creations of Sound
    Poetry lifts the veil the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar[.]
    –Shelley, A Defence of Poetry

  8. Yeah, well, I’ll vote for A.J.P. Not that I have anything against him; I’m just sick and tired of hearing him called “the Crown” all the time. And yes, the Greeks probably did use oystershells for ballots at one time, but potsherds are everywhere and cost no more than the labor required to pick them up.

  9. Yes, of course, thanks, it came out of philosophy. Cézanne was very much a Post-Impressionist, but, you’re right, it goes back to the Impressionists.
    You can call me “The Stinker” if you’d rather. I read that the Guardian newspaper has a convention of capitalising as few words as possible, but I like a capital T for “the”, it reminds me of Batman.

  10. common to hear masculine forms used by girls and when addressing them
    it is an interesting phenomenon, but I think with small children, 2 to 5, it is an issue of development – gender differentiation. While as for young adults it may be a statement of equal status especially because many words describing professions refuse to take feminine forms unless to describe the wife of the person (профессор Иванова in her own right, but профессорша Иванова is Prof.Ivanov’s wife).
    She would say, я – старший редактор (I am a senior editor, masc), not я – старшая редакторша (fem.), я – первый помощник (I am the first assistant), not я – первая (first fem.) помощница (assistant, fem.).
    However, I find it difficult to see how these could go further to cover, say, verbs or pronouns which is what Chukovsky notes here. A morphologically masculine word (editor) would have pronouns, verbs and participles agree with it as though it were feminine. In the example with senior editor it would be “старший редактор сама отредактировала этот текст”. In a humorous way, sure, she could have said: “Я – старший редактор, вот я и отредактировал” [I am the senior editor, so I've edited (past, masculine) this.]
    Is it the same in other gender friendly languages?
    Chukovsky was a keen observer of children’s speech, interested in their development and education. His book (“От двух до пяти”) ‘From Two to Five’ is a delicious read and has been a parents’ bible for generations of Russians.

  11. Thanks very much for that link! Not only am I interested in Chukovsky and what he has to say about language (see this old post), but I have grandsons aged two and five, so I’m pretty much the ideal reader.

  12. there should be two links – English and Russian?

  13. There are. You had the English title linked to the Russian online text and vice versa, so I used my Hattic powers to reverse them.

  14. shucks!

  15. What would the Russian equivalent of “shucks” (mild remorse/self-deprecation) be?

  16. Ёлки-палки! ;-)

  17. Ай!
    Фу-ты, ну-ты!
    I am glad you love Chukovsky. (Did you know he invented his name himself, his mother was Korneichuk. So he took Kornei as first name and added -ovsky to Chuk? AJP Wordminster would love this). He stands out in Russian literature because of his positive outlook, you can feel how much he loves and enjoys life. I’ve often seen people’s faces light up with smiles when talking about him.
    And he was one of the few who could stand up to the Authority. His children’s poem Tarakanishe (The Great Cockroach) where all the great big animals run away scared by the little moustached insect is loved by children, but is also wildly praised by adults. It was a thinly veiled satire on Stalin the Moustached leader, but it was simply impossible to admit that in any way, including by punishing Chukovsky. He had links to Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn too.
    And his translations of English nursery rhymes are unsurpassed (Crooked Man, Robin and Bobin). He also made Dr Dolittle native in Russia (доктор Айболит).

  18. Обана!
    You intrigue me. I can’t find any mention of this elsewhere; do I presume correctly that it’s stressed on the first syllable and that it’s euphemistic for ё-?

  19. Sash: AJP Wordminster would love this). He stands out in Russian literature because of his positive outlook, you can feel how much he loves and enjoys life. I’ve often seen people’s faces light up with smiles when talking about him.
    Thanks, I’m very popular in Norway too.

  20. Rosie M.Banks is popular everywhere.

  21. Young girls in Japan use masculine pronouns in the same playful way described by Valera, although not teenagers (or older), unless they are pop singers — sometimes female singers use “boku” in their songs (or rather, the personas in their songs).

  22. do I presume correctly that it’s stressed on the first syllable and that it’s euphemistic for ё-?
    it depends on the d… intrepidness of one’s mind. It is often spelled оба-на or опа-на, with variations обба-на or оппа-на. Often оп-па takes diminutive suffix: оп-паньки. With a ‘b’ it probably does have a connection to ё- (its participle form), but with a ‘p’ it is more likely that the reference is to жопа (asshole).
    I think etymologically it comes from circus performers’ exclamation ‘алле, оп! or гоп!’ (allez, hop), obviously from French hop-la which also exists in Russian as оп-ля. It’s easy to see how it’s used if you think of ‘oops’ which is also present now in Russian (and in French).
    Yes, the main stress is on ‘o’, but there is also a tonic stress on the last ‘a’: OH-bah-Nah.
    here is oba-na on wiktionary.
    and here is a wikipedia article on the hugely popular (90s) Russian satirical TV prgramme ‘Oba-Na!’
    and here is a video that made the authors into stars – “Похороны еды” (The State Funeral of Food, 91), a scary period between the August coup and the dissolution of the Soviet Union when there really was hardly anything in shops.
    and of course, because of all these, the election of Obama was a fete for Russian punsters (AJP Obba-na note).

  23. Once again, you have enlightened and entertained me!

  24. Обана!
    I guess I’d always seen this spelled out as “оба-на” — it looked very odd to me until I read it out loud. I remember оба-на best because of the TV show but have heard оп-ля and опа most in everyday speech. Thanks, Sashura, for analyzing all these variations that I’ve heard and read so many times but never thought about!

  25. take it as a small thank you for your blogs, Hat and Lisa
    re spelling: I think you are right, Lisa, spelling with hyphen better reflects the phonetics of this interjection.

  26. female singers use “boku”
    I hope male singers don’t use “watashi”?

  27. Victor Sonkin says:

    I’m seeing more and more of what Valera says among not-so-young adults, at least in some circles (a woman saying ‘я понял’, ‘я устал’, ‘я был невменяемый’ etc.). It certainly has nothing to do with assertion of equal rights (at least not consciously); it is some sort of assuming a role, but I’m not quite sure which. I remember talking to a Slovene friend about the same phenomenon in Slovene; he claimed it was mostly used in sexual situations, which I believe might be true of at least some examples of current Russian usage.

  28. My (Russian) wife’s ex-husband spent most of his time in the first few years of his life with his mother and sisters, and used the *feminine* form to refer to himself until he was five years old or so.

  29. See, that’s exactly the kind of thing I was wondering about. Thanks for a valuable data point!

  30. Valera Fooksman says:

    I though a bit more about why females address themselves in masculine. I think an important reason is that pretty much all sweet nicknames for a child/girlfriend/friend are masculine: зайчик, котёнок, мышонок, утёнок, тигрёнок итд. In Russian baby animal-based nicknames are more popular than in English (with its honey/sweetie/darling), and nearly none of them has feminine forms. No wonder then that they lead very quickly to masculine verbs and adjectives when addressing a girl.
    A quick comment to Noel’s example of a boy using feminine form: a much, much more rare scenario. Somewhat akin to a boy being used to pee while sitting just because he grew in a female-only house. That is to say, m->f and f->m grammatical gender changes are not symmetrical and are to be explained differently.

  31. Sashura: I love this bit from The Russian language in the twentieth century (Chapter 6): “Pre-revolutionary Russian society did not in general concede that the same occupation could be carried out equally by both men and women. [...] There was no term for a woman general, for example, correlating with the fact that there were no women generals.” (Several exceptions are given with differentiated pairs: tkach/ixa, ekonom/ka, portnoi/shveya, which led to some post-revolutionary back-formations like doyar from doyarka).
    In English, Alley Oop is the name of a time-traveling caveman from a newspaper comic strip; also a maneuver in basketball, both derived from the French term.

  32. I was leafing through my Chekhov trying to find Montigomo, but stumbled instead upon ‘hop-la’ (опля, spelled without a hyphen in Russian) in The Teacher of Literature:
    ‘Old Shelestov saddled Giant and said, addressing his daughter Masha:
    “Well, Marie Godefroi, come, get on! Hopla!”
    Masha Shelestov was the youngest of the family; she was eighteen, but her family could not get used to thinking that she was not a little girl, and so they still called her Manya and Manyusa; and after there had been a circus in the town which she had eagerly visited, every one began to call her Marie Godefroi.
    “Hop-la!” she cried, mounting Giant.

    The circus link is clear in this passage.
    Thanks for the Alley Oop! Fascinating how much creativenes went into developing it.

  33. doyar from doyarka
    We’ve always giggled at these. I think дояр (doyar) has gone out of use now. I have come across “оператор машинного доения” (milking machine operator), but haven’t seen how it’s shortened.
    re children’s perception of gender forms, there is an old “детский анекдот” (kiddy joke): ‘Auntie Masha is more important than Marx. Marx is an economist, but auntie Masha is a Senior Economist.’
    The passage you quote is interesting also because it points to the revolution as a divide after which certain pressure developed within the language to use masculine forms for occupational (and civil status) words as gender neutral (generic). Comrade (товарищ) has a feminine pair товарка, but only masculine came to be used as a form of address and a word to describe ‘one of us’. Citizen, however, retained differentiated forms: гражданин and гражданка.

  34. Shklovsky is also the author of one of the best biographies of Tolstoy and a master of bon mots. Here is one:
    Советская власть научила литературоведение разбираться в оттенках говна -
    The Soviet regime has taught literary critics to tell the shades of shit.

Speak Your Mind