On Sunday’s NY Times Op-Ed page, there was an essay on Putin and Russia by Simon Sebag Montefiore that’s somewhat muddled in general (he says we shouldn’t be upset that Russia is run by the KGB because it always has been and that’s the way the Russians like it); what I want to foreground here, though, is a particular sentence that gave me a merry laugh: “There are few words in Russian for the Western concept of ‘law,’ but there are legions of words for connections, helping people from one’s neck of the woods.” Geoff Pullum has been trying for decades to stamp out the myth of the Eskimo words for snow, and he’ll get even more of a laugh out of this. But this is a lot easier to rip apart than the classic model (how many of us, after all, have access to an Inuit dictionary?). For one thing, Russian, like most European languages, has two words for “the Western concept of law”: one for ‘a law’ (a binding rule of society, enforced by a controlling authority), in this case zakon, and one for law as the whole body of such rules and that body as an object of study, in this case pravo, which is… let’s see… one more word than English itself has, meaning Russia must be twice as legal a culture as any English-speaking one. For another, there are indeed a number of words for connections… or influence… or “pull”… or string-pulling… or protection… or contacts… well, you get the idea. That poor meme is panting and sweating, but it just can’t drag the load up the Hill of Significance.