From my latest reading, Stalin’s Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953, I learned a wonderful Russian word. On the bottom of p. 107, the authors say that Stalin called one of his vile minions, Mikhail Ryumin, “a shibsdik (pygmy).” This word шибздик (which to an English-speaker sounds irresistibly like “sheep’s-dick”; Vasmer says it’s from бздеть [bzdet’], one of the words for ‘fart’ I wrote about here) is better translated “half-pint” or “pipsqueak”; it’s a slang term for an unusually small person. The third (1903–1910) edition of Dahl’s dictionary, revised by Baudouin de Courtenay, includes it as a dialectal term from the regions of Pskov and Tver; its first literary use seems to have been in Kuprin‘s notorious 1915 novel Yama (The Pit), with its lurid description of the life of prostitutes, about which Nina Berberova wrote in her memoirs:
This book had a stunning impression on me. No other book has had such an effect on me. I told Aleksandr Kuprin this when once, as a guest at Prince V.V. Baryatinsky’s in Paris in 1929, I was left alone with him in the living room after all the others had gone into the dining room. Kuprin was like an old Tatar in those years, in some ways reminiscent of my grandfather of Tver. With his head swaying and his hands drooping, he seemed decrepit and sleepy. He heard me out, slowly picked a cherry from a vase and asked me to take it in my mouth by the stem. The cherry hung on my chin. He moved over towards me and carefully took the cherry in his mouth, hardly touching me. When he had spat out the pit, he said:
‘This is my last phase.’
I was terribly sorry for him but said nothing.
The word has only been used a dozen times in the literature available in the Russian National Corpus, but those uses include works by Zoshchenko, Platonov, the Strugatskys, and Viktor Astafyev. My question for Russian speakers: is this word still in use?