Michele Berdy, the Moscow Times language columnist, reviews a new dictionary of Soviet-era jargon:

The dictionary, compiled and newly revised by the linguists Valery Mokiyenko and Tatyana Nikitina, is titled Толковый Словарь Языка Совдепии [Explanatory dictionary of the language of Sovdepia], a name which, like much of the language it contains, is hellishly difficult to translate. Cовдеп was the abbreviation of Cовет депутатов (in full form, the “council of worker, peasant and Red Army deputies”) that came to be shorthand for the Soviet Union. Over time, it came to be used especially in the form Cовдепия as a derogatory phrase for the worst of the old regime. To convey the flavor of the original, it might be translated as “The Dictionary of the Worker’s Paradise.”
For those who have forgotten that world or never visited it, the dictionary is a gold mine of information. It deciphers all those abbreviations that once slid off the tongue and now are frustratingly opaque: КCCР? Казахская Социалистическая Советская Республика (Kazakh Socialist Soviet Republic). ПГК? Партийно-государственный контроль (party-state control). БПП? Без права переписки (without the right to correspondence, part of a prison sentence that really meant execution)…
If you read the dictionary the way I did, from start to finish as if it were a novel — and with an old Bulat Okudzhava tape playing in the background — you dissolve into the Soviet past, which visually comes to life with illustrations of posters and billboards. Anyone who wants to read Bulgakov or Ilf and Petrov in the original Russian will find this dictionary indispensable.

Sounds like a useful thing to have, even if “indispensable” may be overstating it in this era when such expressions can presumably be deciphered via the magic of search engines. (My thanks to John McChesney-Young for the heads-up.)


  1. This type of communist semantics and phraseology is sometimes called “Orwellian language” in English from British author George Orwell’s novel “1984”. However, Orwell saw this type of language not only emerging in communist countries, but unfortuanetly, in Western capitalist countries too. Some of the first signs of it appeared in the early 1970’s when the Nixon administration tried to redefine things. I’ll never forget the one Nixon White House spokesman who said that the economic slump of that time was “not a depression just a mild recession.”
    Russian communist phraseology existed not only in the Soviet Union but also spilled over into its satellite states too. I remember seeing the expression “Inner-party democracy” in a North Korean text, “People’s economy planning” and “The spectrum of workers’ collectives in a peoples’ economy” in an East German publication, as well as “Lenin is a hero to all of the world’s progressive peoples” in a Romanian paper.

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