I’m about halfway through Marcus C. Levitt’s Russian Literary Politics and the Pushkin Celebration of 1880, one of those books that sounds deadly boring when you see the title but is unexpectedly fascinating when you actually read it — it saddens me that I have the only copy listed on Librarything. In Chapter 3 Levitt describes the serendipitous way the celebration came together (there was no reason to expect it to be any more significant or memorable than any other of the literary commemorations in vogue at the time, and it might very easily not have happened at all), and on p. 74 he has a quote from the conservative newspaper Bereg attacking the radicals (aka “the demented pinkos of our periodic press”) for allegedly misusing Pushkin’s hallowed memory to further their subversive agenda: “Instead of rendering the proper honors to the memory of the great poet, they are ready to dance a cachucha over his grave.” Cachucha: what a wonderful word! Of course I googled it, and Wikipedia gave me the basic information: the dance was created in Cuba (though Russian Wikipedia says Cádiz, Spain) and popularized by a Rossini opera in the 1830s, and the word is “From Spanish cachucha, small boat. Possibly from diminutive of cacho, shard, saucepan, probably from vulgar Latin cacculus, alteration of Latin caccabus, pot, from Greek kakkabos, a small container.” The Real Academia dictionary gives several definitions (a boat, a cap) besides the dance, but they prudishly omit the sense prevalent in the Cono Sur, which is ‘cunt.’

So I used the invaluable Национальный корпус русского языка (Corpus of the Russian Language) and found that Russian качуча was first used by Botkin in 1847, had a spell of popularity in the 1850s (it occurs frequently in Pisemsky’s excellent short novel Комик [The comic actor, 1851] — one of the highlights of the planned artistic evening is that Fanny will dance the cachucha) and again in the 1880s (in Chekhov’s Ворона [The crow, 1885] the drunken clerk in the brothel demands “Я желаю, чтоб танцевали! Вы должны мой характер уважить! Качучу! Качучу!” [I want people to dance! You have to respect my character! The cachucha! The cachucha!]), and has occasionally been used since (Darya Simonova, Сорванная слива [The plucked plum, 2002]: “танцуя на Аниной могиле качучу” [dancing the cachucha on Anna’s grave]). The word sounds irresistibly funny, and it should be used more often.

Incidentally, a few pages later (pp. 79-80) Levitt describes what must have been the first frenzy of Pushkin commercialization:

Other commentators fretted over another kind of threat to the celebration: Pushkin’s commercial trivialization. In Petersburg, local merchants and speculators took advantage of the growing excitement by marketing all sorts of merchandise relating to the unveiling, most of it, however, of decidedly inferior quality. Russkii kur’er decried the practice of “putting rubbish on sale and trying to conceal it with [Pushkin’s] dear [!] name.” The cigarette firm of LaFoire, for example, marketed “Pushkin papirosy” (cheap cardboard cigarettes) with a picture of the monument on the package. M. Sioux’s candy store sold sweets with a brochure of pseudomemoirs about Pushkin in the box (which one writer dubbed a “poetically confectionery Geschäft”), and a distiller prepared a special-flavored “Pushkin vodka” with an offensively bad portrait of the poet on the label. Photos of the place where Pushkin’s duel took place were sold at the Kuznetsky Bridge, and photos and models of the monument—as well as lithographs of the poet himself—proliferated. Several publishers issued inexpensive brochures and booklets about Pushkin for the celebration, most very poorly written.

For a more fraught example of Pushkin-related moral panic in the 1930s, see Ilya Vinitsky’s “Bitter Taste: How Gorky Saved Pushkin’s Honor by Closing His Café” (Part I, Part II, Part III).


  1. I forgot to add that the English word was immortalized by Longfellow in “The Spanish Student” (1843):

    Vict. Thou comest between me and those books too often!
    I see thy face in everything I see!
    The paintings in the chapel wear thy looks,
    The canticles are changed to sarabands,
    And with the learned doctors of the schools
    I see thee dance cachuchas.

  2. January First-of-May says

    I wondered whether this event was how the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts got its name (somewhat incongruous, as Pushkin was a poet and not an artist; a popular but implausible urban legend is that a sign commemorating Alexander II was changed to read “Alexander Pushkin” after the Revolution).

    But no – apparently the museum wasn’t named for Pushkin until 1937 (though the Wikipedia article where I read it doesn’t really explain why Pushkin in particular either).

  3. Everything was about Pushkin in 1937.

  4. Cachucha: what a wonderful word!

    Oh, that triggered a distant memory

    “We will dance a cachucha, fandango, bolero,
    Old Xeres we’ll drink Manzanilla, Montero;
    For wine, when it runs in abundance, enhances
    The reckless delight of that wildest of dances!
    … ”

    Gilbert & Sullivan, from The Gondoliers
    (school production circa 1971)

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    This is probably a purely-visual “false friends” association, but for me the hitherto-unknown word immediately evokes the Portuguese “cachaça,” whose referent is more substantial, even though equally deserving of praise by poets.

  6. And is the main ingredient in that magnificent drink the caipirinha.

  7. The South Cone has some very respected males called Cacho ( << Oscar)

  8. Lars (not the original one) says

    And to me, it evoked katyusha, the name of several types of cold-war military hardware. Because those fricative series…

  9. Also in the refrain of that famous old sea shanty:

    Oh, you New York girls,
    Can’t you dance cachucha?

    [Apologies, the last line of the Longfellow extract brought that to mind…]

  10. I learned Spanish from a family from North Mexico. This word instantly means “baseball cap” (or simply hat) to my ear. I was wondering if I was the only one. I quick google image search away agrees. It’s great to learn different meanings of old words, and especially etymologies.

  11. Everything was about Pushkin in 1937.

    There is a great anecdote about that.

    In 1937, Stalin was looking over various designs for a monument to Pushkin. The first design was Stalin reading Pushkin.
    – It’s historically correct but politically incorrect: where is the general line?
    The second design was Pushkin reading Stalin.
    – It’s politically correct but historically incorrect: in Pushkin’s time Stalin hadn’t yet written any books.
    The third design turned out historically and politically correct: Stalin reading Stalin….

  12. Heh… I read that one before, but it really captures the spirit of the period.

  13. Quick google search shows that in Russian cachucha appears a bit before 1847, in 1838 in some publication called “Artistic gazette”. I had a distinct feeling that cachucha shares with jig a distinction to be promised to be danced on one’s rival’s grave (in Russian). But internet search doesn’t bear this out (mostly)… Wait a sec! It’s in the OP. Oh, well.

  14. The Corpus is indispensable but incomplete. Marie Taglioni first danced the cachucha in St. Petersburg in January 1838 as a divertissement in the comic opera Zampa by Ferdinand Hérold. In December, she danced the cachucha in La Gitana, the ballet her father Philippe (Filippo) had composed and staged for her in the Russian capital. The dance became instantly popular with the St. Petersburg public. Ten years later, Fanny Elssler gave performances in St. Petersburg and Moscow, bringing back the cachucha craze. Elssler had probably been the first to perform this dance in a ballet, back in 1836 in Le Diable boiteaux.

    In his parodic Wish to be a Spaniard (1854), Koz’ma Prutkov lists the dance among the essential paraphernalia of mock-Romantic Spanishness.

    O my darling señora,
    It’s dark and gray here…
    A gloomy passion is seething
    Within your caballero.

    Here, in front of the banana trees,
    Unless I bore you,
    I shall among the fountains
    Dance the cachucha.

    I haven’t checked yet but I’m pretty sure Gautier, Musset and a few other French romantics admired Elssler and/or Taglioni, especially in their Spanish roles.

  15. David Eddyshaw says

    I would imagine that it is the cachucha that she dances when she wears her bolero, so that the pachucos can cachucha too.

  16. Stu Clayton says

    How German is it. CACHUCHA GALOPP by J. Strauss. (OK, Austrian then.)

  17. it is the cachucha that she dances when she wears her bolero, so that the pachucos can cachucha too

    It turns out (per WP) that the Spanish bolero (and everyone has written one, from Ravel to Keith Emerson) is completely unrelated musically and, um, saltationally (lexical gap alert!) to the Cuban/Caribbean one. The latter, however, is the ancestor of Vietnamese bolero, which was banned in 1975 and now exists only in exile.

    ObHat: Bola, whence bolero, is an occitanism. And as for pachucx, it is said to be a reference to El Chuco ‘El Paso, Texas’, though that does not account for Pachuca (de Soto) ‘capital of Hidalgo state, Mexico’, whose name is thought to be Nahuatl, although various etymologies are given.

  18. ” Possibly from diminutive of cacho, shard, saucepan, probably from vulgar Latin cacculus, alteration of Latin caccabus, pot, from Greek kakkabos, a small container”

    “Cacho” rang a bell but it was only a close hit – I remember the Puerto Rican guys calling a helmet “caco” (actually the helmet liners – made out of fiber glass) but apparently that has more to do with a turtle shell or something. Although there may be some flimsy connection.

  19. David Marjanović says

    by J. Strauss

    R. Strauss; it’s a pretty large family, and like the Br{e|u}{g|h}els they didn’t all spell their last name the same way.

  20. I just got to this in the Strugatskys’ Жук в муравейнике (Beetle in the Anthill):

    ― Айзек, ― сказал Экселенц и причмокнул, ― что вы будете делать, когда я умру? ― Спляшу качучу, ― сказал Бромберг мрачно. ― Не говорите глупостей.

    “Isaac,” said Excellency and smacked his lips, “what are you going to do when I die?”
    “I’ll dance the cachucha,” said Bromberg gloomily. “Don’t say stupid things.”

  21. AJP Crown says

    CACHUCHA GALOPP by Richard Strauss.

    It does say Richard Strauss in the beginning titles.
    Up next: Also sprach Zarathustra, the live castanets version.

  22. Stu Clayton says

    The Cachucha-Galopp was written by Johann Strauss Senior.

    No such thing appears in the list of orchestral works by Johann Strauss Junior. No “Galopp” of any kind.

  23. David Marjanović says


    I confirm that nothing with Cachucha appears on the list of works of Richard Strauss.

    Incidentally, there’s an article on the family of Johann sen., Johann jun., Josef & Eduard, and it says:

    Der Komponist Richard Strauss (1864–1949) ist mit der Familie weder verwandt noch verschwägert. Gleiches gilt für den Operettenkomponisten Oskar Straus (1870–1954), den Komponisten Edmund von Strauß (1869–1919), den Karlsruher Hofkapellmeister Joseph Strauss (1793–1866) und die US-amerikanische Gitarristin Nita Strauss (* 1986).

    So, none of these people are related to that family by blood or marriage.


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