Kate, “an undergraduate student of linguistics somewhere in the American Midwest,” has started a language-oriented blog called CHAINIK (Russian for ‘teapot; (sl.) stupid person, dunce’); she has an interesting post about the “sharp divide between the students in our class who are learning Russian in order to use it, whether for reading literature or for job-related communication, and those who are learning Russian to understand it. The latter group is outnumbered 4:1.”

One of the more interesting observations I’ve made is that members of the smaller group tend to learn by taking in the whole picture, while members of the larger group are more able to integrate new facts into their Russian knowledge without analyzing them too closely. This is completely anecdotal, of course, but it does make me wonder if those that study linguistics are naturally predisposed to learn new languages in a different way.

I look forward to much more tea from the chainik!


  1. I had to check with my Mom, and the proportion she experienced teaching Advanced Russian in Michigan State is more like 25:1. In 5 years there were only two students studying as linguists (i.e. trying to find parallels, etc)among the rest with purely utilitarian method (memorizing every grammar rule as another exception) and goals (as means of added qualifications for one’s resume)

  2. I thought a chainik is someone who is new to something, a newbie with few skills; a beginner, not an expert (yet). “Windows for dummies” is habitually translated “Windows для чайников”, but the Russian version does not imply the target audience consists of idiots; rather, of people who have no experience with computers.

  3. Alexei: I have been told by native Russian speakers that it means idiots or dunces, not beginners in specific — and this is what my dictionary says, as well. But either meaning makes me happy.

  4. The Bol’shoi slovar’ russkogo zhargona gives: “1. golova; 2. drug, priyatel’; 3. dushevnobol’noi; 4. prostak, prostofilya; 5. neopytnyi v chem-l. chelovek, novichok v chem-l. dele” (we’ll leave out of account minor meanings like “MI-8 helicoptor” and “gonorrhea”). So you’re both right!

  5. And I was somewhere in between: see my comment to *Why linguists get no respect* – aha!

  6. Just because you might appreciate the trivia of it, chainik is one of those Russian loaners that almost made it into UZbek. It got changed to choinak–a combination of the local word for tea, and a much more pleasant to the turkic ear version of “nik.”

  7. Well, of course I appreciate the trivia of it! And I’d say it did make it into Uzbek, undergoing the normal vowel harmony. But does it have any slang meanings, or is it only for teapots?

  8. It’s only tangentially related, but the two most common Korean ways to label a useless fool are ‘rice bowl’ (pabô) and ‘rice container’ (papt’ong), the idea being (it was once explained to me) someone who only uses up resources and doesn’t contribute them, although a hollow container would seem to be a fairly widespread metaphor for a useless or foolish person.

  9. I’m a little teapot
    short and stout
    this is my handle
    and this is my spout
    dum de dum de dum dum
    dum dum dum
    Tip! me over
    and pour me out!
    Perhaps we shouldn’t teach that song to toddlers if we want them to succeed in life. On the other hand, maybe it’s OK for a 4-year-old to be an empty vessel.

  10. dum de dum de dum dum
    dum dum dum

    When I get all steamed up, hear me shout.
    You know there are actions for that song, don’t you? A common visual joke, which I shall proceed to ruin for you, is to mime a second handle, rather than a spout, and then stop short, shouting “Fuck! I’m a sugar bowl!”

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