First off, Happy New Year! And now, on with our regularly scheduled post, the first in what will doubtless be a series drawn from Kornei Chukovsky‘s Diary, 1901-1969 (see my Xmas post); I’ve just started it, and I’ve already hit a couple of entries I want to share [Russian below the cut]. From February 20, 1909 (Chukovsky’s son Nikolai, or Kolya, is about five, his daughter Lidia, or Lida, about two):

I’m surrounded by Ukrainian books and, oddly enough, as I read them I start thinking in Ukrainian. And what’s even odder, when I’ve been reading all day I dream in Ukrainian. And even odder than that: the Ukrainian verse I knew as a child but have completely and utterly forgotten—pushed into the background by Blok and Bryusov—is surfacing, coming back to me…. And even odder than that: I feel a sort of Ukrainian naïveté, artlessness welling up in me—in my mood, my spirit. So not only does the soul create language; language (in part) creates the soul.
Lida put on Kolya’s brown coat today and refused to take it off, even inside. It’s odd: her language is developing in an entirely different way from Kolya’s. Kolya creates his own words, but retains only a few of them; he increases his vocabulary gradually. Lida can pronounce all words more or less properly and has an enormous vocabulary, but they are not so much words as their shadows. That is because she doesn’t create them; she merely reports what she hears.

And from July 15, 1910:

Went out on a boat with Korolenko. … Here is what he said about Leskov: “When I was a proofreader for Novosti, we heard a rumor that our paper, which had never been subject to censorship, was going to be visited by a censor. I was on my guard. We were running Leskov’s Items from the Diocese. One day an official-looking man came in and said, ‘Let me have a look at Leskov’s Items.’
‘I will not.’
‘And how will you keep me from seeing them?’
‘Simple. I’ll tell the typesetters not to give them to you.’
‘But why?’
‘Because our paper has never submitted to censorship, and censors…’
‘But I’m not a censor. I’m Leskov!'”

Russian original, 1909:

Я обложен хохлацкими книгами, читаю, и странно: начинаю думать по-хохлацки, и еще страннее – мне на хохлацком яз. (как целый день начитаюсь) сны снятся; и еще страннее: те хохлацкие стихи, которые я знал с детства и которые я теперь совсем, совсем забыл, заслонил Блоками и Брюсовыми, теперь выплывают в памяти, вспоминаются, и еду на лыжах и вдруг вспомню Гулака, или Kвiткy, или Кулиша. И еще страннее: в характере моем выступило – в виде настроения, оттенка – какое-то хохлацкое наивничанье, простодушничание и т. д. Вот: не только душа создает язык, но и язык (отчасти) создает душу. Лидочка сегодня надела коричневое Колино пальто и не хотела даже в комнате снять его. Странно, как у нее речь развивается совсем не тем путем, что у Кольки.
Колька создавал свои слова, запоминал только некоторые, расширяя постепенно свой лексикон. Лидочка все во одного слова может выговорить приблизительно, у нее огромный лексикон, – но это не слова, а как бы тени слов. Это потому, что она не творит, а повторяет вслед за другими.


Катался с Короленкою в лодке. Т[атьяна Александровна], Оля (Полякова), Ася и я. О Лескове: “Я был корректором в “Новостях” у Нотовича, как вдруг прошел слух, что в эту бесцензурную газету приглашен будет цензор. Я насторожился. У нас шли “Мелочи Архиерейской Жизни”. Вдруг входит господин чиновничьего виду.
– Позвольте мне просмотреть Лескова “Мелочи”.
– Нет, не дам.
– Но как же вы это сделаете?
– Очень просто. Скажу наборщикам: не выдавать вам оттиска.
– Но почему же?
– Потому что газета у нас бесцензурная, и цензор…
– Но ведь я не цензор, я Лесков!


  1. I feel a sort of Ukrainian naïveté, artlessness welling up in me—in my mood, my spirit.
    Now there’s a 100% artful experience ! A naive person could not feel naiveté welling up in him, by definition.
    It reminds me of the old “rueful” roué who feels a longing for innocence, so gets himself a young girlfriend to “protect”.

  2. That’s what I like about getting old – one has such a wide range of artlessness to choose from.

  3. Happy new year!

  4. Happy New Year to all the Hatters!

  5. Happy New Year, everybody!
    I feel a sort of Ukrainian naïveté, artlessness welling up in me
    Is/was this view of the Ukraine common among Russian intellectuals?

  6. Maybe the Ukraine is like Texas?

  7. ToussianMuso says

    I know what he’s talking about; I often feel the mood of whatever book I’ve been reading (or even distinctly hear myself thinking in the author’s writing style), as a sort of after-effect. It’s not all that odd, really. But very poetically stated.

  8. I know what he’s talking about; I often feel the mood of whatever book I’ve been reading
    It’s not so much that as it is Proust’s madeleine, since he grew up in Odessa (a Ukrainian city, at least from the geographical point of view).

  9. John Emerson says

    When Musorgsky had someone in one of his operas sing in Ukrainian, the audience burst out laughing. It was not a comic figure, but in the Russian theater Ukrainian was only used for comic effect, sort of like minstrel show black English.
    Can’t remember which opera, or whether or not Musorgsky rewrote the part.

  10. John,
    thanks for the anecdote, I suspected as much, i.e. something quite similar to the Czech-Slovak, Spanish-Catalan, Finnish-Estonian etc. dynamic.

  11. A very Hatty New Year.

  12. A very Hatty New Year.

  13. Mr A J P Beria recommended this for one of your Russian threads.

  14. Here‘s the direct link to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain playing “Leaning On A Lamp-Post” by George Formby; it’s doubtless more affecting if you are previously acquainted with either Formby or the song, but it’s quite lively regardless.

  15. Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain playing
    … and even greater them playing the European anthem at the BBC proms – with hundreds strumming along in the audience.
    I feel a sort of Ukrainian
    me too, I have Ukraininan roots,even though, like most Russians, I can’t help giggling at the мова.
    There is a story of a near-mutiny on a Russian cargo ship, away from home for months. They were about to turn home when the company ordered to pick up and deliver another load which meant a few more weeks at sea. The mutiny was stopped when the zampolit (political officer) discovered a dusted roll of film ‘Lenin in 1918′(often shown on Soviet TV) dubbed in Ukrainian. The crew watched the film again and again until they returned home – each time bursting in laughter.

  16. John Emerson says

    I’ve read that Gogol dabbled in Ukrainian nationalism before becoming a Russian nationalist. Nationalism was hard for 19th c. Russians, since the imperial oppressor was Russian too.

  17. is there a good tranlsation of Leskov’s “Левша” online? I find his ‘twisted’ pop-words (e.g. студинг – a mix of jellied dish and pudding) practically impossible to translate. Like Dostoyevsky’s облезьяна (which includes two words, monkey and shaggy) which in Garnett’s translation is rendered as simply ‘monkey’.

  18. Nationalism was hard for 19th c. Russians
    not when it’s chauvinism (the word wasn’t hijacked by feminists back then)

  19. oblezlui is shaggy ?
    i thought it’s closer to bald or patchy, baldkey or patchkey, but the syllable should sound close to monkey
    or just patchy bald monkey then
    “studing” could be jelling from jello-pudding?

  20. oblezlui is bald or patchy
    yes, of course, you are right

  21. Nationalism was hard for 19th c. Russians
    And 20th as well. The problem (if it is a problem) is that the Russian Empire, like the Habsburg and the Ottoman, was not founded on nationalism but on a combination of religion and hereditary monarchy—there was not really a concept of “I am a Russian” as distinct from “I am an Orthodox subject of the tsar” (and “I am from village X” was usually more important anyway). There has been much written about this; a book I highly recommend is Geoffrey Hosking‘s Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917.
    oblezlui is shaggy ?
    No, you’re right, it’s more ‘patchy, mangy.’ It’s from the verb oblezt’, which means ‘to come off/out’ (of fur), ‘to grow bare,’ ‘to peel off’ (of paint).
    Облезьяна is not a Dostoevsky invention (he actually spelled it облизьяна in Униженные и оскорбленные: “фря ты этакая, облизьяна зеленая”; this seems to reflect the verb облизать ‘to lick all over’), it’s a dialect word recorded in sayings like “Вот ведь облезьяна — на колени полезла!” (from the Perm region); “Как была облезьяна, так и осталась” (from the Ob region). There’s a book Эзоп на Руси that includes a fable “О лисице и облезьяне.”

  22. licking monkey or crawling monkey don’t sound as offensive in English as all three words in Russian, rather like cute
    mangy could be combined into mangey or mankey maybe
    i think i’ve read about Levsha on Waggish, and there was a link, but don’t remember whether it was a link to the English translation or original

  23. he actually spelled it облизьяна
    blyme, you are right! I’ve just checked in my tome. I last read it while still in school – and didn’t remember that. The word, practically out of use, was reintroduced into Russian and became very popular again in 1979 with the film about translators ‘The Autumn Marathon’ (Осенний марафон) where the main Russian character is telling off the Danish translator of Dostoyevsky who thinks it is ‘ошибка печати’ (misprint, incorrect in Russian). There is no mention of the novel’s title in the film, so if you Google ‘облезьяна’, you’ll get hundreds of hits with “Осенний марафон”, but none mentioning Униженные и оскорбленные.
    Thanks for the pointer about the two books.
    My question about Leskov stays.

  24. The Wikipedia article links to a Word doc of an English translation; I don’t have time to look at it now, but you might check it out.

  25. oh that was The enchanted wanderer and w/o link

  26. I thought it was interesting to see variations on хохол for “Ukrainian” in the original. Sounds highly pejorative to my non-speсialist, modern ears, but did Chukovsky consciously intend it? At the time, IIRC, there existed more neutral terms like малороссийский…

  27. My guess would be that at the time it was only mildly pejorative, not the clear insult it has become. He obviously felt a strong Ukrainian element in himself.

  28. I don’t see any pejorativeness in Chukovsky’s usage here. It’s used for colour, I think.
    Attitudes to хохол vary wildly and are often very emotional. It seems to me that Ukrainians living among Russians or close to Russia are happy with the word (e.g.East Ukrainians, East meaning to the East of the Dnieper river). They happily tell khokhol jokes, whith the хохол cleverly tricking the Russian, but also with a self-mocking attitude. Think of Irish jokes. The main character in The Ninth Company, a Soviet army seargeant in Afghanistan is called Khokhol by his multiethnic unit and is happy wearing the nickname.
    On the other hand, West Ukrainians (zapadnetsy – западнецы) are more sensitive to the term and often do see it as pejorative.
    The difference seems to stem from that the хохол appeared as a Russian exoethnonym for Ukrainians as a reference to their tradition of shaving beards and heads, leaving moustaches and topknots (khokhol, or chub or oseledets), while Russians were wearing beards. Happy co-existence lead to adoption of the exonym for self-identification (East), strife lead to negative attitudes to the term (West).
    It’s difficult to understand these subtleties if you are outside the ‘soup’ where these emotions brew.

  29. Thanks for that, I had no idea of the complexities.

  30. What a time span of just 5 years might do! The news outlets report that facebook recently equated khokhol with the N-word, and bans users for using either (including a test case where someone reposted Pushkin’s 1830 verse with the word, “My Bloodline”).

    It looks like non-pejorative use is going fast. 4 years ago we discussed shifting and hazy self-identifications in and around Ukraine, and I mentioned how the descendants of XVIII c. settlers from Ukraine would self-identify as Khokhols but ethnically Russians. Apparently Russia’s 2010 Census had over 2,000 people officially self-identifying as Khokhols, but I’d be surprised if the next Census would show anything comparable…

  31. I thought the modern abuse word of choice for Ukrainians is ukr or ukrop (otherwise means dill).

  32. You can never have too many abuse words. Just one gets boring.

  33. For a Russian deputy minister to use khokhly on FB wasn’t a great idea, to put it mildly. With all the insane anti-Ukrainian propaganda in Russia, it’s getting close to a fighting word.

    Until recently, a common pejorative for extreme Ukrainian nationalists was svidomity, from Ukrainian svidomi “conscious” (as in “nationally conscious Ukrainians”) and “sodomite.” But these days, it sounds too intellectual for Russian propagandists, while mainstream Ukrainian nationalism has moved away from xenophobic peasant worship.

  34. SFReader says

    ukr (plural ukry) – is a very interesting word.

    This appellation comes from medieval West Slavic tribe of Ukrane (Ukranen, Ukrer, Ukri, Vukrane) who lived on the banks of Uecker river in eastern Germany.

    There was a fanciful theory advanced by early Ukrainian historians that these Ukri were ancestors of Ukrainians.

    Since 1990s, Russians have been mocking Ukrainians for these nationalistic fantasies and called them “ancient Ukry”

  35. That at least is a mildly clever insult.

  36. SFReader says

    Modern Ukrainian derogatory terms for Russians

    – vatniki, vata (cotton-padded jacket, padding), from common winter working jacket of Soviet times.

    – kolorady, from Colorado potato beetle, reference to orange-black color of St.George ribbon, traditional Russian and Soviet military symbol.

    – rusnya (makes term “Russians” inanimate and singular and also rhymes with huynya (bullshit)). This term previously was used primarily by Islamic extremists in Russia, but now is being increasingly adopted by Ukrainians of extremist variety.

  37. “Rusnya” doesn’t work because, for most nationalists, Ukraine is either part of Rus’ or the only true Rus’. Hrushevsky’s opus magnum is A History of Ukraine-Rus’.

    Vatniki and kolorady aren’t ethnic slurs. Anti-Putinist Russians use them liberally. They are more about class and politics, referring to jingoistic chavs.

  38. I am afraid it doesn’t work that way.

    I’ve heard people argue that nigger or zhid are not ethnic slurs, but only refer to bad people. Somehow this argument never worked.

  39. But if Russians use them to attack other Russians for their political views, they are clearly political insults and not ethnic slurs. Surely you are not claiming that anything one says in anger to or about anyone else is ipso facto an ethnic slur.

  40. I’m not arguing, rather laying out my own experience. Until about ten years ago, the St. George ribbon had been one of many Russian military symbols; then the Kremlin decided to make it the No. 1 “patriotic”/WWII accessory. I recall a pro-Kremlin blogger, with a Ukrainian name ironically, calling people “nonsensical whores” (бляди бессмысленные) for refusing to wear the ribbon with the “patriotic” crowd. The Colorado beetle comparison did not take long to become popular. Likewise, vatnik is essentially a synonym for a neo-sovok. Рашка — квадратный ватник/a> goes back to 2011, and it wasn’t made in Kyiv.

  41. Just like in the Chinese-speaking world, where the insults devised by the less party-loving for the more party-loving PRC citizens are freely appropriated by the Taiwanese and the Hongkongers (technically PRC citizen, but anyway) against both.

  42. There is another explanation for kolorady:

    Когда-то, в далекие-далекие годы, когда в Бердянск еще летали самолеты из Москвы, Питера, Мурманска, Минска и Киева, с продуктами, в т.ч. и алкогольными, была большая проблема на всем пространстве 1/6 мира. Базар был один, маленький, торговали на нем, в основном, спикули поганые, кроме фруктов покупать что-либо там было в падлу, а в магазинах хрен являлся самым упоминаемым продуктом (типа опять ни хрена нет). Так вот, уже тогда в этот город приезжали отдыхающие, пытались, как и положено, культурно отдыхать, закусывая чем бог пошлет то, что удалось купить с боем в огромной очереди, и, по мнению недовольного местного народа, объедали и оппивали местное населени нещадно… Т.е. в точности, как колорадские жуки картошку.
    колорады (каларады)

  43. Are Yank or Reb ethnic slurs?

  44. I wouldn’t say so, since they don’t refer to ethnic groups — “regional slurs,” maybe. But the crucial difference between all those you’ve brought up and vatniki and kolorady is that the latter, as Alexei K. says, are about class and politics rather than ethnic group, religion, or location, which to me means they don’t fall into the same category at all.

  45. If a black person describes another black person nigger, this is not an ethnic slur (but could be literally anything, even sign of affection).

    If a white person calls black person nigger, then it’s definitely an ethnic slur.

    When a Russian calls other Russians vatniki or kolorady, it could be a political insult.

    But when an Ukrainian calls Russians or Russophone Ukrainians vatniki, then it becomes an ethnic slur.

    That’s how these things work.

  46. Well, OK, that’s fair.

  47. In 1861-1865, citizens of the United States of America were fighting citizens of the Confederate States of America.

    And in 1776-1783, citizens of the United States of America were fighting subjects of the United Kingdom.

    Insults they were using to describe their enemies are ethnic slurs, because that’s how these things work.

    Once you start shooting at your compatriots who happened to live in another region of your country, they are no longer your compatriots, but foreign enemies.

    Sharing same language or ethnic origin doesn’t matter once war is on.

    When you pick sides in such a war, you are not making a political choice, you are choosing an ethnic identity.

  48. But they might be both. Kolorad is not any nationalist in the world, but specifically Russian, which when spoken by Ukrainians, becomes ethnic slur, no? I am a bit at a loss of other examples of this type, but let’s say a white American refers to some black American as “oreo”. Does it have an element of racial slur now?

  49. Here is an analogy I was seeking.

    Back in 1776, there were some Americans who greatly disapproved of this treasonous mutiny and fought on side of law and order, ie the British Army.

    This was not a political choice, it was a choice of ethnic identity. And their descendants are now called Canadians…

    I am terribly afraid that Russians and Ukrainians today are making same kind of choice.

  50. Sir JCass says

    “And in 1776-1783, citizens of the United States of America were fighting subjects of the United Kingdom.

    “Insults they were using to describe their enemies are ethnic slurs, because that’s how these things work.”

    I fail to see what this has got to do with “ethnicity”. Clearly, it’s a matter of insults between followers of different political ideologies. Those ideologies went on to produce different nationalities (US, British, Canadian) but not different races.

    Were “Roundheads” and “Cavaliers” in the English (or “British”) Civil War ethnic insults? If a Frenchmen referred to a “Roundhead” would he be guilty of a racial slur?

    As far as I can see, “vatnik” is about political outlook and social class. “Redneck” might be a very rough US equivalent.

  51. -Kolorad is not any nationalist in the world, but specifically Russian, which when spoken by Ukrainians, becomes ethnic slur, no?

    I would like to offer an example of usage of this word by Ukrainians.


    (The larvae of Colorado bugs. THEIR PARENTS SUPPORT terrorists. They DESERVE such broken childhood?) [photos of children in rebel regions under Ukrainian bombardment, don’t watch if you have weak heart]

  52. -Those ideologies went on to produce different nationalities (US, British, Canadian) but not different races.

    Confusion between ethnicity and race is purely an American problem. The rest of the world has no trouble envisioning ethnic conflict between people speaking same language, belonging to the same race and even living in the same city (go visit Belfast on July 12 and have a look)

  53. Sir JCass says

    “Kolorad is not any nationalist in the world, but specifically Russian, which when spoken by Ukrainians, becomes ethnic slur, no?”

    I don’t see how this necessarily follows. “Russian jingoist/neo-imperialist/Putinist” is not an ethnicity.

    There are very good reasons for the rise in Ukrainian hostility to such an ideology since last February.

  54. -Were “Roundheads” and “Cavaliers” in the English (or “British”) Civil War ethnic insults?

    Not yet. They could have become ethnic slurs, if England remained partitioned between Royalists and Parlamentarians long enough.

    If I remember correctly, north England and Wales consistently supported king Charles. There is already an ethnic divide between Wales and England and another between north and south England could arose (they do speak different dialects of English) after war.

  55. Redcoat, by the way, was an ethnic slur too.

  56. And Yankee was first used as an ethnic slur by Brits during the same war.

  57. Well, you’ve clearly got a more expansive definition of “ethnic” than the rest of us.

  58. fisheyed says

    If a black person describes another black person nigger, this is not an ethnic slur (but could be literally anything, even sign of affection).

    I don’t think this is correct. Black Americans use nigga as a neutral term, but nigger is an insult. Online I even see black people capitalizing the last letters to make it clear when they are specifically referring to the insult.

    Some linguist of AAVE must have written about this?

  59. SFReader says

    I say and will say again that Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs are three different ethnic groups and the fact that they speak same language doesn’t change a thing.

    And Ulster Protestants and Catholics are also different ethnic groups, even if they all speak English and live in same country.

  60. Black Americans use nigga as a neutral term, but nigger is an insult.

    In writing, perhaps. In spoken non-rhotic English, including AAVE, they are pronounced the same way.

  61. fisheyed says

    In writing, perhaps. In spoken non-rhotic English, including AAVE, they are pronounced the same way.

    On the rare occasions that someone is using -er they will exaggerate the vowel if not the consonant to make their meaning crystal clear.

    In fact, I think it’s non-AAVE speakers who hear -a and think that what is being said is -er because of non-rhoticity, because they don’t realize the distinction between the two words.

  62. On хохол: it’s clearly not pejorative in the wonderful 1926 Svetlov poem «Гренада» [Grenada]: “Он медлит с ответом,/ Мечтатель-хохол…” (Also a wonderful song.)

  63. SFReader says

    Interview during Moldovan population census:

    Discuția are loc în limba rusă.

    Recenzorul: Limba vorbită de obicei? “commonly used language?”
    Cetățeanul ezită, nu se decide dintr-odată ce să spună, apoi spune: limba rusă.

    Recenzorul: Naționalitatea?
    Cetățeanul din nou ezită, se arată încurcat, apoi, după o pauză de gândire, zice: rus.

    Recenzorul: Deci, scriu „rus”? “So, should we write Russian?”
    Cetățeanul: După ce se gândește câteva clipe: De fapt eu sunt hahol… “Actually, I am hohol”

    Recenzentul: Așadar, ce să scriu, „rus” sau „ucrainean”? “But how should we write it, Russian or Ukrainian?”
    Cetățeanul, nehotărât: Scrie …rus. “Write… Russian”

    Recenzorul: Limba maternă e ucraineana? “Your first language is Ukrainian?”
    Cetățeanul, într-un hohot de râs: nu, în ucraineană eu pot doar înjura! “No, in Ukrainian I can only swear!”

    Recenzorul: Alte limbi cunoașteți? “Do you know any other languages?”
    Cetățeanul, din nou râzând: Pe moldovenește știu doar a înjura! “In Moldovan, I can only swear too!”

  64. Trond Engen says

    Any connection with Nikolai Gogol?

  65. No, that’s g and this is kh.

  66. and Gogol’s “l” is palatalized too. It’s common in Slavic languages, presumably onomatopoeic, and stands for a kind of a waterfowl.

  67. Trond Engen says

    OK. I imagined that the harder sounds in xoxol could be a mocking exaggeration of Ukranian gogol’.

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