As promised, Ben Zimmer has posted the introduction to my book—enjoy! (Ben had to bleep a couple of words, but I’m sure you sophisticated decoders can figure them out. They’re spelled out in the actual intro, of course. Fortunately, he didn’t feel the need to expurgate ebyona mat’.)


  1. Thanks for posting that, Languagehat. I’m glad you mentioned Pushkin. It’s a nice change to find words instead of dots in contemporary Russian fiction!
    The dialogue between the children reminded me of my first day of school in some primary grade. Our teacher told us there were two words we were never allowed to utter in class. She paused for a minute before writing “shut up” on the blackboard. We weren’t allowed to say that at home, either, and I remember a feeling of disappointment at not having learned something new.

  2. Trond Engen says

    From the introduction:
    In fact, the Russian equivalent of Shakespeare, Alexander Pushkin, not only loved curse words, he put them in his poetry; a stanza of his poem Telega zhizni [The wagon of life] ends Krichim: poshol! ebyona mat! [We cry: Drive on! F– it! (literally ‘f—ed mother’)], but editions of Pushkin always substituted a row of dots for the last two words, even though any Russian reading the poem knew exactly what was being omitted.
    Nice ironic twist.

  3. Indeed.

  4. I have now read the book, and sent copies as presents to three of my friends. Our universal response is one of strong approbation, with one caveat: the section on Yiddish is far, far too short. I hope that this will be remedied in a subsequent edition.

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