Multistory Profanity.

Many years ago I learned from Edward Topol about the Russian system of classifying mat, or profanity, according to the number of layers, or stories/storeys, it contains, the more elaborate having three or even seven levels; I don’t think I’d ever encountered this system in literary use before, but reading Alexander Serafimovich‘s classic of Soviet Civil War literature, «Железный поток» (The Iron Flood, 1924), recommended to me by Sashura back in 2010, I’ve just come across it: “Кожух перестал стрелять и, надсаживаясь, стал выкрикивать трехэтажные матерные ругательства [Kozhukh stopped firing and, straining his voice, began to yell three-story obscene curses].” Reading that phrase was as satisfying to me as I imagine the cursing was to him. (I should add that the sentence I quote is followed by “Это сразу успокоило [That quieted (the mob) at once].”)

Incidentally, the story is an account of the actual march [Russian link] in August-September 1918 of the Taman Army (a branch of the earliest version of the Red Army) south from the Taman Peninsula to escape destruction by White forces, and the dialogue is full of Ukrainian and Ukrainianisms, which makes me glad I studied a bit of the language a while back. The closest analogue I can think of in English would be a story set in the Border region of England with lots of Scots in the dialect.


  1. Is the classification system based on any sort of objective standard (would two connoisseurs usually agree on the number of storeys a given phrase had), or is it more of an impressionistic thing?

  2. Let’s count storeys in this one!

    Trisuch’yepadlovaya vyssaka, mnogoblyadskaya proskotoshlyukha, gnidskoye vyyebopropizdishche, mnogoyebonyy kherun, stervoznoye trignidoprogovno, gandonskiy properdok, trigovnognoynaya tripizdopromanda, properdanutoye blyadoder’mo, vysranomudovatoye der’mishche, kheroproskotskoye der’mishche, prosvolotoprokhuyevoye zadrocheprognidishche, zalupskiy prostervoprokherun, govnozalupskiy blyadok, perdodrochennoye mnogopizdishche, drocheproperdovataya manda, vyyebuchiy tripizdodrochun, trisranoye govno, sranognoynaya svolota, vysranaya svolotosuka, prognidskaya gnida, gandonokherovaya mandognidishcha, perdomudovatyy zadrochepider, vyperdogovennyy khuy, prossanaya such’yeskotina, triperdovataya trissanokhuina, padloprosranoye mandishche, vyperdovatoye perdopromudishche, shlyukhskoye zadrocheprogovno, padloproskotskoye govno, mudoproshlyukhskoye khuyegovno, padlovaya mnogopizda, vyperdoprossanaya gnoyepadla, zadrochennoye trimandishche, mnogoyebovataya sraka, mnogoyebuchiy khuyeplot, promudovataya zadrochila, pizdoprogovennaya khuyepropadla, gandonoskotskaya trissaka, mnogoyeboshlyukhskaya mnogopizdopropadla, prosvolotokhuyevatoye trimudishche, triperdanutaya prosvolota, trimandoprostervoznyy pizdun, vyssanognoynoye govnoder’mishche, padlovyy tripizdoproskotlozhets, ssanoye govnoder’mishche, progandonskiy mudak, zhopovatoye trignidoprokherishche, sranyy mnogopizdoblyadun, gandonskiy gnidoblyadun, gnoynoye prognidoprokhuyevayushcheye, prosvolotskaya drocheprosvolota, pideroperdannoye prossanomudishche, mnogostervokherovyy zadrochun, trigovnoperdanutoye svolotoproder’mo, mnogomudovatoye ssanopizdishche, prosvolotoproshlyukhskiy vyssanokhuyeplot, vysranokhuyevoye vyblyadoder’mo, zadrochennyy promudak, zadrocheskotskoye govno, gandonosuchiy gandon, pizdataya prosvolota, mandoproblyadovataya trisuka, der’movoye tripizdokherishche, prosranoperdanutaya mandoskotina, skotskoye zadrocheprognidishche, yebovataya skotina, der’moprozalupskoye der’mo, trissanyy promudak, mnogostervokhuyennaya gandonosraka, gnoynaya mnogostervopropidrila, shlyukhskiy kherogovnyuk, blyadogandonskiy stervets, prosvolotskaya proskotina, prosranaya mnogozhopa, suchiy promudoperdun, blyadoprostervoznaya drocheskotina, prostervoblyadovoye promudishche, zalupskaya such’yemudishcha, gnoyepromandovatoye promandishche, vyssanognoynoye mnogostervoder’mo, trignidskaya mnogoblyadoprosvolota, zadrochennaya pidrila, drochennaya drochila, drocheprogovennoye mandoproder’mishche, prossanoye stervopizdishche, pizdozhopskaya properdomandishcha, skotskoye mudishche, perdannaya skotoproder’mishcha, pizdataya prosranosuka, khuyessanaya pidrila, stervoproblyadskoye blyadishche, mnogoblyadopropadlovyy skotlozhets, sranaya padloproshlyukha, promandogovennaya zhopoproyebina, govnoperdannyy mnogoblyad’, perdannoye promudishche, perdoprognoynaya mandoprosterva, vyperdannyy zadrochun, da zayebis’ ty trizhdy zloyebuchim proyebom, zalupoglazoye pizdoproebishche semiblyadskim troyepizdiyem, vos’mirukiy pyatikhuy, trimondoyebi tvoye vos’miblyadskoye troyepizdishche, khuyesuchiy anakhronot, zapizdomeduz’ yebi tvoyu mudoblyadskuyu glotku, problyad’ such’ya, yeblo mokhnonogoye, strakhopizdishche zalupoglazoye, vkhuyemateri arkhipizdoit, yebanyy v rot, gandonnyy pederast, vafleotstoynik semistruynyy, perkhot’ podzalupnaya, blyad’ peremondoyeblennaya, triyebloostomondovevshaya okhuyebanneyshaya, yebiblyadskaya pizdoproushina s perekosoyeblennym nakhuy yebalom, mondozaluplennoy boltokhuyaroy, zalupa nedoyebannaya, khuyeblyadipizdozhab’ya zamudoyebina, zasrakomondokhuy tvoye yebolozh’ye mondilo, zloyebuchiy pizdokhuy!

  3. the last one is definitely a three-storey!

  4. I haven’t been in those parts for a long time, but I do remember from the 70s how different it was, coming from Moscow. It’s not just the many ukrainianisms, it also the soft buzzing sound of speech.

  5. I do not think that there is any “classifying” involved. I’ve never heard any mention of two-story, one-story or n-story (n > 3) profanities. It just means elaborate, multilayered etc.

  6. besides a three-storey mat the compiler of the Big Dictionary of Russian Mat Plutser-Carno lists the Greater Peter’s Bend and the Lesser Peter’s Bend, as well as Cossack’s Bend and Sailor’s Bend. (Большой петровский загиб, малый петровский загиб, казачий загиб и морской загиб). Bend (lit.) is from загибать – to tell tales, to exaggerate and to swear. Plutser-Carno (link to Russian Wikipedia has published two volumes of the dictionary and is planning a 12 volume series.

  7. What a worthy project!

  8. As I understand it, three-level mat is a figurative expression, and the full version of the expression is “to bury under a triple layer of curses” (крыть трёхэтажным матом) where the number three is probably used just for its magic power (and may perhaps be substituted by another magic number of the Russian tradition, seven).

    Peculiarly, этаж is from French and not all that ancient in Russian usage.

  9. marie-lucie says

    этаж is from French: Indeed. Un étage is not just any ‘level’, nor a ‘layer’, but a ‘floor above street level’ in a building. Cf the derivative une étagère ‘a shelf’. There is always space above and below an étage or étagère.

  10. and perviy étage in Russian is not the first floor but the ground floor which in French is un rez-de-chaussée, i.e. street level, with chaussée – шоссе in Russian turning to mean a highway.

  11. In the 1860s, Dahl sort of hints that этаж is a Petersburger usage, listing a really obscure possible equivalent in Moscow-speak. But searches of Google books shows “этажъ” widespread in all modern contexts as early as in 1800. My surprise why a French word showed up in the fundamentally Russian sland was clearly unwarranted.

    Book search for “трехэтажным” returns numerous references to mat beginning in the 1920s, but even in the previous decades it often shows up as a juicy folksy epithet – as in people having three-story chins or three-story backs of the necks, and even three-story names (Василий Васильевич Васильев, Doroshevich 1916)

  12. marie-lucie says

    La chaussée refers to the main part of a street or road, that vehicles can travel on, as opposed to a sidewalk, berm, gutter, etc. So it is not surprising that the word borrowed into Russian ended up meaning road or highway.

  13. ah, that explains it! thanks.

  14. Could the tripe-layering of curses be a folk re-etymologizing of a classic yet archaic word “треклятый”, originally “most accursed” but easily re-interpretable as “thrice accursed”?

  15. I’ll bet you’re right, but were you intending a link for “most”? If so, tell me the URL and I’ll fix it.

  16. Oh. Here in wiktionary:

    (and many thanks for writing about my “Letras de tango en ruso” blog – it’s a work in progress but I hope to keep adding a few more entries each month 🙂 )

  17. Fixed, and you’re welcome!

  18. Today we discussed another word used only as an amplifier for cusses, [дубина] стоеросовая which sort of sounds like hundred-layered ( plausibly сто “hundred” + ярус,”level” perhaps from proto-Scand. jarðhús per Vasmer.). But peculiarly the dictionaries in the link tend to parse it instead as “upright-growing” which sounds like a rather improbable folk etymology to me. And other sources explain it by seminary-speak <= Gr. "stauros" ( presently "cross" but originally "pole", "upright beam" which may be a good identifier for "дубина" oak-pole, club? ) Who is right here?

  19. Good question; I agree it sounds like a folk etymology

  20. Any guesses at what inspires Google Translate to render болванка статьи [stub article] as Jane Austen (no alternatives)?

  21. That’s… quite amazing!

  22. Heh.

    No. staur “pole (e.g. for a haystack or a fence)”.
    No. dial. staur(e) amplifier. staure god or staurgod. Probably < “wildly, madly” < borti stauren “far out”.

  23. Three times as an amplifier is common IE, though: Vergil’s O terque quaterque beati / quis ante ora patrum Troiae sub moenibus altis / contigit oppetere! (Aen. 1:95-97) ‘O thrice and four times blessed those to whose lot it fell to perish before the altars of their fathers beneath the high walls of Troy!’ What is more, Aeneas is quoting Odysseus here, though Odysseus doesn’t declaim it to the winds and waves; pragmatic Greek that he is, he grumbles it to himself in the bottom of his boat. Similarly, there is the Classical Greek adjective trismakarios ‘thrice-blessed’, mostly used by Aristophanes: as Douglass Parker (or perhaps William Arrowsmith) says, it is a term of praise so fulsome that it can only be followed by repetition or silence.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Also Hermes Trismegistos, the triply greatest; and a thoroughly obsolete German intensifier was “in three devils’ names”.

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