The genre of what Russians call Садистские стишки, ‘sadistic verses,’ is quite interesting, and I’m happy to report you can read about it in English from two angles, the personal/bloggish in “The Sadistic Couplets,” by a Georgian (U.S.) woman named Robin, and the academic in “Sadistic Verse as a Genre of Russian Urban Folklore: Typical and Specific Features, Child and Adult Audiences” (pdf), by Mikhail Lurye. I’m always impressed by the delight kids (especially boys?) take in cartoonish violence, and there are plenty of good examples here (though one might wish that the authors provided the Russian originals in footnotes).
While I have your attention, on a far less interesting and ridiculously recondite topic that nevertheless has been bothering me all day: Erik at XIX век has a post about the obscure and thoroughly obsolete Russian expression “ни к стру, ни к смотру,” meaning either “for no reason, out of the blue” or “(good) for nothing,” or possibly something else (see his post for details); what bothers me, as I said in the comment thread, is this:

So what is стру? It’s maddening that Finkel and Bazhenov say [the expression has] gone out of use because one of its components has become incomprehensible but don’t bother to explain the component! Unless maybe they didn’t know either? It must be from some old word of the form с(ъ)т(ъ)ръ, but damned if I can figure out what.

If anybody knows, or has a good idea, I’m all ears.


  1. David Marjanović says

    ♪♫ einfach gut,
    bei McDonald’s ist es einfach gut,
    denn da gibt es Rapidlerblut,
    Rapidler in Scheiben zerhackt
    und in Tüten verpaaa-aaaackt –
    McDonald’s ist einfach gut!

  2. I’m wondering if this isn’t a dialectal/petrified version of „струя“ (which would otherwise be „к струю“), making this mean something like: ‘Not in passing and not under inspection’.

  3. Why “couplets”? The examples don’t seem to be couplets.

  4. I’m almost certain this is a twist on “ни в строй, ни к смотру,” which is of military origin. Here is an example of the full phrase (“коли солдат палки не боится, ни в строй, ни к смотру не годится”):
    And there are many examples of “ни в строй, ни к смотру” by its lonesome.

  5. I can’t find any evidence that this was an actual expression used by anyone besides Leskov. If he made it up, the question of just what стру means or stems from may be meaningless.

  6. There are the Russian originals in the Russian version of Lurye’s paper:

  7. I’m almost certain this is a twist on “ни в строй, ни к смотру,” which is of military origin.
    And now I’m almost certain you’re right. Thanks!
    There are the Russian originals in the Russian version of Lurye’s paper
    And thanks to you as well; I should have thought of looking for the Russian original.

  8. Thanks to everyone who weighed in on ни к стру! Like Hat, I’m convinced by Boris D.’s explanation that it’s a variation on ни в строй, ни к смотру.

  9. There is also a book I came across once in the UC Berkeley main stacks that was all about sadistic verses, can’t remember whether it was in Russian or in English, but there is definitely more scholarship on this around …

  10. Treesong says

    Interesting that in the US Little Willie verses never became folklore, to my knowledge, though sick jokes did.

  11. Perhaps Leskov changed в строй to в стру to create a rhyming pair as well as changing the prepositions: ни в строю, ни к смотру > ни к стру, ни к смотру. I suspect the accent in смотру shifted to у&

  12. My children loved Little Willy in the slightly gentrified version in the book ‘Cautionary Verses’:
    Little Willy played with matches
    Fell on fire
    And burned to ashes.
    Presently the room grew chilly.
    No one wanted to poke poor Willy.
    Grigory Oster, a very popular children’s writer, wrote among other things “Книгу о вкусной и здоровой пище людоеда” (The Cannibal’s Good Food Cookbook), a hilarious collection of ‘recipes’ using naughty children.

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