I suddenly realized that it had been a long time, maybe years, since I’d set aside The Russian Language Today by Larissa Ryazanova-Clarke and Terence Wade (see this old post), and it was high time I got back to it, since I learn something or get a new insight on virtually every page. And sure enough, I immediately hit this passage:

An interesting tendency characterises the slang of the 1990s: its development runs counter to that of the general stratum of the language. Throughout the period from the 1960s to the 1980s, English was the primary source of Russian youth slang, whereas in the 1990s, when the language was saturated with new words of foreign origin, slang drew on native resources. The reason for this is that while, previously, English had been the means of isolating one sub-culture from another, and thus those who used slang from the rest of society, English is now becoming too popular to be a sub-cultural code.

They go on to discuss the word тусовка [tusovka] ‘gang, crew’ and its derivatives, like тусоваться [tusovatsya] ‘to hang around, go to parties’: “Etymologically, these words probably derive from the verb тасовáть (кáрты) ‘to shuffle (cards)’. Тусóвка, тусовáться originated in criminal argot, тусóвка originally meaning ‘fight, scene, quarrel’ … Thence, the words spread to hippy slang in the 1970s and later to young people’s informal speech in general. The meaning of тусовáться changed to ‘to hang out’, and the meaning of тусóвка changed to ‘company, circle of acquaintances’, or ‘meeting place’.” Fascinating stuff.


  1. A very information-rich book. I have to admit, fan of neologisms as I almost always am in English, when I first read it I found some of the example sentences on anglicisms quite distressing: “так, Дмитриы Игнатьев, генеральный директор питерской финансовой группы ‘Ленстройматериалы,’ одного из спонсоров саммита, в своем спиче на торжественном ланче сказал…” and monstrosities such as шоп, релакс, сейл, коттон, ток шоу, оффшор, тинэйджер, секонд хэнд, ноу хау, и т.д. Glancing at it again, I’m more fascinated than disturbed. I just wish it were somewhat reciprocal!
    I was under the impression that ‘тусовка’ primarily meant party or get-together. How is it mostly used nowadays?

  2. I hope someone can explain “кайф.” It seems like a relatively recent word, but many sites source it to Moroccan Arabic, which feels like a stretch.

  3. What is interesting, and I may have already mentioned it in this blog, is how technical computer terms first imported from English have acquired Russian equivalents that are gradually supplanting the imports: “движок” for “engine”, “ядро” – “kernel” “мамка, материнка” – “motherboard”, “железо” – “hardware”

  4. It appears with related meanings in other dialects, Turkic languages, and (rarely) in English, as kief. Apparently it was used by Dostoyevsky, faded after the revolution, and reappeared in the ’60s. It probably comes from some central asian language, which isn’t really that rare.
    Famous quote from Anais Nin “This diary is my kief, hashish and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice”
    Lubman- I like to hear that!

  5. rootlesscosmo says

    In the 1950’s, US shops that sold imported cigarettes sometimes carried a Greek brand called Christo Kassimis ‘El Kif.’ It was rumored that these actually contained some kind of cannabis product but I smoked a few and didn’t get high.

  6. Re: железо, there is also an old and rather romantic-sounding usage of “iron” to mean “hardware” in English, as in “close to the iron,” especially when referring to a computer language like C.

  7. Compare Hebrew כיף keyf “fun”, which comes from Arabic (I don’t know which variety). Hebrew-Russian language contact is obviously common now, though I don’t know what the earliest use of the word кайф is in Russian.

  8. “Keef” was slang in 70s California for powdered marijuana – low quality, low resin percentage. Sometimes dealers would try to pass it off as hash.

  9. Keef!

  10. David Marjanović says

    German kiffen “to smoke cannabis”.

    “ядро” – “kernel”

    Huh. Is the Adriatic Sea – Jadransko morje – a core sea?

  11. “ядро” – “kernel”
    “ядро” is used for “kernel” in Linear Algebra which is a course a lot of programmers and their ilk took in college. As in, “гомоморфный образ группы изоморфен факторгруппе по ядру гомоморфизма” which sounds like an oblique reference to a gay orgy but is, in fact, a well-respected theoreme; in general “ядро” conjures up a whole series of f-word equivalents in Russian (through a verb “едрить” / “ядрить”) so it makes a quite potent slang term root.
    Jadransko <= Hadria[n]; couldn’t be confused with the wide set of “едрить” words which never get “a” after “едр” / “ядр”

  12. Hmm. In France a recent slang term meaning “to adore” (normally with an inanimate object) is KIFFER (JE KIFFE CA!): an etymological connection with German KIFFEN or the California term KEEF doesn’t seem at all unlikely…

  13. David Marjanović says

    Jadransko <= Hadria[n]

    Of course; where does the /j/ come from, when there’s /a/ instead of /e/ behind it?

  14. Of course; where does the /j/ come from, when there’s /a/ instead of /e/ behind it?
    I know that it’s far too trivial, just forgot to put a smiley there 🙂
    Isn’t there a general aversion to words starting from “A” in Slavic languages? In a neighboring thread, languagehat mentions Zamyatin making an interesting point from this observation. So we may get яблоко “apple”, якорь “anchor” … ядран “adrian”?
    ядран or едран would sound pretty much the same anyway? but ядро / едрить / ядрёный are in a separate category?

  15. Bruno van Wayenburg says

    @Steven Lubman: something similar happened to English derived football jargon in Dutch, which used to be English loans, but have been replaced by calques or original Dutch terms. ‘Goal’ turned to ‘doel’, ‘Keeper’ to ‘doelman’, ‘Penalty’ to ‘strafschop’ Many old football clubs still have FC =’Football Club’ in front of their name, while nobody would use that term anymore. Same for computers; ‘Hard disc’ became ‘harde schijf’, ‘keyboard’-> toetsenbord and so on

  16. a whole series of f-word equivalents in Russian (through a verb “едрить” / “ядрить”)
    Damn, I can’t keep up with mat! This isn’t in any of my dictionaries, even the raunchiest, except for the derived ядрёный (in ядрёна вошь); this site says it’s euphemistic. How new/widespread is it?

  17. How new/widespread is it?
    Of course it’s euphemistic. Quite pervasive too, and percieved as being very old (but I haven’t investigated this question; Dahl is silent on possible euphemistic use, and Nekrasov is using ядрёный 100% literally in a classic verse). But, anachronistically or not, XX c. authors put it in speech of early XIX c. characters, e.g.
    Генерал-аншеф Раевский сам сидит, серчает,
    До своей особы никого не допущает,
    Говорит он командирам, “Мать тву едрить,
    Бонбардирам у трактира сена подстелить!”
    едрить твою налево & едрить-колотить are relatively common expressions. Едрёна канарейка (an STD rather than a yellow bird) is almost as prominent as вошь, with едрён батон possibly the distant third.

  18. David Marjanović says

    яблоко “apple”

    Oh. I never noticed these might be cognate. Good point about the aversion to initial /a/.

    якорь “anchor”

    Awesome! An early loan from Germanic, but still after Grimm’s Law had operated! 🙂

    ядран “adrian”?

    Presumably *ядрян followed by South Slavic loss of рь.

    something similar happened to English derived football jargon in Dutch, which used to be English loans, but have been replaced by calques or original Dutch terms. […] Same for computers

    Same for many, but not all, football terms and computer terms in German. Tor “goal”, Tormann “goalie”, Strafstoß “penalty”, fossilized FC… but Hands! and Out! have not been replaced, in spite of efforts for Handspiel. Festplatte “harddisk”, Diskette “floppy disk”, Bildschirm “screen”, Tastatur “keyboard”, Maus “duh”, but that’s pretty much it.

  19. When I lived in Spain ’70-’71 and traveled into Morocco 3 times I learned that kif was a mixture of tobacco and marijuana. The word is said to be Moroccan Arabic, (but could it be Berber?) and means ‘same’. The story was told that when the first merchants who brought cannabis into Morocco were leaving, they were asked ‘When are you coming back with more of the same?’ Doubtless aprocryphal.

  20. We were told that that kajf was of Turkish origin, possibly even originally used for the smoking pleasure, but reserved in Russia for any sort of pleasure (definitely not the weed). E.g.
    Цыгане любят джинсы,
    Да джинсы не простые,
    Цыгане любят джинсы,
    Да джинсы кайфовые,
    Ой мама, мама, мама,
    Люблю цыгана Яна … etc.
    Some Russian geekdom slang, even though based on foreign borrowings, seems to be uniquely Russian to my ear. Like клава “kbd”, винчестер => винт “HD”

  21. kif ‘same’
    I don’t know kif in its modern French meanings, but I know an old slang word kif-kif meaning ‘the same, the same thing’, borrowed from North African Arabic, as in Ce qu’on fait ici ou rien, c’est kif-kif ‘What we do here or nothing, it’s all the same’ (from the TLFI). The meaning is sometimes reinforced by adding bourricot which is a familiar, almost hypocoristic word for a small donkey, as in C’est kif-kif bourricot.

  22. Marie-Lucie: I only know of the KIF-KIF expression through my childhood exposure to LES AVENTURES DE TINTIN (which probably did more to teach me to read than school did).
    MOCKBA, David: According to a trusted source (Schmalstieg’s INTRODUCTION TO OLD RUSSIAN, p. 39) initial A- aversion is specific to EAST Slavic, which preposed a /j/ to earlier Proto-Slavic initial /a/, which is still preserved as such in most West and South Slavic languages.

  23. re kaif – I concur with Mockba, it has been widely used, along with the verbal form kaifovat’, simply to express a high degree of pleasure, satisfaction, admiration.
    It must have had a drug connection originally, since its criminal slang roots were clear to users for a long time – they were to me and my school buddies when we used the word in 1960s, but later almost completely lost that connection. The word must have spread and took off thanks to the national service. I have the impression that the word fell out of fashion in the 90s as drug problem became big.
    I think tusovka/tusovatsya is out of fashion now too.
    Ryazanova’s observation about English being too wide-spread is true, but there is another explanation for vernacular becoming a primary source for slang. There are two other important factors. First, it is the general ‘decriminalisation’ of criminal slang and ‘unprintable’ invective lexicon, the ‘mat’. Second, waves of massive internal migration brought regional, non-standard usages or increased their profile in mainstream Russian. One example being ‘zhenshina'(woman) and ‘muschina’ (man) used in addressing.

  24. I can’t keep up with mat! This isn’t in any of my dictionaries,
    Here’s more for your collection:
    ёбаный карась – fucked crucian (carp) – heard that one?
    In the 1930s film Traktoristy, the kolkhoz farm director uses another euphemism: “забодай вас комар” – (let) mosquito butt you.

  25. I also learned ‘kif-kif’ in Morocco, and another reduplication: ‘shuya-shuya’ – ‘so-so’.

  26. I agree with Sashura that “tusovatsya” is quite outdated – it’s been shortened to “tusit'” (тусить).
    One more of the popular emotional expressions today is “едрит Мадрид” How do you like it?

  27. it’s been shortened to “tusit'” (тусить).
    Huh. I was wondering how to conjugate that, and Google told me I wasn’t alone. Useful response from that thread:

    Это слово ещё не зафиксировано нормативными грамматиками и словарями. Может, есть шанс найти его в каком-нибудь “словаре молодёжного сленга”, но и там указаний на образование формы 1 л. ед. ч. может не быть. Посему говорите как хотите, по-всякому будет “правильно”. А вот когда это слово включат в нормативные словари, тогда и посмотрим, “тусю”, “тушу” или “нахожусь на тусовке”.

  28. “едрит Мадрид” How do you like it?
    Love it! Will send to my sis in Spain. Is there a connection, or is it just for rhyming?

  29. Thanks for that Keith Richards link there, Hat – wonderful line about 1:30 in, where Keef is talking about a recording of a Stones concert in Brussels and is taking the mick out of Jagger for telling the crowd they were going to play some “noveaux chansons” – “Mick’s Belgian is fantastic!”

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