Ever since I added Gasan Guseinov’s LiveJournal (in Russian; see this LH post) to my Google Reader feed, I’ve enjoyed his cheeky, hyperliterate essays (and his gravelly voice—the posts come with an audio file) on a regular basis. His latest is called “Жириновский – это Достоевский сегодня!” [Zhirinovsky is the Dostoevsky of today!], and I’m posting about it here because of his citing of Dostoevsky, specifically the November 1877 issue of his Writer’s Diary. The first section of the issue is devoted to explications of two words which Dostoevsky says he introduced into Russian literature, “стрюцкие” [stryutskie], something like ‘worthless bums,’ and “стушеваться” [stushevat’sya], ‘to disappear gradually, fade away to nothing.’ The first is a piece of Petersburg street slang [see Sashura’s comment below] he used several times in the Diary (e.g., “Мы в Европе лишь стрюцкие,” which Kenneth Lantz translates “We are but useless wretches in Europe”) and says people keep writing him about, so he has decided to explain it. He goes into some detail about the situations in which Petersburgers use it (often of drunks), and ends by saying that such worthless creatures exist in educated circles as well, and “how can one resist calling these higher-ups ‘striutskys’ as well?” I enjoyed the word (and Dostoevsky’s obvious relish in it), but the reason I decided to post about it is that I looked it up in Vasmer and discovered that it was an expansion of стрюк [stryuk], with the same meaning, and стрюк in turn is a shortened form of бастрюк [bastryuk] ‘bastard,’ which comes (via Polish) from German bastard! Whodathunkit?

As for стушеваться, he describes how it arose as student slang “when I was studying in the Main School of Military Engineering” and derived from the importance of learning how to shade [стушёвывать] plans drawn in India ink [тушь], but what I want to quote here is the final paragraph of the section, which illustrates one reason it’s hard to dislike Dostoevsky (again, the translation is Lantz’s):

I have written with such seriousness and at such length on the history of such an unimportant little word only for the sake of some future scholar compiling a Russian dictionary—some future Dahl; and if I have now bored my readers, the future Dahl will still thank me. So let’s say that this was written only for him. But if you like, for the sake of clarity, I’ll make a full confession: in the course of my literary career, what I’ve liked most is the fact that I managed to introduce an entirely new word into the Russian language; and whenever I encounter that word in print I’m always very pleased; and so now you’ll understand why I thought it possible to devote a special chapter to describing such a trifle.

[Написал я столь серьезно такое пространное изложение истории такого неважного словца – хотя бы для будущего ученого собирателя русского словаря, для какого-нибудь будущего Даля, и если я читателям теперь надоел, то зато будущий Даль меня поблагодарит. Ну так пусть для него одного и написано. Если же хотите, то, для ясности, покаюсь вполне: мне, в продолжение всей моей литературной деятельности, всего более нравилось в ней то, что и мне удалось ввести совсем новое словечко в русскую речь, и когда я встречал это словцо в печати, то всегда ощущал самое приятное впечатление; ну, теперь, стало быть, вы поймете, почему я нашел возможным описать такие пустяки даже в особой статейке.]

Incidentally, in the course of putting together the post I discovered Grzegorz Danowski’s master’s thesis, “Translation and the problematics of textual integrity: A comparative analysis of two English renderings of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Дневник писателя” (pdf), which looks quite interesting and has a detailed discussion of this very section of the Diary.


  1. These days, tools like Google trends might actually allow us to figure out who or what was responsible for putting this or that obscure word into circulation. There may be no comparable data from 1870s, but I find it hard to belive the Dostoevsky coined the two word.
    Indeed, “stryutskie” seemed to have existed in Peter-speak before him, and has never become widely known outside St. Petersburg after.
    “stushevat’sya” belongs to a continuum of Russian expressions similar to the English one about “the colors which never run”. Although in Russian “colors” never stand for “battle flags”, running colors are firmly associated with retreat, and loss, and embarrassment. Like “промазать” “to miss” (literally to smear), “слинять” “to run” ( literally to fade / discolor).
    “tushevat’sya” is known in modern Russian in pretty much one meaning, and it isn’t the one Dostoevsky wrote about. It means “to become embarrassed”, “not loose one’s nerve”, and it is typically used in negation constructs: “не стушеваться” ~ not to let oneslef become embarrassed, to stand firm against odds. Most widely used by sports commenters, but here you can see how it is used to describe an embarassing circus act, and by extention for the embarrassment of the political circus

  2. “not loose one’s nerve” sorry, of course “to loose one’s nerve”

  3. PS: classic usage examples:
    “Девчонки, перед вами застенчивый и скромный и он тушуется и стесняется рядом с вами, поможете ему в общении с вами?”
    “А поступить в вуз – не может: на экзамене тушуется, стесняется, мямлит – смотреть горестно.”
    “ри попытке заговорить и произнести новое слово ребенок тут же тушуется, стесняется”
    “Камелия, как и подобает восторженной поклоннице, тушуется перед напористыми знаменитостями, полностью доверяя их хвастливым россказням”

  4. D doesn’t actually say he coined them, rather that he introduced them into literary usage.
    “Lose” rather than “loose” one’s nerve.

  5. Bathrobe says

    useless wretches
    The translation is somewhat lacking in force. In Australia I think people like that would be called ‘no-hopers’, although I doubt it would apply to higher-ups.

  6. Bathrobe says

    Maybe ‘worthless bums’ is better.

  7. David Marjanović says

    via Polish

    o_O Then who palatalized the /r/?

    it’s hard to dislike Dostoevsky

    …in stark contrast to Zhirinovsky!

  8. Alexei K. says

    Actually, this passage also shows why, to some, the guy is insufferable. One can sense a provocation here, D’s trademark юродство. Or паясничанье, consistent with a certain type of borderline mental state. Zh. is an accomplished actor, too.

  9. Actually, this passage also shows why, to some, the guy is insufferable.
    Oh, sure. Like, say, Ezra Pound, he’s a very polarizing writer. But in both cases I feel strongly that the great writer is more important than the bigoted/crackpot person.

  10. narrowmargin says

    Which, of course, one can also say about Richard Wagner.

  11. marie-lucie says

    Australian no-hopers : does that mean North American losers?

  12. It’s a lovely column!
    There’s another gem on the theme of stushevatsya – the garbled French from Pushkin: Pourqoi vous touchez? – Why do you switch off [the light]? Tushit’ – is to put the lights out, and the phrase tushite/touchite svet (light) or svechi (put out the candles) means ‘this is it, this is as bad as it can get.’
    I wasn’t sure how to say stryutskiye – strYUtskiye is possible, but stryutskIYE is more likely. But when I listened to Guseinov I saw that he’s not sure either, in the audio he actually says ‘strYUtskiye or stryutskIYE.’

  13. Dost also harbingered the advent of Alban in Russian. In C&M he wrote ‘сдесь становицца воз прещено’, correct: здесь становится воспрещено – no standing (pissing) here.
    And in the House of the Dead he popularised старичок (old man) as a way of addressing peers among the young, which became popular in the 60s.

  14. Vasmer says strYUtskii.

  15. Sashura, I noticed that, too. He uses stryutsKIye later on, so I suppose he settled on _-.

  16. yes, it’s a classic nightmare for shifting stresses.
    If it’s Stryutskiy (pl. -iye) then the natural Muscovite stress goes on YU, if it’s Stryutskoi (pl. same – -iye), then in the singular it goes on -OI.
    Well, I never.

  17. A pedantic point re stryutskiy as ‘Petersburg slang’:
    It appears that D. was wrong in saying that the word was exclusively used and coined in St.Pete. I’ve just read the Writer’s Diary 1877 entry. He does say that he isn’t sure, it only ‘seems’ to him that it is so.
    But the word features prominently and is explained in Ostrovsky’s 1855 play “В чужом пиру похмелье” (Suffering for the sins of others), Act I, Scene 4. See here.
    As Ostrovsky is a quintessential Muscovite and someone who had introduced a lot of vernacular into literary speech, it seems more likely that the word originated or first became popular in the Moscow region.
    Re the stress in Stryutsky: Dahl’s entry on stryutsky also gives two stresses and has a question mark at the end. He wasn’t sure too!

  18. Australian no-hopers : does that mean North American losers?
    Basically yes.

  19. Alexei K. says

    “…the advent of Alban in Russian” – it took me half a minute to realize that Alban was not a human being (just like Слава Труду) but, as it were, the Albanian recension of internet Russian.

  20. Yes, and the primary chronicle of new Russian (lurkmore) have an article on Albanian (albansky or olbansky).
    And I’ve just noticed that they nicked my Dostoyevsky quote for the article! Outrage!

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