I was reading a horrifying and depressing discussion (in Russian) of what a great many women have to put up with in the way of male attitudes and behavior when I hit a comment that started off: “Вышла у меня как-то стори. Подходит ко мне на Зиланте один смутно знакомый мэн…” ‘Once [this] story happened to me. A guy I vaguely knew came up to me in Zilant…’ (Note the borrowings from English: стори [stori—why feminine gender, I wonder?] and мэн [men].) I thought at first “Zilant” must be Zeeland, but as I read on I realized the setting had to be somewhere in Russia (and it turns out Zeeland is Зеландия [Zelandiya] in Russian anyway). So I went to Yandex and after a little searching discovered that Zilant is a dragon from Tatar legend (the Tatar word is yılan ‘snake’) and has been since 1730 the symbol of Kazan. Clearly, it is in slang use as a way of referring to the city of Kazan, which made perfect sense in context since from a comment earlier in the thread I had learned that Kazan is a major center of male thuggishness. [Update: As commenter Dmitry points out, it actually refers to a role-playing convention in Kazan.]

What struck me forcibly was that if I had encountered this usage before the internet, I would have had no way of finding out what it meant. It’s not in any of my dictionaries; a form closer to the Tatar original, зиланъ [zilan], was in Dahl, but I would have had no reason to connect the two. (I wonder when zilan changed to zilant, and why?) Anyway, it gave me yet another occasion to be profoundly grateful to the sea of information made accessible to us by the internet.

Addendum. And after writing that I hit a phrase (in the same comment) that defeated me. Anybody know what is meant by неферский прикид? I know прикид [prikid] is slang for ‘clothes,’ but although the adjective is used a lot online (modifying ‘forum,’ ‘style,’ ‘exclamation,’ etc.) I can’t find a definition. Заранее спасибо!

By the way, from the Wikipedia article on Zilant I got to an interesting one on the İske imlâ alphabet used for the Tatar language before 1920, when it was replaced by the Yaña imlâ (which only lasted until 1927).


  1. I’m afraid you didn’t follow it through with the Zilant. In this context it seems to relate to a role playing convent (admittedly, taking place in Kazan), not to the city itself.

  2. As for the неферский прикид – you got it right with the прикид (a slang for clothes), and нефер are some sort of variation on the punks, in the today’s Russia’s context.

  3. You’re right, now that I take a second look. Thanks!

  4. nefer = neformal

  5. The logic behind treating стори as a feminine noun is that it “replaces” – and points to – an unambiguously feminine noun – история. An analogous principle is used in determining the grammatical gender of most abbreviations, where the gender of the noun usually (though not always; there are a few popular exceptions) governs, e.g. КПРФ/ЛДПР объявила (партия).

  6. The logic behind treating стори as a feminine noun is that it “replaces” – and points to – an unambiguously feminine noun – история.
    Damn, I should have been able to figure that out for myself. Thanks!

  7. robert berger says

    The Tatar and Turkish words for snake are the same.

  8. Yup. The Turkic languages are quite close in general, compared with other familiar families like the Indo-European.

  9. One very minor point: the Russian slang word /men/ is probably not English ‘men’ but ‘man’. Russians typically hear the English vowel in ‘man’ as closer to Russian /e/ than /a/. (Sorry, I don’t have ready access to Cyrillic.)

  10. Yes, I know; I was transliterating, not translating. I should probably have made that clearer.

  11. The original text said “на Зиланте” and therefore it cannot be a city name; if it was, then it would be ” В Зиланте”.

  12. стори [stori—why feminine gender, I wonder?]
    For what that’s worth, as a speaker of a closely related language (Croatian), I also strongly feel “story” as a feminine noun. (Even though I’m reasonably fluent in English nowadays and I know how wrong it is, I still end up inadvertently assigning grammatical gender to inanimate and abstract English nouns sometimes; the urge of my native language instinct is just too strong. :-)) However, I’m not sure if that’s because I intuitively recognize the feminine Latin root, or because Slavic words with similar meanings generally tend to be feminine, in Croatian as well as Russian.

  13. The original text said “на Зиланте” and therefore it cannot be a city name; if it was, then it would be ” В Зиланте”.
    Yes, in retrospect that’s clear, but I had just read thousands of words and was not reading as closely as I might have been.

  14. стори [stori—why feminine gender, I wonder?]
    What Ivan said. Grammatik’s explanation makes a lot sense and would explain why English borrowings like “feature” (as in “a new software feature”) is feminine in Slovak – it replaces “vlastnosť” or “funkcia”, both feminine. On the other hand, “bug” (again, in software developer parlance) is definitely masculine, even though it stands for feminine “chyba”.

  15. David Marjanović says

    Often the same English borrowing has different genders in German and in French: star is masculine in the former (Stern) but feminine in the latter (étoile). In addition to that, however, German speakers seem to have some kind of intuition of what gender a word should have based on looking at it — even though German is much, much less regular in this respect than the Slavic languages (where everything that ends in a consonant is masculine until proven otherwise), so I can’t readily explain it. Combine these two phenomena, and you might be able to explain why sometimes the same English loan has different genders within German (often Germany vs Austria, at least in popular perception).

  16. michael farris says

    Some quick googling shows that some Polish speakers treat ‘story’ as feminine. But the Polish consensus is that story is … neuter.
    I think this might be because it doesn’t take different endings and apart from personal names (and grammatically masculine titles applied to women) a non-declinable noun is normally treated as neuter.

  17. I guess I should have added that “story” doesn’t exist as an established loanword in any register of Croatian, although you might hear it occasionally from kids overeager to import English words into their slang. On the web, I found only a handful examples of its use on Croatian internet forums, and they seem to be split more or less evenly across masculine and feminine gender. In Russian, however, it seems to have firmly established itself as a feminine noun, at least judging by what Google is returning – hundreds of hits for эта стори versus only a handful for *этот стори. (I suppose the latter deserves an asterisk. :-))

  18. That reminds me of the old joke about the Georgian ordering один кофе.

  19. There are many Slavic words which end in a sound other than A and are feminine. Examples from Croatian: kost (bone), milost (mercy, grace), vec”er (evening), noc’ (night), mati (mother) kc’i (daughter), rijec” (word), plijesan (mould – or mold for you Americans), misao (thought), c”adj (soot), us” (louse)…
    I imagine Russian functions the same. So ‘story’ in feminine gender shouldn’t be surprising.

  20. Those words either end in a soft sign in Russian or are masculine.

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