THE WORD'S WORTH: Cars, Cabs and Carriers: A Colloquial Glossary

Editor's note: This Word's Worth ran in 1994. Nick Allen will be back next week.


There was a time, not so long ago, when people like me never thought about cars. On the few occasions when I emerged from the depths of the metro to go somewhere in Moscow by car, the trip was always quick and the roads bare. There was nothing to think about except what kind of mood the GAI were in that day.

These days, of course, everyone is driving, and you can spend hours stuck on the roads.

This gives us all a lot more to think about, including whether some of the drivers out there actually have licenses or whether they took a single lesson before climbing behind the wheel.

In order not to be driven to insanity by the lunacy of Moscow's road transport, you can turn your hours on the Ring Road into a game by thinking about all the peculiar nicknames cars in this country have.

You have undoubtedly heard of the benzovoz, the gasoline truck you often see set up on the side of the road as an impromptu gas station. But do you know what a chlenovoz or a skotovoz are?

Using the root voz, which literally means carrier, and combining it with chlen (member, or more to the point, Communist Party member), you get a black Volga, the Soviet bureaucrat's rank-and-file sedan.

Skotovoz, on the other hand, from the word skot (cattle), is the proletarian's mode of transport: the rattling, overcrowded bus.

A der'movoz (literally, crap carrier) is a sewage truck, a tsementovoz is a cement truck and a panelevoz carries the ugly blue, maroon or white concrete panels that form Moscow's modern apartment buildings.

The chortling Zaporozhets, the old sedan you see straining to make it up to 40 kilometers per hour, is very aptly named gorbaty (hunchback).

An old Volga or Pobeda (victory) - a near collectors' item in this day and age - is called a myl'nitsa (soap dish) because of its rounded shape.

A little bread or postal truck is called a kabluchok (shoe heel) because of its squat but tall shape. And a station wagon - from the Zhiguli version to the Volvo - is a sarai (shed).

With more and more city buses breaking down and spare parts too expensive to buy, mutanty (mutants) have appeared on the streets: trolleys that run bus lines, and buses that like to pretend they are trolleys.

Once a yellow bus rolled down Kutuzovsky Prospekt's No. 2 trolley route, announcing to startled passengers, "Ya trolleibus" ("I'm a trolleybus"). If a skotovoz is a trolleybus these days, what, then, will happen to the chlenovoz?