A Limited Vocabulary: It Still Speaks Volumes

According to my favorite weekly, Argumenty i Fakty, Russian parliamentary deputies use an average of only 4 percent of the words available in their native language.

How much is 4 percent of a language? No one knows. They say Pushkin, the poet most Russians consider the measuring stick of linguistic accomplishment, used about 25,000 Russian words.

But Pushkin probably saw no reason to say ishemicheskaya bolezn' serdtsa, the medical term for President Boris Yeltsin's heart ailment, which is the phrase of current-day Russia.

Perhaps a more just measurement is my dictionary, which contains 100,000 words. Still, that leaves the deputies only 4,000 words. Pretty ominous when you think about it.

In case you were wondering, here are 15 of the words lawmakers are using.

As was the case in July, aides refused to diagnose Yeltsin's problem as a simple serdechny pristup, a heart attack. Political allies of the president can never use those words.

Only Yeltsin himself, and his political enemies, are allowed to. Otherwise, what would the electorate think?

Instead, a group of professional apparatchiki -- not doctors -- tell us that all signs are pointing toward vosstanovleniye, the "restoration" of Yeltsin's health.

You may remember that word vosstanovleniye as part of federal authorities' explanation for what they are doing in Chechnya (as in "restoration of constitutional order.")

Let's hope the surgical strikes by Yeltsin's doctor are more accurate than those of his air force.

Still, the aides reassure us. Viktor Ilyushin tells us it's because of the trip to France and the United States and calls the president's character neugomonny, which can mean "indefatigable." It can also mean "one who cannot sit in one place" or "one who does not allow himself or others to rest or relax."

Certainly this latter definition is how Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev sees his boss' neugomonny character. It got so bad for the embattled "Mr. Yes" that before the fateful trip, he had to ask his boss: Yekhat' ili ne yekhat', "Should I stay or should I go?"

Meanwhile, top Communist Gennady Zyuganov assures us that in their quest for power, opposition leaders don't intend to vospolzovat'sya bolezn'yu prezidenta, "to take advantage of the president's illness."

Oh, no, not us, never. Then Zyuganov proceeded to say Yeltsin "should have resigned after the last heart attack." Oh, and Gennady, thanks for reminding the electorate that this was the second serdechny pristup.