Latest Legislative Lingo Livens Russian Lexicon

You always know when it's time to upgrade your dictionary collection.


Take my 1983 Ozhegov, once considered the best dictionary of Soviet-era Russian that six rubles could buy.


I knew that I had to replace that edition one day a few years ago when I looked up biznes and found the definition "something bourgeois that Lenin occasionally flicked contemptuously from his windshield."


Today, I've decided to unload the whole lot of the rest of my dictionaries. Not one of them can adequately explain my friend Yury's flat, gutteral reaction to a speech by former army general Alexander Lebed, the pugilistic ex-pugilist atop presidential popularity polls: sapog (boot).


Apparently this is the term for the typical military officer: terse, blunt, maybe a little bullheaded. Some suggest that sapog is actually a translation from the English word jackboot.


That sounds like a good guess. Some of the more colorful political terminology seems to be of the borrowed kind. Words such as yastreb (hawk) and golub' (dove) have made the leap into everyday usage, and such obvious calques as autsaider (outsider) and even khardlainer (hardliner) have begun to appear.


Much more interesting are homegrown attempts at political-classification terminology. The weekly Argumenty i Fakty recently divided Russian politicians into three categories, based on their oratory styles.


Vodokachki (water pumps) are the ones who speak in endless, run-on phrases laced in listener-losing metaphors and terminology. The Arugmenty report mentions Yegor Gaidar, although many others are suspect.


The second category, Zazhigalki (lighters), are the firebrands. Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the obvious one here, although it turns out Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky can also light up an audience: "The authorities excite the people like a man excites his lover, and then refuse to satisfy them."


Then there are the Ognetushiteli (fire extinguishers), the most prominent representative of whom is President Boris Yeltsin. It's not only Yeltsin's loping, Urals patois, generously spiced with lengthy shtaa's and ponimayesh's, that make the listener forget the first part of the sentence by the time the second part comes around.


The prez also has the bad habit of referring to himself in the third person. "We can be fairly sure that in confessing his love," the Argumenty i Fakty report says, "Yeltsin would say: Rossiyanka, prezident lyubit tebya." ("Russian woman, the president loves you").


You could look it up.