Russian Profanity: Common as #@&!

Long before I came to Moscow, I watched a film called "Rude Boy," sort of a celluloid paean to the punk rock group The Clash.

The entire dialogue sounded something like one phrase I remember from Joe Strummer, the band's tooth-deficient lead singer: "Foggin' it's foggin' none o' yer foggin' business."

I recall wondering if perhaps they had set some sort of world record for quantity of poorly pronounced foul language in the space of 80 minutes.

It turns out that in comparison to the majority of the Russian male population, The Clash are mere rude boys. Wander out to your average Moscow public gathering place and you will hear almost constant profane references to sexual organs, acts and actors.

That is, you would if you understood them. Strangely enough, Russian teachers don't teach those words. They just tell you that there is such a thing as mat (profanity) and that you should never use it.

Once upon a time, this must have been because the Stalinist authoritarian Russian language czars refused to admit that such linguistic deformities existed in the mother tongue. Today, students write dissertations on mat, etymologists put out mat dictionaries, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky tells us that mat should be an essential part of any political campaign. Still, no Russian teacher wants to come out and tell us how to swear.

Maybe the reason for this is that it really sounds bad when a foreigner swears. I knew a certain American whose every second word in Russian was mat. Sounded horrible. There was all of the rudeness of when a Russian swears, but none of that vital, sonorous Russian mellifluousness.

By now, even the patient reader will have figured out that I'm not going to teach you how to swear in Russian either. This paper wouldn't print it if I did.

What you should know is that there is a not-so-innocent abbreviation of the vulgar Russian word for "woman of ill repute." The "B" word -- ask a Russian friend -- is capable of uniting all levels of society, from doormen to rocket scientists, because it contains all emotions: Surprise, happiness, indignation, and just plain ol' bawdry rudeness.

You, too, O Chaste Expat Reader, should be prepared for the doorman at a certain well-known Moscow supermarket managed by people from a country located due north of St. Petersburg to use the "B" word, as he did to me when he said: "It's your b--ing problem if you don't like to leave your b--ing bag in the b--ing locker."

Joe Strummer couldn't have said it worse.