Kapital-Shou Invasion And Other Problems

With all the frenetic activity surrounding the upcoming May 8 to 9 Victory Day shindig, some of you might not have noticed the frequency with which one of Russian's most solemn rules is being broken.

The extended noun phrase, that stultifier of English and other languages, has made it into Russian, ending a run of about nine decades of near appositive-free Russian speech.

Noun phrases, until now, have been limited in Russian to geographical names (Moskva-reka, the "Moscow River") or company names "firma Seldom" (note that in cases of brand names, the proper noun is always in those annoying quotes.)

Russian, for all its tendency toward clumsy phrases, would never dare coin "Earth Resources Data Technology Management Center," or the gobbledygook jargon terms you can pick up from reading a Tom Clancy novel or visiting with that noted noun-phraser, former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig.

Lately, however, such non-Russian noun nuggets as Nait-shop, kapital-shou, nait-klub and political-reiting have begun slipping into usage, albeit with a hyphen that marks them as borrowed, foreign terms.

The cruelest blow came from Izvestia. In a recent analysis of the war in Chechnya, the paper noted that the quick-and-decisive conflict the Russian leadership had foreseen had turned into a quagmire, forcing the Kremlin to make a number of hasty, rosy assessments about how well the operation is progressing.

Vmesto blits-krig my imeyem blits-zayavleniya, the paper quipped, dabbling in a bit of German syntax. "Instead of a blitzkrieg, we have blitz-announcements."

Never mind the unpatriotic message, or the irreverent allusion to World War II, especially on the eve of what are sure to be reverent 50th anniversary celebrations. What really ticked people off was the grammar.

"This is not Russian," said a friend who happens to be a hardline nationalist firebrand deputy. "The person who started this should be shot."

Take a number, my friend. As usual with anything post-Soviet that makes people bristle with nationalist anger, noun phrases got their start from perestroika creator Mikhail Gorbachev, whose parting shot was to give the world Gorbachev Fond. He didn't even use a hyphen.

Gorby never did explain why he didn't use any of the available Russian ways of calling his foundation (Fond Gorbacheva, Gorbachevsky fond, etc.). The noun phrase felt good, so he just did it.

As usual, Gorbachev took a lot of heat for his linguistic invention from his more-Russian-than-thou contemporaries, most notably Boris Yeltsin, who once slammed the foundation's name as "not even Russian."

These days, of course, it's "no problem" if you slip into some foreign language now and again.