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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Chernomyrdin' Keeps Commentators Mum

President Boris Yeltsin may have been seeking a compromise when he named Viktor Chernomyrdin to the post of prime minister, but there are no compromises when it comes to his name.


For Russians, Chernomyrdin is an unusual last name, one that Moskovsky Komsomolets even brashly mocked as "ill-suited" for a head of state.


For foreigners, it is just plain impossible to pronounce.


Divided into its two roots, Chernomyrdin literally means chernaya morda, or "black muzzle". According to the etymological dictionary, myrda is a dialectical form of morda, muzzle, which appeared in the Kaluga and upper Volga regions of central Russia a few centuries ago. Chernomyrdin himself is from the village of Cherny Ostrog, or "black fortress", in the Orenburg region, further south and east.


Perhaps because of the name's meaning, or perhaps because it is rare for urban Moscow, Chernomyrdin has faced scrutiny by the press not only for his policies, but for his name. Disdainful journalists have said that with its clear peasant origins, it simply does not compare with elite surnames like Gaidar, whose grandfather, by the way, changed the family name from the more common Golikov.


Liberal politicians denote the new prime minister's softened approach to reform as Chernomyrdizatsiya - a pejorative reference to Lenin's empty promise to put electricity in every Soviet home elektrifikatsiya vsei strany.


For foreigners, Chernomyrdin is tongue twister enough. Western television commentators, perhaps fearing that they would trip over it while on live TV, instead reported that Yeltsin had nominated a "compromise candidate" for prime minister. But what will they do from now on?


The stress in Chernomyrdin falls squarely on the y sound, one of the hardest in the Russian language to pronounce. Although fairly common - such as in ty, my, or the verb to be, byt - nevertheless perfecting this sound can take years.


If you haven't gotten your pronunciation of the y sound down by now, you'd better start practicing.


The vowel y, which in the business of Russian phonetics is known as an unrounded back vowel, is pronounced with the tongue raised and retracted. A good way to practice, the textbook says, is to pronounce the Russian u, pronounced oo, then spread your lips as if to pronounce i (ee). You should end up with y. Or you will end up sounding like you need to gargle.


Either way, the "y" is easy to swallow in words like ty and my. In Chernomyrdin, it is on show.


So go back to your textbook, for this is the dawning of the age of Chernomyrdizatsiya.