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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Kidnaps Phrases For Indescribable Crime

The spiral of crime is changing the way Russians speak.


Such terms as stal'niye dveri (steel doors), pitbul' (pit bull) and gazovy ballonchik (mace) have become common household words.


Not only that, but these days the word terakt, short for terroristichesky akt and once used only in reports from abroad, is a staple of the daily national news.


The announcement last week of one particular terakt is what caught our eye here at the Word's Worth. Itar-Tass quoted police as saying that operativniki, or undercover police, had arrested a gang that had held an infant girl hostage for a month in an attempt to extract a large ransom from her wealthy father. It was the first time in Russia a baby was the victim of a kidnapping.


The title of the Itar-Tass communique was Kidnepping.


Why would Russian, which already has its own word for "kidnapping" -- pokhishcheniye -- need to borrow an English word? One reason might be that the crime has taken on the terror proportions that people once associated only with life beyond Soviet borders. Before 1992, we heard pokhishcheniye used more often to refer to the annoying local wedding ritual of stealing the bride.


A far more serious crime than pokhishcheniye in those days was khishcheniye gosudarstvennogo imushchestva, the embezzlement of state property, which, depending on the amount of property embezzled, could carry capital punishment (vyshiye mery nakazaniya). Luckily for all those biznesmeny who struck it rich after the fall of the Communist Party, the authorities stopped enforcing that law several years ago.


Unluckily for everyone else, the post-Soviet gold rush has produced forces to replace the Party as the owners of everything, and not all of them have something to do with the free market. There are bossy, reketiry and mafiozy, again words all borrowed from the outside world. There are vory v zakone (thieves in law) and pakhany (crime gang leaders), homegrown words that have emerged from their traditional place in slang dictionaries and are now mainstream media terminology.


There are korrumpirovanniye chinovniki (corrupt officials) who work in the korrumpirovanny apparat (corrupt state bureaucracy), who do their backstage deals with what one legislator called teneviye gruppy mafioznogo kharaktera (shadowy groups of a mafia character).


To put a stop to all this, President Boris Yeltsin has issued a decree with the typically unwieldy appellation O zashchite naseleniya ot banditizma i organizovannoi prestupnosti (On the Defense of the Population from Banditry and Organized Crime).Yeltsin did not coin the term banditizm, but the name of the decree certainly put the word on the tip of everybody's tongue.