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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finally, What to Call That Big, Bossy Boor

Last week I talked about how English words become part of Russian vocabulary. This week, I would like to make a few requests for the opposite to happen.


And why not? Mikhail Gorbachev's watchwords, perestroika and glasnost', made it into English usage. A couple of other phrases and words have made it halfway ("refusenik" and "near abroad" come to mind.)


Like all those Anglicisms floating around in modern Russian, some Russian words and phrases have meanings that can't be explained any better by translating them.


I would like to propose several that have no single English equivalent, but that sum up important human phenomena so aptly that the language would only be improved by adopting them:


?Tusovka: a crowd, gathering, group, gang, junta, party, consortium; in short, any time humans congregate, you can call it a tusovka, as in "What's that tusovka doing down on the square?" or "This is Joe. He's from my tusovka."


According to Fyodor Rozhansky's terse but brilliant dictionary of hippie slang, tusovka used to describe the place where local hippies met in a bygone era. Tusovka has since branched out, first receiving widespread international recognition in Artemy Troitsky's brooding work of the same name on "how democracy and perestroika killed the Soviet underground scene." You get an idea of the word's breadth.


?Pokazukha: So often in life, we are confronted with something that looks attractive from afar, but examined up close loses its luster. Here, then, is a word that means just that, and without all the lengthy historical explanations required by the phrase "Potemkin village."


Besides, pokazukha, which derives from pokazat', "to show," is more flexible in usage than its more ponderous cousin, as the following dialogue demonstrates:


"Hey, what do you think about the low inflation in Russia this month?" "Oh, that was just a pokazukha. The IMF is in town."


?Uravnilovka: As northern people have many words for snow and island folk a number of terms for different kinds of tidal waves, so did socialism leave Russia with a word that means "ways of making people look and feel alike."


Far more than "egalitarianism" or "wage-leveling," the spirit of uravnilovka is what's at work when the government embarks on one of its punitive profit taxes or a 60 percent levy on the baby carriage you bring in from abroad.


?Zhlob: The official definition is "a man of huge size and strength," but it has acquired the meaning of "a big, fat, bossy, boorish man." It even sounds bad. How often have you needed a word that does all that?