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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foul Words, Slavish Soul

In spite of all the radical changes in politics, economics and ideology that have occurred in Russia over the last 10 years, there are still two areas of everyday life which have proved untouchable -- until now, that is.


The first is the use, or to be precise, the non-use of filthy language in written Russian. Even novelists find themselves continuously harangued if they dare to put swear words into the mouths of the kind of characters who, in real life, would curse constantly. Another sacrosanct area is Russian national pride. Even the bravest individuals cower hypocritically before this sacred cow. Therefore, the recent publication of two books is to be commended.


Professor Tatyana Akhmetova has spent more than 30 years studying the evolution of Russian swear words. But it is only now that she has been able to find a publisher for her abridged Dictionary of Russian Foul Language, Russky Mat. Tolkovy Slovar. Its 300 pages contain more than 3,000 entries which define the etymology and usage of Russian curses and swear words, usually taking examples from common parlance, but sometimes citing such distinguished authors as Alexander Pushkin and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.


Glagol Publishers, which presented the book at the recent Moscow Book Fair, reported that the dictionary was so popular that display copies of it were being filched at a rate of two an hour. If you are hoping to buy a copy, however, it is on sale for prices ranging from 25,000 to 40,000 rubles ($4.63 to $7.41).


Art-Biznes-Tsentr has published a limited edition of The Slavish Soul of Russia, Rabskaya Dusha Rossii, by the controversial American professor of Russian literature Daniel Rancour-Laferriere. Anonymously translated from the English edition, which was published last year by New York University Press, the Russian edition is hard to find in the shops. It is best bought directly from the publishers, from whom it costs 10,000 rubles.