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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Language Society Plans 'Bite' for Word Butchers

In the basement of the Marina Tsvetayeva museum on a quiet Moscow lane, a small but passionate band of partisans huddled Tuesday evening to plan a guerrilla campaign. Their target: politicians and journalists who butcher the Russian language.


They are called the Russian Philology Lovers Society, and they are angry. For too long, they charge, Russia's television networks, radio stations and print media have degraded the mother tongue. The country's public figures spout vulgarity and underworld slang.


So far, no one has brought the malefactors to justice. But the members of the society, led by their chairman Vladimir Neroznak, announced Tuesday that, beginning in November, they will bestow an honor, or "mark," each month upon the person they feel has done the most to drag the language publicly through the mud.


This honor's title: "Bite Your Tongue."


"I anticipated the announcement of this campaign," said an elderly veteran of the language wars, who watches television infrequently "in protest" against its abuses. In preparation, he carefully studied NTV Independent Television's top news anchor Yevgeny Kiselyov for two weeks.


The mustachioed anchor fared none too well, as the indignant defender of Russian reeled off his favorite grammatical howlers from Kiselyov's "Itogi" program.


Russia has no law, such as the conservative French "loi Toubon," aimed at defending the mother tongue from a wave of borrowings, mostly English. It does, however, have a federal program on the Russian language, adopted in July, which calls for a variety of measures and agencies to stave off attack from without and degradation from within.


The program, like the Russian Philology Lovers Society, heaps blame for the current state of affairs on the mass media. The society's deputy chairman, Mikhail Gorbanyevsky, cited the text of the program with evident approval at Tuesday's strategy session.


"The contemporary mass media have ceased to be a model of written and spoken speech for their readers, listeners and viewers, and this has led to a sharp decline in the linguistic and general culture of the population, especially of the young," the program states, later prescribing a "codex of speech conduct" for journalists.


The media, Gorbanyevsky said, were the "most powerful catalyst" of plunging linguistic standards among "politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats of every rank and stripe."Among the most flagrant violators of speech norms Gorbanyevsky named ousted Kremlin security chief Alexander Korzhakov and former vice president, now governor of the Kursk region, Alexander Rutskoi.


The "Bite Your Tongue" award will be announced to the press at the end of each month, and a copy of the "diploma" will be sent to the lucky bumbler's work address. A motion to send the diploma directly to the winner's home was rejected as "too radical."