. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

METRO DEARY: Catchwords Best Forgotten




1. Sort of. "Kak by," or "sort of," is not even a word but a parasitical conjunction that sort of expresses, or perhaps does not express, a thought. It sort of makes conversation easier. The "sort-of" epidemic in Russian speech has powerful social and psychological roots and is a direct consequence of the instability and unreality of all of life here.


We sort of have salaries (judging by the amount and frequency with which they are paid), a sort of stability, a sort of rule of law, a sort of reform, a sort of president and so on. The television host Alexander Gurnov, in order to do away with this despicable figure of speech, instructed everyone on his staff with an urge to say "sort of" to replace the phrase each time with an unprintable Russian word beginning with the letter b. This immediately helped, especially in conversations with women. But has our life become any better because of this?


2. Concrete. In the ocean of new Russian precariousness there is only one archipelago of stability: organized crime. Here everything is clear: You don't have the money, we'll turn on the timer; time is up, a bullet in the forehead. This is concrete. To a certain degree, "concrete" balances the abstractness of "sort of." In the same way, the mafia and government are concretely and sort of two sides of the same coin.


3. Sequester and redenomination. This is a unique aspect of the Russian way of life: Words that are not in every dictionary of foreign terms have suddenly become part of common speech. Sequester and redenomination are for us like laborer and collective farm work, partridge and turtledove or thunder and lightning.


4. Sanitary napkins and cavities. Religion was once the opium of the people. Now religion is the "opium for nobody," as the song of a well-known rock group goes, and the opium of the people is television. The key to understanding the yin and yang of television is sanitary napkins and cavities. They act according to the irrefutable principle of the carrot and the stick: They scare you with the threat of cavities from morning until night, and sanitary napkins save you on critical days. And for an average Ru ssian, critical days come about 360 days a year, regardless of gender. There is a well known case when a Russian male citizen bought Tampax instead of Snickers for a snack and was somewhat disappointed.


5. Virtual. If television is the opium of the people, then the opium of intellectuals is the Internet. With the help of this invention of scientists and the Central Intelligence Agency, simple, but educated, people can emigrate from their native country without leaving home. We in real space do not see or hear those who have done so, and those who pretend to, use the word "virtual" in vain. No one knows what this word really means. Thus, the more dimwitted a person is, the more often he pronounces it.


6. Killer. Judging from opinion polls, this is the second most popular profession (after disk jockeys and before bankers) among Russian high-school students. The work is truly rewarding: good pay, trips abroad, etc. But the main thing is that it's safe: Bankers can be killed, disk jockeys can get bottles thrown at them; but a killer, if he is not rubbed out by one of his own, can serve a business until old age, read about his successes in the newspapers and think about his memoirs.


7. Discharge. I have in mind the discharge of sleaze that is essentially a form of political therapy similar to bloodletting. If a government leader has a falling out with one of the goodfellas, takes too much, doesn't share, there is a discharge of compromising material against him on television and in other media.


8. Honorarium. Even this old, kind, warm and pleasant word has taken on a sinister ring. The temperamental young ministers who got mixed up with dishonest bankers got honoraria. Now they are trying to cure themselves as best they can. The moral: Young reformers should be prepared for a discharge of sleaze.


9. Nonpayments, wage arrears. There are various ways of putting this, but the words have only one meaning: You work, and they don't pay you. Thanks to this, another popular New Russian phenomenon is flourishing: when someone doesn't work much or works at a modest government job and regularly receives money in the form of bribes, percentages, commissions, honorariums, etc.


10. Hostages. A majority of us are hostages in our own country. Some are kept hidden in basements, others simply live in Russia. The first kind of hostage should simply be paid for and, God willing, set free. And we, hostages of our own nasty powers-that-be and their system, pay for it all ourselves -- and without any noticeable change of fate. Perhaps in the year 2000.