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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cutting the Jibberish in the Cabinet

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??????: sponge; (sl.) empty chatter, jibberish, BS

A couple of years ago during a Cabinet meeting, President Vladimir Putin asked several ministers to explain why health care reforms were going so slowly. The ministers clearly had nothing concrete that they could deliver to the president and tried to ????????? (weasel their way out) with various ????????? (excuses) and other useless ???????? (chatter). They tried to ??????? ??? ????? (to fool; literally, to powder his brain) by talking up a storm, but Putin saw right through it. The president was not happy at all with the ?????????? (talking shop), and in the middle of the Cabinet meeting, Putin scolded his ministers with the phrase "???????????? ??? ??????!" ("Cut the BS!")

The literal meaning of ?????? is a freshwater sponge from which an alcohol-based medicinal solvent is manufactured. The ?????? solvent was popular in the Soviet period to diminish the swelling if you fell or banged into something. Traditionally, after a ?????? (drinking bout) and subsequent ???????? (fight involving a sock to the ?????, a derogatory word for face) with one's drinking buddies, ?????? was a convenient way to cover up the resulting bumps and bruises. This solvent was particularly useful for women if they received a ?????? ??? ?????? (a shiner) from their husbands, who after a burst of passion -- and a few drinks -- decided to put into practice the centuries-old Russian saying: ????, ?????? ????? (If a husband beats his wife, it means he loves her.) Thanks to a timely application of ??????, women were able to go to work the next day with a more or less respectable appearance. As Russian men are beginning to appreciate the concept of women's rights, this expression is slowly but surely losing its direct relevance.

Since the ?????? solvent contained alcohol and was sold for kopeks in every Soviet pharmacy, it was also a favorite cheap standby for ????????? and ?????? (inveterate drunkards). This is why ?????? is also used to describe any low-quality alcohol, such as ??????? (moonshine) or "???????" (tampered, fake; literally, scorched) alcohol that causes an inordinately high number of poisonings and deaths each year.

Instead of saying "???????????? ??? ??????!" Putin could have easily chosen from a dozen expressions that also mean "Cut the BS!" Some of my favorites include:

• ?????? ?????? ???? ? ?????! (literally, Enough of pounding water in a mortar!)

• ?????? ?????????? ?? ??????? ? ????????! (literally, Stop pouring [empty words] from one empty glass into another!)

• Or the slangy ???????? ????! (literally, Pour off some of your water! ???? in this case means empty or filler words.)

To be sure, most Russians adore Putin's ability to express himself ?? ?????? (like the common person speaks). But there are some, however, who criticize Putin's use of colloquialisms in official settings on the grounds that it is not fit for a president of a great power. In my opinion, these linguistic purists are ????????? (overly fastidious people). Putin's Russian is far from the "?????????" (crude, clumsy; literally, having dirty paws) style that often distinguished Yeltsin's or Khrushchev's language, and he is much more colorful than the ???????? (stiff and overly bureaucratic) style of Brezhnev, who was infamous for always speaking ?? ??????? (strictly by reading prepared notes).

In contrast to other Russian and Soviet leaders, Putin's language is refined and educated. At the same time, the president is able to artfully adorn his speech with colloquial phrases, and he is able to pull this off so nicely because he reverts to slang in an official capacity only on relatively rare occasions -- about a dozen times over the past eight years. Thus, the key to Putin's linguistic mastery can be found in the principle: ?????, ?? ?????! (rarely, but right on target!)

Michael Bohm is the opinion page editor of The Moscow Times. Michele Berdy will return to this spot in January.