Хоть горшком назови, только в печку не ставь.
Call me a hot pot if you want, just don’t put me in the oven.
– Russian proverb
If someone tells you that Russians are no good at paying compliments to the fairer sex, don’t take their word for it. Have you never heard a Moskvich call a 50-60-year-old shop assistant девушка (devushka – young lady)? Few shop assistants find this flattering, though, and you might even hear one snap back, “Я тебе в матери гожусь!” (“I’m old enough to be your mother!”), or “Тоже мне девушку нашёл?” (“I don’t see any girls here!”). But what’s a poor muzhik to do? He might call her женщина (woman), but this isn’t very flattering, either. People just don’t know what to call each other any more in the new Russia.
The Revolution of 1917 set itself the task of sweeping away old bourgeois forms of address. The resulting vacuum was plugged on every occasion with товарищ (comrade). As a matter of fact, very few people know that in the 1920’s and 1930’s, there was even a special noun for the female comrade (товарка). The name was so awkward that it didn’t last long.
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