December 01, 1995

An Introduction to Russian Acronyms

An Introduction to Russian Acronyms

Does your spouse often give you ЦУ? Have you ever had a ЧП in your private life? Do you know how many сексот worked for the ЧК? This installment of SR will help you to answer these and other questions, and to appreciate the flavor − and often the humor − that acronyms bring to the Russian language.

You may already know that ЧК (Cheka) is short for Чрезвычайная комиссия (emergency commission − predecessor to the KGB), but why would a сексот work there? Strange as it may seem, сексот has nothing to do with sex – it stands for секретный сотрудник (a “secret employee,” i.e. secret agent) recruited by the Cheka and its successor, the NKVD, in the 1930s. This acronym became known to ordinary Russians only with the publication of Anatoly Rybakov’s late-1980s novel, Children of the Arbat, with its insights into the goings-on at the Lubyanka − Russia’s inner sanctum of counterintelligence.

A more democratic acronym is the all-purpose ЧП (pronounced che-pah), which stands for чрезвычайное происшествие (emergency incident). Once used mainly by bureaucrats and law-enforcement bodies, ЧП is now utilized in every imaginable situation. For example, an army lieutenant who catches a drunk soldier in his platoon might term the incident a ЧП in his report. The recent launching of a grenade at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is a definite ЧП in the diplomatic sense.

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