June 01, 1999

Swearing, by Japanese God!

Swearing, by Japanese God!

The Sun of Russian poetry, Alexander Pushkin, a notorious rake, loved to indulge in linguistic hooliganism. (By the way, the word “Pushkin” is now the latest slang among Russian youth for “cool” – e.g. when someone asks “How was the movie? (or jeans or coat)” the reply is “Oh Pushkin!” instead of “Oh, cool!”) In his lesser-known verses, diaries and private correspondences, the great Russian poet didn’t mince words, often em-ploy-ing a vivid ar-senal of Russian mat (curse words).

In modern re-prints of his works, his countrymen find many omissions or elipses replacing unprintable vocabulary. But then he was Pushkin! (And his verses were “Push-kin” too.) So he could afford linguistically what we, simple mortals, simply cannot.

But we can’t just deprive ourselves of swearing, can we? For it is arguably one of the best ways of letting off steam. And, for those who want to express themselves colorfully, but shun outright obscenity, there are some now traditional mat-surrogates. One of the most popular is the infamous блин (literally “pancake”), which every Russian teenager uses extensively. For all our love for pancake eating, when someone yells “Блин!” all of sudden, he is not voicing an uncontrollable craving for this crisp, porous and fluffy-battered stuff. In fact, блин is a standard euphemism for what “a known Russia basher” (as Western journalist Jean McKenzie once introduced herself) called this “naughty word” that means “whore” (also beginning with a “bl”) and is used “where English speakers normally utter their own favorite four-letter expletive.”

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