May 01, 2011

Less than PC Russian

Less than PC Russian

The domino revolutions in the Middle East got me thinking about the word “Arab” (арап), along with some other less-than-politically-correct Russian colloquialisms. Even if one never intends to use such terms, it is important to understand their meaning and usage.

Quite often in Russia someone will blurt, “Ты на арапа меня не бери!” (“Don’t try to pull a fast one on me!”) This idiom jumped into the Russian mainstream from thieves’ slang some time ago, and now брать на арапа has become a multipurpose idiom. It means to act rudely and arrogantly (i.e. грубо и нагло), to exert pressure, often by way of a ruse. It can also mean to cheat in card games, to force a suspect to plead guilty on false evidence. Nice general translations are “to pull a fast one” or “to take someone for a ride.”

But what do Arabs have to do with it? In fact, nothing. This old word арап (note that it ends with a п not a б), according to Ushakov’s authoritative dictionary, has two meanings. АРАП 1. Негр, вообще чернокожий 2. Плут, обманщик, пройдоха. (1. A negro, a black. 2. A rogue, a rascal.)

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