May 01, 2016

Watch Your Tongue

Watch Your Tongue

Detainees in Russian pre-trial detention are now forbidden from using obscenities or the jargon commonly used among criminals (принятый в криминальной среде жаргон) when talking to each other or the correctional facility staff.

This “jargon commonly used among criminals” is more commonly called феня, as in ботать по фене (talk slammer slang). Interestingly, such jargon didn’t start in jail, although no one is sure of its exact origin. It may have originated centuries ago among офеня, traveling salesmen who sold sundries, as a way for them to communicate without the marks – er, customers – knowing what they were saying.

But now it’s so engrained among “the criminal element” they can barely converse without it. So, to help them – and you, if you end up in jail – here’s a short primer of some common феня phrases and their contemporary literary Russian equivalents.

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