October 01, 1999

Pulling the Blanket to One's Side

Pulling the Blanket to One's Side

Russian, like any living language, develops according to its own rules. No matter how high the protectionist barriers put up by linguistic purists around so-called “literary Russian,” borrowings from the “less desireable” representatives of Russian society are bound to slip through.

Take the lingo of prisoners. How can one stop Russians from using prison slang when tens of millions of Russians served time under Stalin and when, even now, Russia has the highest per capita prison population in the world? It is no wonder that many idioms that once belonged only in Solovki or Kolyma can now be found in newspaper headlines or heard on the radio.

We hear that our politicians, when forging politicial alliances or holding negotiations, tend to тянуть на себя одеяло (pull the blanket to their side), prison argot for trying to secure one-sided benefits or better conditions for oneself. In fact, in the run-up to the 2000 presidential elections, the whole of Russia looked like an immense blanket which each politician was trying to pull to his side.

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