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Thugs, Rednecks, Nationalists: Understanding Russia's Gopnik Culture

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?“??????????: intolerant, insular thug


Insulting slang words seem to go in and out of fashion — or maybe I go in and out of periods of noticing them. Lately it seems that the word ???????????? and its various derivatives are the new popular pejorative. I thought I knew what ???????????? meant but did some research to clarify, just in case. It turns out that the word is more interesting than I imagined, and I understood it less than I thought.

The first interesting bit is the word itself and its evocative variations. The singular form is ????????????, ???????° or ???????°?€??. You can use the plural forms — ??????????????, ???????‹, ???????°?€?? — or one of the collective nouns, which describe ?????????????? as a kind of undifferentiated mass of redneck humanity: ?????????‚?°, ?????????‚?µ????, ?????????‘, all of which have the stress on the last syllable.

The second interesting bit is the hypothesized origin of the word. One possible source is the onomatopoetic ?????? (a jump, blow or leap). This led to the notion of ??????-???‚???? (a mugging, i.e., jumping someone), ?????????‚?????????? (mugger) and even ?????????‚???? (street crime or violent persecution of someone). In this origin story, ???????????? and his linguistic friends are thugs, petty criminals or crooks.

Another theory is that ???????????? came from the abbreviation ?“????, which before the 1917 Revolution stood for ?????€???????????µ ???±?‰?µ???‚???? ???€???·???€?° (municipal welfare society), a state organization that provided care and shelter to the homeless and poor. Later ?????? was urban slang for a flophouse. This led to the notion of ???????????? as a bum, a homeless person or someone from the dregs of society.

And the third interesting bit is how these two streams of meaning came together and then poured into mainstream Russian in the late 1980s. ?“???????????? became identified with badly educated, lower-class, bigoted thug-like guys who are at the edges of the criminal world. Think poor "Duck ?­Dynasty" without the beards and religion.

And the last interesting bit is how ?????????????? have become a thing. There are sites dedicated to ?????????‚?° lore. ?“???????????? hang out in courtyards. They like to squat (???‚?????‚?? ???° ?????€?‚???‡???°?…), which they call ???° ?????€?‚?°?… or ???° ???°?€?‚?°???°?…. They eat sunflower seeds. They smoke and practice the martial arts. They are nationalistic. They call progressives ???µ????????, ?????????€?‹ and ???µ?‚???…?? (all highly insulting terms for homosexuals), not necessarily because they think they are gay, but because gay is bad. Critical thinking and impulse control are not their forte. In short — your basic nightmare.

?“???????????? tend to be found in urban settings: ???€???…???¶?? ???????»?? ???????·?°?»?°, ?? ?‚???‚ ?¶?µ ???? ?????µ ?????????°?‚?‹???°?µ?‚ ???°??????-?‚?? ?????????°?‚?‹?? ???????????? ?? ???µ???€???¶?µ?»???±???‹???? ???°???µ?€?µ?????????? (Here I am walking by the station, when a drunken bum with malicious intentions lurches toward me).

In the 21st century, ?????????‚?° became ?»?????????‰?°?? (jubilant). First this meant the cheering pro-Kremlin ???°???? (Us) crowds. Then it began to be used to describe any mass of Western-hating, uneducated thugs. ?—?°?» — ?????»???? "?»?????????‰?µ?? ?????????‚????," ?????‚???€?°?? ???????»?µ ???°?¶???????? ???€?????»???‚???? ?? ?°???€?µ?? ?????€?°?????‹ ?? ?“?€???·???? ?€?°???????‚???? ?????????‚???‚, ?…?»?????°?µ?‚, ???°???µ?‚ ?„?»?°???°???? ? ?¤ (The hall was filled with cheering cretins who greeted every curse of Ukraine and Georgia with exultant whistles, clapping, and waving of Russian flags). In Ukraine, ?????????‚?° often refers to the pro-Russian crowd: ???‚?? ?¶?µ ?€?°?·???µ???????°?» ?? ?›?????°???????µ ?€?????????????????µ ?„?»?°????? ? ?????????°?? ?????????‚?° (Who put up the Russian flags in Lugansk? A Russian mob).

?“???????‚?° — a mob to be avoided.

Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is author of "The Russian Word's Worth" (Glas), a collection of her columns.

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