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  • Yelena McCafferty

From Tsars to Oligarchs

A language is a living thing. It changes, modifies itself and moves on. Like a sponge, it grasps all of the innovations and finds ways of expressing them. This often happens through borrowing.

In no way can Russian compare to German or French which have deep roots in the English language. Nevertheless, there are quite a few words of Russian origin in English.

Take matreshka (a Russian doll) or samovar (a sort of kettle). They were cloned in English because these words denote traditional Russian things which didn't exist in the English-speaking countries. Balalaika is a Russian national musical instrument.

Very often words of Russian origin end up in English due to political changes or phenomena. Perestroika in the mid eighties, Bolsheviks earlier in the 20th century, or tsars in the imperial times… Another example is intelligentsia, the intellectual elite of the Russian society.

Everyone knows which country vodka comes from and interestingly, on the topic of food and drink, Pavlova, a popular dessert here in England, is named after a Russian ballet-dancer, Anna Pavlova.

Soviet space exploration brought cosmonaut and sputnik into the English language and the recent changes in the Russian society gave us business oligarchs.

Those who happened to visit Russia for leisure rarely forget the banya (sauna) experience at a private dacha (summer-house). Steaming up in a Russian bath-house beaten up by birch twigs and then jumping into a cold river is both enjoyable and refreshing.

The Russians now living in London or in the vicinity call it Londongrad. Hopefully, London will stay London though, as changing the name of the British capital would be going a bit too far…

[Tip: To use our Russian translation service, call us on 0207 0436940 or email]


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