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Russian is such a flexible and potent language – it’s only natural that swear words become an essential part of it. Like any part of the language, the swearing lexicon developed over time. The history of swear words is so interesting, even native speakers are not aware of it all. Read on to find out more.
Some theories blame the existence of swear words in Russian on the Mongol yoke, claiming most of them have Mongol-Tatar origins. Despite this widespread belief, history tells us otherwise. The first mentions of swear words in Russian are found on 12th-century birch scriptures, well before the Mongolian invasion.
Many swear words were considered holy and were used in rituals. It was the only time in the year when they were allowed to be used. According to beliefs, certain swear words had the power to summon ancestors.
Although there are not too many “base words” there are so many derivatives. Some estimates calculate as many as 10,000 words that you can create using the already existing words, not to mention all the possible combinations.
Although Russian has a lot of derivatives of existing swear words, there isn’t much original vocabulary to work with. Russian ranks third in the world for its number of swear words in the language. The first place was taken by English and the second by Dutch.
Not all of the words now considered rude and vulgar were always seen as such. For example, certain words referring to genitalia were not considered rude and had common usage. Now they are definitely to be avoided in polite conversation.
There is actually a law in Russia forbidding people from swearing in public places. The fine is 500 roubles. Not a particularly frightening prospect, nor a well-informed law. Russian swear words can still be heard all over public places in most cities.
A scandal broke out when a Russian language teacher in the Saratov region decided to integrate them into his classes. Parents were surprised when their children brought home essays on the usages of swear words.
Allegedly, Communist Party General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev often used expressions not appropriate for public figures. Once in a modern art gallery, he gave his verdict in the most profane manner: “The paintings are sh*t, the artists – *ssh*les.”
Many Russian poets throughout the centuries weren’t shy using the most jarring profanity in their work. Among them are Pushkin, Mayakovsky and Esenin – all three of whom are considered Russia’s greatest. Safe to say those particular poems didn’t make the textbooks.