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Russian loanings into English
Thread poster: sharolga
Local time: 11:46
Jan 23, 2009

I am having a school assignment. It’s known that about 70% of English words are borrowed from different languages.
We are to discover
 if Russian words were borrowed,
 when it was,
 why,
 if people in English-speaking countries know them (who use them, when)?
Could you fill in: (if you know the meaning the words, please, explain).
(from the dictionary) It means…
1 Babushka
2 Balalaika
3 Banya
4 Bistro
5 Bolshevik
6 Duma
7 Glasnost
8 Gulag
9 Kasha
10 Kozachok
11 Kremlin
12 Kvass
13 Matryoshka
14 Perestroika
15 Ruble (Rouble)
16 Samovar
17 Shchi
18 Soyuz
19 Sputnik
20 Stalinism
21 Taiga
22 Tovarishch

If you know any other Russian words, please write down.
Thank you.

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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:46
French to English
+ ...
A few more Jan 23, 2009

I knew all the ones you mentioned apart from "kozachok" (I won't write the meanings in here because you already know them and I'll be up all night otherwise!) However, I have studied Russian so I have a bit of an unfair advantage... Here a few random other words off the top of my head:


I don't know when they were borrowed, though, and most of them aren't very well known. You can find more here:

(Edited) Another few for you: katorga, kibitka, kissel, kolinsky, kumiss (all in Chambers)

As for why they have been borrowed, perhaps you could think about this: do you see any themes that link some of these words (i.e. recurring categories)?

[Edited at 2009-01-24 00:30 GMT]

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Rod Walters  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:46
Japanese to English
Most of them Jan 24, 2009

The ones I don't know are;
3 Banya 9 Kasha 10 Kozachok 12 Kvass 13 Matryoshka 17 Shchi
22 Tovarishch astatki blini chernozem gley podzol tamizdat

Another possible one might be pravda, and the phrase 'na pravda?'

Most of the words seem to be either Cold War words or something that might be found in War and Peace.

Most of them I only use in their original context, which is to say, I hardly need to use any of them much.

However, I might use glasnost in an ironic sense to describe a supposedly free regime (work, family etc.) become a little freer.

I might also refer to the mainstream media as 'Pravda' since they resemble it closely in many ways.

My dad is currently learning Russian for his upcoming summer holiday, and he introduced me to Vini Puh, so I may pick up a bit myself.

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Local time: 03:46
Spanish to English
and Jan 24, 2009

Borscht (Schave, too?) and troika

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xxxJPW  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
You forgot a few... Jan 24, 2009

... "vodka": that's Russian for, er, vodka!

And of course, with that, there's "nahzdrovje", except I can't spell it. Then, when you're hungover, you can just lie in your "dacha" for a day or two.

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sarandor  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:46
English to Russian
+ ...
One more Jan 24, 2009

Tchotchke / chotchke / chachki - pronounced [chahch-kuh] - from Russian 'цацки' (useless trinkets).

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Robert Tucker
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:46
German to English
+ ...
Soviet Jan 24, 2009

and more at:

Also moujik is an alternative to muzhik.

[Edited at 2009-01-24 08:50 GMT]

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:46
Member (2007)
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I certainly don't know and use many Jan 24, 2009

I have absolutely no connection with Russia or the language. Of the ones mentioned so far, I would only use balalaika, bistro, blini, borzoi, vodka and borscht in 'normal' conversation ie not referring to Russia, things Russian or for some reason choosing to use a Russian word. Many in the original list are unknown to me (Nos 3, 10, 12, 13, 16, 17, 21).

I love making (and eating) stroganoff.

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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:46
Flemish to English
+ ...
A try Jan 24, 2009

Peter The Great went to Antwerop to learn about shipping and borrowed/introduced a lot of Dutch words into Russian.I am going to write the words in Dutch, because that is their orgin:
Deur (door), machina (car, ducth meaning: machine), stoel (chair), neus (nose/noz), plaats (in Antwerp you have the "Groenplaats" which would be "zilyonaya plosjitsj (?), in Moscow you have krasnoya plositjs),water (voda), toilet (but that is international), douche (from French/Flemish), whenever a woman talks about "moj musj", she makes me smile, because in Flemish dialect it means : "my cap" (what you wear on your head).
medsistra (medical sister);

A structure from Spanish or is it vice-versa:
oe minja baleed galava
(A mi) me duele la cabeza.

Musjin, Gensjina: le Gent/gens: "people", in Russian they forgot the male half.

from Spanish:

Some structures are the same
(A mi) me duele la cabeza
"Oe minja" baleed galava.

Vd: Vi,
ti: ti,

and a lot of other words which don't come to mind at the moment.

International: In the more intimate sphere : Why they use a typical Russian word for "breasts", but took over "vagina" and clitoris (clitor), I do not know. Menstruation or menstruatjia is another international word which comes to mind.

[Edited at 2009-01-24 10:01 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-01-24 10:03 GMT]

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Paul Kachur
Local time: 10:46
German to English
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Beatnik Jan 24, 2009

Not exactly a loaning, but a "leaning" on Russian words like "Sputnik" from the 1950's, somehow implying that these Bohemian types were part of the "Communist Plot" against America.

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Rod Walters  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:46
Japanese to English
Refuseniks! Jan 24, 2009

Are yes, the ##niks! I'd forgotten about that one.

How many translation test refuseniks are there here? I've used this word sometimes, generally accompanied by agitprop which I employ whenever I become a refusenik.

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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:46
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Explanations Jan 24, 2009

Your initial post implied that you would like explanations of these words, how they are used in both languages, and how well-known they are in English. I'll see what I can do with your original list.

1 Babushka: Grandmother, or elderly working-class or peasant woman. Fairly well known.
2 Balalaika: Stringed instrument not unlike a guitar, but with a triangular body. Fairly well known.
3 Banya: steam bath, particularly a public one. Not widely known
4 Bistro: From Russian Bystro, quickly. Via French ("bistrot"). After the Napoleonic Wars, Russian occupation troops in restaurants in Paris would call out "Bystro!" (meaning "Hurry up!") to the waiters, so restaurants catering for them became known as bistros. But those must have been what we would now call "fast food joints", and modern bistros are not like that.
5 Bolshevik: originally, member of a majority. There were majority and minority factors in the pre-revolution Communist Party, known as bolsheviki and mensheviki. The bolsheviki came out on top and it became a general word for communist. Quite well known.
6 Duma From a Russian word meaning thought, now means parliament. Was hardly known in English before the collapse of the USSR, but as the name of the present-day Russian parliament, it is becoming more so.
7 Glasnost: openness. A favourite word of Gorbachev. Not all that widely known now outside those who take an interest in Russian politics.
8 Gulag: Gosudarstvennoye Upravleniye LAGerey, the administrative body responsible for prison camps. Became known from a book by Solshenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago. Fairly well known in English but just as meaning prison camps.
9 Kasha: a kind of porridge. Not very well known
10 Kozachok: Do you mean kazachok? This is a diminutive of kazak, a Cossack. The word Cossack is very well known in English, but kazak and kazachok hardly at all.
11 Kremlin: Russian is Kreml, a fortress in a town. Only known in English from the Moscow one, known as the Kremlin. I don't know why or when the spelling of the English form was introduced.
12 Kvass: a water-based drink containing fruit, berries and other ingredients. Not widely known in English.
13 Matryoshka: a nesting doll, i.e. several dolls one inside the other. Not all that well known in English, and when it is, usually mispronounced "Matroshka".
14 Perestroika: restructuring. Another one of Gorbachev's favourite words. As for glasnost.
15 Ruble (Rouble): the Russian currency, very well known in English.
16 Samovar: "self-heater", a water heater kept on the boil for the making of tea. Well known in English but always wrongly stressed as sAmovar, should be samovAr.
17 Shchi: cabbage soup. Not well known in English.
18 Soyuz: Union. Sovetsky Soyuz, the Soviet Union. Also a series of spacecraft, and probably better known in English in that meaning.
19 Sputnik: a satellite. Used as the name of the first Russian satellites, and became very well known in English in 1957 when the first one was launched. Still quite well known today.
20 Stalinism: Probably used in English before it was in Russian, to refer to Stalin's political philosophy.
21 Taiga: wild forest land, difficult to penetrate, in Northern European and Asian Russia. fairly well known.
22 Tovarishch: comrade. Well known in English, but not generally realised that it was a greeting used between members of the CPSU and not much outside that.

Now I'll sit back and wait for better informed people to tell me what I've got wrong in the above.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:46
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
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Probable sources Jan 24, 2009

1 Babushka - literature and the Russian immigrant community
2 Balalaika - you'll find an explanation for this in most encyclopedias
3 Banya - that's one I don't know
4 Bistro - through Fr. "bistrot"
5 Bolshevik - probably initially from the press. It had a politically-flavoured meaning after a while, but social science people would also certainly know the Mensheviks.
6 Duma - press
7 Glasnost - press; if you didn't know this in the 80s you were probably a hermit.
8 Gulag - Solzhenitsyn gave it currency
9 Kasha - I don't know that one, but I never was too keen on porridges...
10 Kozachok - not very common; I wouldn't know if it wasn't for Wikipedia...
11 Kremlin - literature, press and tourism
12 Kvass - literature (and probably some experience)
13 Matryoshka - I'd venture to say, markets...
14 Perestroika - press
15 Ruble (Rouble) - literature, particularly travel literature
16 Samovar - literature
17 Shchi - I didn't know that one & had to look it up.
18 Soyuz - press; the meaning (union) was probably not made clear and we had to go the extra mile.
19 Sputnik - press, and you could also add Mir: that leaked out with Tolstoy, but we probably learned what it meant retrospectively with the space station.
20 Stalinism - press, literature & political science
21 Taiga - geography (you'll find the explanation in encyclopedias)
22 Tovarishch - spy literature? It was one of the first Russian words I learned (out of a language book), but it became pretty current in the cold war.

Hope it helps.

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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:46
German to English
+ ...
The most obvious one, surely... Jan 24, 2009


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:46
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Robot? Jan 24, 2009

From a Play by Karel Capek, from the Czech word meaning work. If it had come from Russian, it would probably have been rabot.

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