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Putin's Comic Slang Doesn't Do Much For His Tough-Guy Image

Published: May 31, 2014 (Issue # 1813)



Photo: Kremlin.ru

Уконтрапупить: (slang) to kill, beat, destroy, etc.

Not much makes me laugh these days, but President Vladimir Putin's use of the word уконтрапупить did. He used it while speaking about the sanctions levied by the West against Russia: Пока все санкции сводятся к тому, чтобы выбрать из моего личного окружения близких мне людей, моих друзей, и их, как у нас в кругах интеллигенции говорят, 'уконтрапупить' как следует, наказать их непонятно за что (So far all the sanctions come down to choosing people close to me in my inner circle, choosing my friends, and, as they say in the intelligentsia, making short shrift of them — punishing them for something I don't know).

The word rang a dim bell in my head, and I eventually found the last time Putin used it. Back in 2011, he said, "Желание попасть на волну и понравиться, и кого-то уконтрапупить, схватить и посадить во что бы то ни стало, показать свою крутизну — это самое простое, что мог бы сделать человек в моём положении" (The desire to catch the wave and have people like you, destroy someone, grab someone and stick him in jail no matter what, show off what a tough guy you are — that is the easiest thing for someone in my position to do).

Now, not being in that position of power, I cannot say what is easy to do. I was more interested in the tough guy image, and with the second appearance of уконтрапупить (also spelled уконтропупить) I decided to do a bit of linguistic investigation.

No one seems to know the origin of the word, but since it first appeared in the 1920s — actually, in 1926 in works by two great writers, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Mikhail Zoshchenko — etymologists think it was related to the various slang words for оппози — er, контрреволюционеры (counter-revolutionaries), like контрики — which I would like to translate as contras but cannot, given the associations with re=cent American history and scandal. Let's call them "counters" instead.

In any case, since оппо-, er, counter-revolution was perceived as a great threat to the new Soviet regime, it makes sense that there would be a slang word for bashing the counter-revolutionaries, which then morphed into meaning "destroy someone as one would a counter-revolutionary."

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Monday, Oct. 20


Amateur pictures from World War I are on display for only one more day at Rosphoto’s exhibition “On Both Sides,” chronicling the conflict through the eyes of observers on both sides of the trenches. The price of entrance to the exhibition is 100 rubles ($2.50).



Tuesday, Oct. 21


The Environment, Health and Safety Committee of AmCham convenes this morning at 9 a.m. in the organization’s office.


Take the chance to pick the brains of Dmitry V. Krivenok, the deputy director of the Economic Development Agency of the Leningrad region, and Mikhail D. Sergeev, the head of the Investment Projects Department, during the meeting with them this morning hosted by SPIBA. RSVP for the event by emailing office@spiba.ru before Oct. 17 if you wish to attend.


Improve your English at Interactive English, the British Book Center’s series of lessons on vocabulary and grammar in an informal atmosphere. Starting at 6 p.m., each month draws attention to different topics in English, with the topic for this month’s lessons being “visual arts.”



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