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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

Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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