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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

Saturday, Nov. 22


Russian Premier League-leaders Zenit St. Petersburg return from the international break to take on Kuban Krasnodar at Petrovsky Stadium this evening at 7 p.m. Tickets for the game can still be purchased on the club’s website, at the Petrovsky Stadium box office or in any of the club’s merchandise stores.



Sunday, Nov. 23


Get in the holiday spirit at today’s Winter Bazzar at the Astoria Hotel. Featuring gifts from around the world such as French eclairs, Dutch cheeses and Indian jewelry, the annual event organized by the International Women’s Club will feature 18 international stands and raise money for charity through the sales of a diversity of products that further illustrate the city’s international connections.



Monday, Nov. 24


Dr. Axel Schulte, Department Head at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Dortmund, Germany, is the featured speaker at the SPIBA Industrial Committee lecture on “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Digitalization of the Supply Chain.” The event begins at 4 p.m. at the Graduate School of Management at 3 Volkohvsky Pereulok and registration is required by Nov. 21 either by emailing office@spiba.ru or calling 325 9091.



Tuesday, Nov. 25


Tag along with AmCham during their “Industrial St. Petersburg” Tour program today. This incarnation of the ongoing series will visit Philip Morris Izhora and include an Environmental Health and Safety Committee meeting.


Find out how to expand your business east during the “Business With China” forum beginning today and concluding tomorrow at the Lenexpo convention center. The largest Russian forum dedicated to business with the Asian giant, topics that will be discussed include logistics, customs clearance, trade financing and many more.



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