Soviet phraseology

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Soviet phraseology, or Sovietisms, i.e., the neologisms and cliches in Russian language of the epoch of the Soviet Union, has a number of distinct traits that reflect the Soviet way of life and Soviet culture and politics. Most of these distinctions are ultimately traced (directly or indirectly, as a cause-effect chain) to the utopic goal of creating a new society, the ways of the implementation of this goal and what was actually implemented.

Clearly the topic of this article is not limited to the Russian language, since this phraseology permeated all national languages in the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Russian was the language of "inter-nationality communication" in the Soviet Union (although it was declared official language of the state only in 1990.[1]), therefore it was the major source of Soviet phraseology.


The following main types of Sovietism coinage may be recognized:[2]


An initial surge of intentional word coinage appeared immediately after the October Revolution. The declared goal of Bolshevik was "to abolish the capitalist state with all its means of oppression". At the same time, the instruments of the state were objectively, necessary, and they did exist, only under new names. The most notable example is People's Commissar/People's Commissariat which corresponded to minister/ministry (and in fact the latter terms were restored in 1946).

Soviet political humor

Ben Lewis wrote in his essay,[3] book,[4] and film[5] (all titled Hammer & Tickle) that "Communism was a humour-producing machine. Its economic theories and system of repression created inherently funny situations. There were jokes under fascism and the Nazis too, but those systems did not create an absurd, laugh-a-minute reality like communism."

Soviet people coined irreverent definitions for their leaders. "Mineralny sekretar" was a nickname for President Mikhail Gorbachev (due to his anti-alcohol campaign). "Kukuruznik" referred to Nikita Khrushchev.

See also


  1. "ЗАКОН СССР ОТ 24.04.1990 О ЯЗЫКАХ НАРОДОВ СССР" (The 1990 USSR Law about the Languages of the USSR) (Russian)
  2. V. M. Mokiyenko, T.G. Nikitina, "Vocabulary of the Sovdepiya Language", St. Petersburg, Folio-Press, 1998, 704 pp. (В. М. Мокиенко, Т. Г. Никитина. Толковый словарь языка Совдепии. СПб.: Фолио-Пресс, 1998. - 704 с.) (Russian)
  3. "Hammer & tickle", Prospect Magazine, May 2006, essay by Ben Lewis on jokes in Communist countries
  4. Ben Lewis (2008) "Hammer and Tickle", ISBN 0-297-85354-6 (a review online)
  5. Hammer & Tickle on IMDb

Further reading