9 Russian Loan Words
When I was a little kid, the animated (cartoon) movie version of Anastasia came out in theaters and it quickly became one of my favorite movies. (To this day, I can still sing along to (sing with) all of the songs.) Ever since Anastasia came out, St. Petersburg, Russia has been (Present perfect tense!) on my bucket list of places to go. So, you can say that I’ve always had an affinity for Russian loan words in English.
Loan words are an important part of the English language, since English is a language that has grown and changed over the years by taking words from other languages. English has taken many words from Latin, French, Spanish, the Scandinavian languages, and Russian. For more on Russian loan words in English, keep reading!
In the era of fake news, it’s more than likely that the word disinformation has also been tossed around (used a lot). But did you know that this is originally a Russian word?
Disinformation is a literal translation of the Russian word dezinformatsiya, or misinformation, and is information that is deliberately and secretly spread in order to influence public opinion and/or obscure the truth.
So in other words… fake news.
As I said above, I’m a huge fan of the movie Anastasia, so I had to include the word Czar in this list. One of the most famous czars was Czar Nicholas II — the father of Anastasia.
A czar is someone who has a lot of power or authority, but originally comes from the Old Russian tsĭsarĭ, meaning “emperor.”
It probably comes as no surprise that the nation who produced such great literary works as War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Doctor Zhivago also came up with the word intelligentsia.
The intelligentsia is a group of intellectuals who form (make up, create) an elite group in society, be it (for example) artistic, social, or political. Intelligentsia, as we know it in English, comes from the Russian word intelligentsiya. And let me tell you (Believe me…), there’s nothing quite like reading a novel written by the Russian intelligentsia on a snowy, cold winter’s night.
Speaking of snowy, cold winter nights, the word parka also is a Russian loan word. While actually coming from a Samoyedic language of Russia, Nenets, parka originally meant “skin coat,” being as (since, as, because) it was a coat made from animal skin.
Nowadays you’re not likely to find an animal fur parka at T.J. Maxx, however, you’ll probably find a thick winter coat that we call a parka there.
Did you know that the word mammoth originally comes from the Russian word mamont? If you think about Woolly Mammoths, it makes a certain amount of (some, obvious) sense, since they wandered around icy, cold, northern regions during the last Ice Age.
If something is mammoth, whether woolly or otherwise, it is something massive, huge, or immense in size.
Vodka is probably the most obvious of the Russian loan words on this entire list. But what list of words with Russian origin would be complete without it?
The English word vodka comes from the Russian word voda, meaning “water.” And while some vodka has led to many a questionable decision on a night out, my grandfather had some vodka every night, saying that it’s what contributed to his long life (he was 92 when he passed away (died)).
Pogrom is definitely not one of the most pleasant words in the English language, however, it comes from Russian and is important to add to your vocabulary. A pogrom originally referred to the violent persecution of Jews, but has now come to mean any officially sanctioned (support, approve) attack on a particular group of people. Pogrom comes from the Russian word pogrom, meaning to destroy, wreak havoc (ruin, destroy), or demolish violently.
Last year, my family found out that one of my ancestors most likely left Germany due to a pogrom against Jews in the 1800s, which really surprised us.
Have you ever heard of someone wearing a thick, sable coat? The English word sable comes from the Russian word sóbol, which is a small, carnivorous (meat-eating) mammal (similar to a weasel) that has thick, warm fur.
Sable coats are generally very warm and very expensive, so I always picture them being worn by very fancy people.
Finally, we have the Russia loan word samovar. A samovar is a thick metal container used to boil water and make tea in Russia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and some parts of Central Europe.
Samovar comes directly from the Russian word samovar, and historically was a highly important part of the Russian household. Some samovars are very ornate (fine details, decorated) and beautiful, so it’s no wonder that people prized (treasured, valued) them and loved using them.
Do you know any Russian loan words that didn’t make our list? Share them with us in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and really enjoyed re-learning her parts of speech! How many did you already know? Do you think you could analyze a sentence?