Newly Coined Word Speaks Volumes About Ukraine

Yale professor explains 'ruscism'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 23, 2022 10:45 AM CDT
Newly Coined Word Says Volumes About Ukraine
Civilians walk past a tank destroyed during heavy fighting in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine.   (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)

As he was reading about Russia's invasion in Ukrainian-language sources, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder kept coming across a new word over and over. The closest he can come to an English translation of the Cyrillic word is "ruscism," he writes in a piece at the New York Times. It "sounds like 'fascism,' but with an 'r' sound instead of an 'f' at the beginning; it means, roughly, 'Russian fascism,'" he writes. All Ukrainians are familiar with it at this point, though it can't be found in dictionaries, "and cannot (yet) be said in English," writes Snyder.

It is no simple coinage, with the six Cyrillic letters of the original containing references to Italian, Russian, and English, and Snyder writes that his translation merely "gestures at the word's origins and meanings." It's an example of complex word play, the sort that Ukrainians engage in daily as they effortlessly switch back and forth between their own language and Russian. "That 'ruscism' is used to describe the enemy has implications for how Ukrainians define their own values," writes Snyder. "It stigmatizes Russia as an invader committing an injustice that can be linked to past injustices, and whose leaders abuse language to hide these basic facts." What's more, its "meaning helps us to see why this war is fought—and why it must be won." Read the full, in-depth analysis of the word. (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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