The Economist's language blog, dedicated to "the effects that the use (and sometimes abuse) of language have on politics, society and culture around the world," has catalogued Russian Prime Minister and chief animal wrangler Vladimir Putin's notoriously foul language. He's not quite as obscene (or inscrutable) as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the former KGB officer uses language in keeping with his burly, tough image. The Economist, citing some past Putinisms, says this has simply become part of Putin's public identity:
Mr Putin's speech has been famous ever since he talked about "wiping out [terrorists] in the outhouse", a phrase that now has its own Wikipedia page in Russian, and his suggestion to a French reporter who questioned him about Chechnya to come to Moscow and get himself circumcised "so that nothing grows back". The result is that now, every time he lapses into a slightly earthier register, the press picks it up as further evidence of his thuggish authoritarianism.
The Economist provides a recent example. Asked about Russia's constrictive free speech law, Putin cited British law, using language a bit blunter than might be normal for a head of state:
You need to obtain a permit from the local organs of authority. Got one? Go and demonstrate. If not, you don't have the right. Go out without the right—you get a club on the noggin. That's all there is to it! ... They want to say something. Right? No, really?! To criticise the authorities. In London they've set aside a place for that. Where it's not allowed, they give people a clubbing on their skulls.
Putin further adds a reference that will hopefully make sense to our Russian readers because it makes none to us: "And you know what's good about the modern world? You can say things around the corner from a public toilet and the whole world will hear you, because all the cameras will be there! Say it, and then, calmly, clippity-clop, get yourself off to the seaside!" The Economist concludes by calling such linguistic moments "Putinisms," saying they are "on a par with the collections of Bushisms and Palinisms."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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