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English Words that Came From the Russian Revolution


The amount of news stories referring to collusion or collaboration between the United States and Russia as of recent has done its fair share so as to inspire words like ‘disinformation’ and ‘propaganda’, both of which find their origins in Russian interestingly enough. Aside from the vast numbers of Serfs, Jews, and Slavs that fled Russia from the mid-1800s when Tsar Alexander II granted amnesty to peasants through to the start of WWI, language also made its way into the American English dialect. The following is just a sample of the long list of words and terms in common English use today that originally came from Russian. 

1. Agit Prop

This word is a portmanteau, or a combination of two words: propaganda, the spreading of information for the purpose of helping or harming an institution, person, or cause, from English, and agitatsiya, or agitation, from Russian. The best way to define it is political propaganda spread to the general public through popular media. Though the word has a negative connotation in English, it came out of the post-1917 revolution agitprop theater that sought to inform the masses about communism which spread across Europe and, by the 1920s, came to the United States.   

2. Disinformation

Taking the prefix ‘dis-‘ and adding it to the root word implies something as not or false information. Elaborating a bit more, it can be defined as deliberately and often covertly spreading of rumors in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth. It sounds straight from the English language but the word is widely understood to have come from the Russian dezinformatsiya, meaning misinformation. It was used in Russia as early as 1923 to describe a tactic for the secret police, but it doesn’t gain popularity in the US until the Cold War.

Photo via Pixabay

3. Tsar

The ruler of the Russian empire until 1917. Although from about the middle of the 19th century, the word Czar began to refer to any person of power in a particular sphere of influence outside of Russia. As in “America’s drug czar”.

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4. Intelligentsia

Today the word intelligentsia refers to those who make up the artistic, social, or political elite, however was once used in English only to refer to Russians. Taken from the word  intelligentsiya which itself comes from the Latin intelligentia, it referred to Russian students of the upper social class who studied in the United States.

5. Mammoth

The Russian Mamont came into English as early as the 17th century as Mammoth referring specifically to the elephantine beast, but as the popularity of Russian grew with immigrants in the English-speaking world, the word took on adjective from, meaning anything of immense size.

6. Parka

Originally from the Samoyedic language of the Siberian Nenets, the word parka, literally meaning skin coat, came into English in the 17th century and gradually took on its modern meaning of any hooded jacket. Often used today interchangeably with anorak (annoraaq), a word that comes from the Inuit people, partly defined by being waterproof.

Photo via Flickr

7. Vodka

The colorless liquor which that has helped countless millions make decisions of questionable merit comes from the Russian word voda (water). Vodka was little known in the United States until the mass immigration of Russian Jews brought it to use in their holiday celebrations.

8. Yurt

Once used by the nomadic herders, today is any kind of conical, temporary shelter and comes from the Turkic-speaking areas of Russia. The nomadic herders of the plains developed these skin-over-lattice structures that could be broken down and packed up in a short time to accommodate their wandering lifestyle. Used for millennia across the steppes of Asia, yurts are used today for anything from camping to meditation centers and are generally found everywhere.

While this is only just a brief list of Russian-influenced terms that we use in English, do some research and you’ll be quite happily surprised as to the amount of borrowed words. Das vidanya for now!