The Odd Etymology of the Russian Blog

Here’s a fun example of how technology affects languages, including Russian.

Let’s take the Russian word for “blog”: лытдыбр (lytdybr). It sounds pretty unpronounceable, or at least it must have an unusual etymology. And it does! The origin of this word is the English computer keyboard.

Here’s a picture of my keyboard that I use:

As can be seen, a typical Russian keyboard has two layouts: the Cyrillic, Russian letters; and the Latin-based, English letters. It takes a simple command (by default, Alt Shift) to switch between the two. If I wanted to write in Russian right now, all I’d have to do is push Alt Shift, and смотрите! Я могу писать по-русски! Я хочу писать по-английски, и here we are! It’s really simple to switch between the two layouts.

Too simple, actually.

If I wanted to type the word дневник (dnevnik, “diary”), I would want to type it in the Russian layout. However, if I accidentally set it to type in the Latin alphabet, I would instead type in lytdybr. Looking at the picture above, you can follow each letter in дневник corresponds to the layout of the English keyboard. Д for L, Н for Y, Е for T, В for D, and so on. 

So, the next step in this process. We have an interesting word here, let’s directly transliterate lytdybr into Cyrillic letters . Hence,  лытдыбр in Russian. 

It all most likely started with someone from Russia simply forgetting to switch from the English-letter layout. And with that, a whole new word was introduced.  


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In the News: Ukraine’s Prime Minister Resigns


Earlier this week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned amid pressure and supposed corruption in the Ukrainian government. This is a huge move, as the country is already struggling politically both with domestic and international affairs. As the New York Times states, it is a “move that opened a new period of political uncertainty here.”

It continues:

But the revolution’s leaders soon turned on each other. Although authority is supposed to be balanced evenly between the president and the prime minister, Ukraine’s Western allies eventually sided with Mr. Poroshenko and pushed Mr. Yatsenyuk to step aside.

In recent months, both men had been resisting compromises on appointments and were reportedly thwarting corruption investigations into allies, threatening Western aid.


He emerged as a popular figure, but his support largely evaporated because of various scandals and missteps. A political ally, for example, was forced to resign from Parliament after it emerged that he was under investigation for money laundering in Switzerland.

Mr. Yatsenyuk confronted tremendous challenges as prime minister, not least because of the Russian annexation of Crimea and military intervention in the east during his tenure. Ukraine’s morass of financial problems required a $40 billion international bailout package.

In tackling them, he faced deep suspicions from the public, and from political opponents and allies alike, that he had fallen back on traditions of negotiating back-room deals with Ukraine’s post-Soviet business elite, the oligarchs.

“He couldn’t abandon the former practice of consulting the oligarchs before making decisions,” Yuri V. Lutsenko, the head of the president’s faction in Parliament, said in a telephone interview on Sunday.

As for who will replace Yatsenyuk, the most likely candidate as the next Prime Minister is Volodymyr Hroysman, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament. Most importantly, he is an unassuming ally of Ukrainian President Poroshenko. This will easily solve any conflict that may have arisen when Yatsenyuk was Prime Minister, as both President and Prime Minister will be allied together, making a stronger executive branch.

However, only 38 years old, some worry that Hroysman may be too much of a fresh face to become Prime Minister, having only been appointed the chairman of the Rada in November 2014.  Prior, he was the mayor of Vinnytsia, a town of 300,000 people, from 2006 to 2014. Not exactly a long time to prepare for such a role in a struggling country.

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Similarities and Differences of the Slavic Languages

Here’s less politics and current news and more linguistics and languages.



From the people at The Linguist is a wonderful article about the similarities between the Slavic languages, such as Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, and so on. How do these languages compare to each other, similar to how the Romance languages compare?

Two paragraphs in particular jumped out at me, and I really suggest you take a look at the rest of the article in the link above for more:

There are minor differences between Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and so forth, but they are remarkably similar in terms of grammar. Their grammars are at least as similar as the grammars of  French, Spanish and Italian. So they’re grammatically very similar; however, quite different when it comes to vocabulary; more different than Spanish is from Italian or from French. In a way, in terms of vocabulary, the sort of outlier, the one with the largest lexical difference or distance seems to be Russian. In other words, I found that Czech, Polish and Ukrainian in terms of their vocabulary were closer together. Although perhaps grammatically Ukrainian is closer to Russian, and certainly in the writing system they use. It is, in fact, a form of Cyrillic.

The reasons for this, of course, are all historical. There was nothing that said over a thousand years ago when the early Slavs were breaking up wherever they were that there would be these divisions that we have today. There were influences like the Orthodox Church and Church Slavonic. There was the impact of the Mongol invasions, which meant that the original eastern Slavic nation built around Kiev, Kievan Rus’, split up and so you had Muscovy up north. Then the southern part of the Kievan Rus’ was increasingly under the influence of Poland or the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and so they developed more as part of that political entity. In fact, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had a lot more Ukrainians and Belarusians in it than Lithuanians. The Lithuanians were not numerous and the Lithuanian leadership gradually spoke more and more Polish as it became the dominant language.

The history of languages and how they developed into their modern forms shows not only the culture of each nation, but its relationship and influence with others.

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From Lenin Street to Lennon Street to … Slovyans’ka Street

As an update to this post:

Local residents and authorities recently refused to rename the Ukrainian street in Kalyny after the Beetles co-founder, as a nationwide trend to desovietize the nation. Formerly, the street was named after Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. As this obviously would not hold ground for a post-USSR world, the administrative leader of the district, Hennadiy Moskal, wanted to name it after John Lennon.

The people said no, and instead it will be renamed Slovyans’ka, named after a city in the Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine, which is most controversially in the news for being the front lines in the Ukrainian crisis.


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In the News: Vladimir Putin and Rupert Murdoch’s ex wife are “serious”?

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ri

Of course I have to put this picture

The Boston Globe opens this rumor succinctly: “No, it apparently isn’t an April Fool’s joke.”

It continues:

Russian President Vladimir Putin is dating Wendi Deng, the ex-wife of billionaire media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Us Weekly, which isn’t famous for breaking news involving the heads of state, says Putin, 63, and Deng, 47, are “serious.”

Putin was married for 30 years to Lyudmila Putina, with whom he has two grown children. It’s not clear exactly when the couple separated, but the Kremlin confirmed their divorce in 2014.

Deng, meanwhile, was married to Murdoch from 1999-2013. They split amid reports that she was getting too cozy with former British prime minister Tony Blair. (A spokesperson for Blair later denied the affair.)

The 85-year-old Murdoch didn’t stay single long. After Deng, who was his third wife, the media mogul started dating — and has since married — Jerry Hall, the former model who was Mrs. Mick Jagger from 1990-99.

Got all that? Us Weekly says Deng and Putin have “yet to be spotted looking romantic.”

What’s the Russian word for “canoodle”?

(The Russian word for canoodle is ласкаться (laskatsya), meaning “to caress.” The More You Know™.)

This will more than likely be laughed off by most media agencies as nothing more than tabloid-like rumors and hoaxes. After all, the Boston Globe noted, Deng was rumored to be interested in Tony Blair as well.

If, by some odd twist of reality, this were true, what happened to Putin’s previous girlfriend, gymnast Alina Kabaeva, who was one of the six torch bearers during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia? The next year, in early 2015, there were rumors that she was pregnant with Putin’s child, which the Kremlin immediately denied.

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Trade a Ukrainian Pilot for Terrorists? U.S. Says No

As the Nadiya Savchenko drama continues to unfold (click here and here to catch up), we have yet another update. However, it doesn’t actually get us anywhere.

Image: Arms Trafficking Suspect Viktor Bout Arrives In New York

Viktor Bout, extradited to the United States, 2010

From The Moscow Times:

President Vladimir Putin might like to trade convicted Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko for Russian nationals imprisoned in the United States, but such an exchange is not being considered by the White House.

The fact that the Kremlin is negotiating the exchange of Savchenko for two Russian nationals currently held in U.S. prisons was voiced by Interfax’s source Tuesday. The report was immediately denied by U.S. officials in Moscow and Kiev.

Spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow Will Stevens told the RBC news website on Tuesday that Washington was not even considering the exchange of Savchenko for Russian nationals imprisoned in the United States.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Jeffrey Payette called the offer “ridiculous,” the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The United States insists that Savchenko has been convicted illegally and should be released without any conditions — according to Minsk agreements.

The Kremlin’s maneuver to trade Savchenko was serious, foreign policy expert Vladimir Frolov told The Moscow Times on Tuesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brought up the Kremlin’s interest in releasing Russian nationals from the United States during U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Moscow last week.

“Kerry said Yaroshenko was convicted of involvement in drug trafficking. Neither Yaroshenko, nor [Viktor] Bout was engaged in such business, therefore, we are convinced that the sentences were absolutely disproportionate,” Lavrov said at a press conference last Thursday, following talks between Russia and the United States.

Read the rest there.

It is an unusual request, given the highly political nature of the arrest, imprisonment, and conviction of Nadiya Savchenko, to request two non-political criminals in exchange for a political one. Of course, as the article notes, this was an old Soviet technique – trade spies for dissidents. Perhaps the Russian Federation wishes to go back to those maneuverings.

If this report is true, which it may not be, then it is a complete reversal of President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov (as reported in one of my previous posts). From “she will serve her sentence, she is a criminal” to “we will trade for Russian criminals in the US” in less than a week is certainly something to note here.

And if this report is true, then we have no further progress than we did a week ago. In no way would the US support the trade of a drug and arms traffickers. If Savchenko is to be traded, it won’t be for those two. For one, Viktor Bout, who received 25 years in prison in 2011, was found guilty of selling weapons to terrorist organizations. Not exactly a light accusation.

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Music Monday: “We Sing the Russian Alphabet”

The Russian alphabet has thirty-three letters: ten vowels, twenty-one consonants, and two “signs” that indicate the sound of the preceding letters in a word (translated to the “hard sign” and “soft sign”).

Using Cyrillic letters, developed by Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century, the current version of the Russian alphabet is actually pretty simple to master once you recognize the letters. There are a few letters that directly match the English alphabet; others look like English letters, but have different sounds; some letters are completely foreign to the Latin script. But it isn’t as intimidating as some may think.

Here is a song on the Russian alphabet, which gives the names of each letter. I’ll write out each letter (uppercase and lowercase), the name of the letter, the sound that they make, and an example of that sound in English.

Аа …….. ahh  …….. /a/ …….. father
Бб …….. bey …….. /b/ …….. beach
Вв …….. vey …….. /v/ ……..  very
Гг …….. gey …….. /g/ …….. game
Дд …….. dey …….. /d/ …….. day
Ее …….. yey …….. /yey/ …….. yes
Ёё …….. yo …….. /yo/ …….. yogurt
Жж …….. zhey …….. /ʐ/ …….. measure
Зз …….. zey …….. /z/ …….. zoo
Ии …….. ee …….. /i/ …….. feed, seat
Йй …….. ee kraskaya …….. /j/ …….. toy,
Кк …….. kah …….. /k/ …….. cat, kangaroo
Лл …….. el …….. /l/ …….. lime
Мм …….. em …….. /m/ …….. mom
Нн …….. en …….. /n/ …….. nun, name
Оо …….. oh …….. /o/ …….. ocean, more
Пп …….. pey …….. /p/ …….. pay
Рр …….. err …….. /r/ …….. running
Сс …….. ess …….. /s/ …….. sun
Тт …….. tey …….. /t/ …….. tan
Уу …….. oo …….. /u/ …….. soon
Фф …….. eff …….. /f/ …….. fun
Хх …….. xhah …….. /x/ …….. loch
Цц …….. tse …….. /ts/ …….. sits
Чч …….. chey …….. /č/ …….. chip
Шш …….. shah …….. /š/ …….. ship
Щщ …….. shchah …….. /šč/ …….. fresh cheese
Ъъ …….. tvyordey snahk …….. (no sound)
Ыы …….. eey …….. /eey/ …….. roses
Ьь …….. myakey snahk …….. (no sound)
Ээ …….. ey …….. /e/ …….. met
Юю …….. yu …….. /ju/ …….. youuse
Яя …….. yah …….. /ya/ …….. yard

Note that the letters Щщ and Ыы have no exact English equivalent sound, so the examples I use are approximate.

After the alphabet, it is sung:

“Я последняя стоит, вот весь русский алфавит
Алфавит, алфавит… буквы тридцать три хранит
Песню мы про них поём, буквы вместе узнаём.”

“Я” stands at the end, here’s the whole Russian alphabet
Alphabet, alphabet … it keeps thirty three letters.
We sing a song about them, to learn the letters together.”

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