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A.Word.A.Day--ukase

Guest Wordsmith Rudy Chelminski (rudychelminski at aol.com) writes:

It was only a dozen years ago (March 14, 1990) that Mikhail Gorbachev was elected to the presidency of the USSR, but it already seems an eternity, considering the tremendous changes he unwittingly set off by his efforts to modernize his regime.

When I was living in Moscow as a correspondent in the early seventies, no one had the slightest idea that the entire communist edifice could collapse as rapidly as it did after Gorbachev's well-intentioned tinkerings.

In those days the best brains of the West were expending a vast amount of imagination (not to mention cold cash) trying to elucidate the mysteries of the inner circles of power behind the great brick walls of Red Square. The political science of choice was then known as Kremlinology.

Moscow was the capital city not of what we call Russia today, but of the USSR -- the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics -- and most of the Russian language words with which we were familiar were derived from the Marxist-Leninist "newspeak" which dominated everyday life, and which George Orwell had caricatured with such devastating accuracy in "Animal Farm" and "1984."

Over the last dozen years an entirely new vocabulary, reflecting the realities of the new, semi-democratic state, has consigned the old political jargon to the dustbin of history. But let us not forget that long before either of these Ivan-come-lately regimes had appeared on the world stage, a third set of politico-economic realities had spawned a far greater culture with its own rich vocabulary for our borrowing -- the eternal Russia of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Turgenyev, Chekhov and many others. This sampling of Russian words dips into all three of these historical periods.

(This week's guest wordsmith, Rudy Chelminski, is an American freelance writer living in France.)

ukase (yoo-KAYS, yoo-KAYZ, YOO-kays, YOO-kayz) noun

An arbitrary proclamation or order; edict.

[After ukaz, a decree issued by a Russian czar having the force of law. From French, from Russian ukaz (decree), from Old Church Slavonic ukazu (proof), from ukazati, from u- (at, away) + kazati (to show).]

"Guardian journalists are to be discouraged from signing petitions, speaking at public meetings, joining marches or, heaven forbid, standing for parliament, a ukase that would have dramatically affected the political ambitions of C P Scott, Morgan Phillips Price, Lena Jeger, Martin Linton, Polly Toynbee, Malcolm Dean, Christopher Huhne and, indeed, the present writer." Richard Gott, The Lost Magic of Manchester, The New Statesman (London), Jan 28, 2002.

X-Bonus

There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write. -William Makepeace Thackeray, novelist (1811-1863)

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