The Four Curse Words You Can't Say in Russia

The news: It's now illegal to swear in Russia. Seriously.

A new Russian anti-swearing law, which President Vladimir Putin approved in May, will censor televisions, plays, books and articles, and fine individuals and businesses for cussing. People caught swearing in public could be fined up to 2,500 rubles (nearly $73), while businesses could be fined up to 50,000 rubles (about $1,460).

The law's tenets include a ban on (and fines for) films that contain swear words and obscenity labels and sealed packages for books with crude words. Izvestiya reported that the country's media watchdog Roskomnadzor plans to track down obscenities in online publications and comments using a search program, also known as the "swear-bot." The Russian government claims the move is necessary to promote "the protection and development of linguistic culture."

The words: The four big words being censored are khuy, a slang term for male genitals; pizda, which translates closely to "cunt"; ebat, which means fuck; and blyad, which translates to "whore."

But there's a whole, fascinating form of underground Russian slang called mat, which is centuries old. Catherine the Great banned blyad and Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol was censored for using a word that rhymed with pizda. The Soviet Union drove mat underground, only re-emerging in public discourse after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin, for one, has praised the Russian Orthodox Church and social conservatives for their moral authority against "genderless and infertile" Western values.

This might come as a surprise to Russian cultural experts who note prolific swearing in works from Alexander Pushkin to Vladimir Sorokin. Writer Viktor Yerofeyev once noted that Russians swear so regularly that "the syllables blya-blya-blya and yob-yob-yob echo through the air above Russia like the bleeps of a sputnik." Reuters claims that a "dictionary of Russian swear words lists over 1,200 different phrases that use a single slang term for 'penis'."

Mother (Russia) state: Russia is simply getting more authoritarian. The shift in government attitudes in the past few years has surprised many Russians and is being driven by archconservative ideals.

"If people are allowed to do everything they want, we would return to the Stone Age," Mikhail Degtyaryov of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party told AFP. Swearing probably wasn't a grave concern of our prehistoric ancestors. What is more concerning is censorship: That's a true return to fascism.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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