Espreso. Global

How Ukraine's wartime experience birthed new terms and phrases

Iryna Vyhodyanska
4 February, 2024 Sunday
19:13

The Russian-Ukrainian war that began in 2014, escalating with Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, not only reshaped the life of every Ukrainian but also left an indelible mark on the language

In times of war, language becomes a dynamic and evolving entity, reflecting the collective experiences and aspirations of a people. Ukraine's context has given rise to a unique linguistic landscape where communities carve out their own identities and narratives.

The new expressions forged during Ukraine's wartime experience offers a window into a deeper understanding of its impact on Ukrainian society, politics, and identity, providing context to current events. The creation of new words and expressions encapsulates the unique experiences, emotions, and challenges confronted by Ukrainians and offers insight into the lived realities of those directly impacted by the war.

They also offer a unique insight into the political and social dynamics at play. These terms encapsulate Ukrainian people’s commentary on political ideologies, military strategies, and the behavior of key figures, providing a gateway into the multifaceted aspects of the war, simultaneously showcasing the use of humor and satire as coping mechanisms. 

This article explains the unique linguistic expressions that have emerged from Ukraine's wartime experiences.

Cotton (Bavovna)

This term originates from the prohibition on Russian media using the word "explosion" in reports concerning incidents targeting the Russian army or objects in Russia, Belarus, or territories temporarily controlled by the occupying forces. Instead, they used the word "хлопок" (khlopok), which means both "loud sound" and "cotton". The "cotton" meme first emerged on April 25, 2022, following explosions at a military unit and an oil depot in Bryansk, Russia. When news of the incident was translated from Russian sources using online translators, a confusion of homographs occurred. The translated news erroneously reported that "a powerful cotton was heard before the fire started" leading to the mockery of Russian reports using Ukrainian word "bavovna" (cotton) in meme culture, later becoming synonymous with "explosion".

Somebody had a smoke (in the wrong place)

The phrase "somebody had a smoke (in the wrong place)" is somewhat of a synonym to “cotton”. It mocks Russian propaganda's tendency to blame incidents on trivial causes, such as a stray cigarette. Smoking in the wrong places is the reason the strategic weapons of the aggressor country are getting destroyed, at least according to its official reports.

That is why President Zelenskyy in one of his videos addressed the Russians, asking: "Stop smoking at random. Smoke with precision.”

Ruscism

One prominent neologism is "Ruscism," a term that encapsulates the political ideology and social practices of the Russian state under Vladimir Putin's rule. Combining "Russian" and "fascism," Ruscism highlights the authoritarian tendencies and ultranationalist fervor associated with Russian military expansionism. It serves as a descriptor of the undemocratic system and the cult of personality prevalent in contemporary Russia.

Orcs/Mordor

Another striking neologism is "orcs," drawing inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional creatures. In the context of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, "orcs" serves as a derogatory nickname for Russian soldiers.

The fictional toponym "Mordor" has also found new relevance as a synonym for Russia, drawing parallels between the oppressive regime depicted in Tolkien's novels and the realities in Russia. 

Inthreedays (zatrydni) 

The term "inthreedays" (zatrydni) has its roots in the unrealistic Russian aspirations to conquer Ukraine within a three-day timeframe. Over time, this neologism has developed into a term used to characterize the most impractical, irrational, and futile plans or ideas that stand no chance of being realized.

To shoigu (to pull a Shoigu)

Derived from the name of the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, the phrase "to shoigu" or "to pull a Shoigu" has found its place in Ukraine's war-time lexicon. It describes the act of pretending that everything is fine when, in reality, it is not. The term finds its roots in the speeches and public addresses of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Despite Russia's conspicuous failures, both on the battlefield and in other realms, Shoigu consistently projected an image of unwavering confidence, asserting that everything was proceeding according to plan. 

To macron (to pull a Macron)

In the lexicon of Ukrainian war-time slang, "to macron" embodies a peculiar blend of anxiety and inaction. Inspired by French President Emmanuel Macron's displays of concern during international crises, the term denotes feigned distress devoid of substantive action. When someone "macrons," they wear their worry like a badge, yet fail to take meaningful steps towards resolution.

To chornobaite

Derived from the Ukrainian village of Chornobaivka where Russian troops suffered repeated defeats, the term has become synonymous with making the same mistakes over and over. 

Chornobaivka emerged as a crucial battleground during the war, with the Ukrainian Armed Forces executing successful strikes on Russian positions at the local airfield, instilling panic among the occupying forces. Intercepted conversations revealed that mere mention of Chornobaivka prompted mass refusal among Russian soldiers to advance in that direction. 

As news of these victories spread, Chornobaivka not only gained significance on the battlefield but also in virtual spaces.Urban Dictionary defines "Chornobaivka" as synonymous with "spawn kill" (to kill oneself against a wall). This association is unsurprising, given that Russian troops suffered over 20 repeated defeats in the area.The village became the subject of countless memes, contributing to its widespread recognition in popular culture. The resilience displayed by the Ukrainian forces and the repeated setbacks faced by Russian troops led to the creation of the term "to chornobaite." This verb encapsulates the idea of making the same mistake repeatedly, drawing from the continuous destruction inflicted upon the Russian forces in Chornobaivka.

Gauleiter

The word "Gauleiter," originally used to describe Nazi officials during World War II, has found a new context in the ongoing war. Now employed to refer to collaborationists appointed as leaders of occupied territories in Ukraine, drawing connections between past and present occupiers.

To kadyrov

This neologism, meaning wishful thinking, stems from Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov's habit of exaggerating the role of his troops in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Ukrainians use it to highlight empty talk and baseless claims that are not aligned with reality.

A gesture of goodwill

The term gained widespread attention following its public use by Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary for the Russian leader.

In an interview with French TV journalists, he explained that Russia had pulled back its troops from the Kyiv region as a "gesture of goodwill," with the intention of enhancing the conditions for negotiations with the Ukrainian side. During this period, diplomatic discussions between Russian and Ukrainian representatives were underway in Turkey.

Later on, Ukrainians mockingly called Russian troops’ escape from Kharkiv, Kherson, and other occupied cities and villages of Ukraine a "gesture of goodwill."

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