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Mat (Russian: мат, матерщи́на, ма́терный язы́к) is the strongest form of obscene profanity used in Russian and other Slavic language communities. Mat is censored in the media and use of mat in public constitutes a form of disorderly conduct, punishable under article 20.1.1 of the Offences Code of Russia[1], although it is only enforced episodically,[2] in particular due to vagueness of the legal definition.[3] Despite the public ban, mat is used by Russians of all ages and in all social groups, with particular fervor in male-dominated military and the structurally similar social strata[4]



The origins of mat are lost in the mists of time. Russian anthropologists think that it evolved from ancient myth and magical beliefs. However, they offer divergent interpretations of the basic formula.[4]

It is commonly believed that the name mat derives from мать (Romanisation: mat'), the Russian word for "mother". The term might rather come from a word meaning "loud yell", which is now used in only a few expressions such as благим матом. The use of mat is widespread, especially in the army, the criminal world[5], and many other all-male milieus.

The basic formula of mat, in its most common variant, is: Ёб твою мать (Yob tvoyu mat'), meaning "fuck your mother", with the familiar ты (ty) form implying contempt (as opposed to the more grammatically and socially proper use of вы (vy), similar to the distinction between the French "tu" and "vous"). In this variant the subject of the sentence is omitted, but there is also an expanded variant in which it is made explicit: Пёс ёб твою мать (Pyos yob tvoyu mat'), meaning "[A] [male dog] fucked your mother". [6]

Mikhailin points also to the social influence of the criminal milieu through the labor camps, where criminals were favored and allowed to dominate the "political" prisoners. Thus thieves' (блатной, blatnoy) customs, aesthetic standards, and jargon (of which mat is a significant part) penetrated the law-abiding population, especially the male adolescent subcultures of city courtyards.

That mat belongs to the ancient layers of the Russian language (the first written mat words date to Middle Ages[7]). It was first introduced into literature in the 18th century by the poet Ivan Barkov, whose poetry, combining lofty lyrics with brutally obscene words, may be regarded as a forerunner of Russian literary parody. The stems can be combined in many ways to generate a very large range of new words based on them through the use of prefixes and suffixes and these can be further used to create many phrases. The first volume of the "Great Dictionary of Mat" by the Russian linguist and folklorist Alexei Plutser-Sarno (Большой словарь мата) treats only expressions with the stem khuy, numbering over 500 entries; 12 volumes are planned.

A detailed article by Victor Erofeyev (translated by Andrew Bromfeld) analyzing the history, overtones, and sociology of mat appeared in the 15 September 2003 issue of The New Yorker.

Historical poetry with mat

Mikhail Lermontov, "A Holiday in Peterhof" - "Петергофский праздник", 1834)

And so, I will not pay you
However, if you are a simple blyad' (slut)
You should consider it an honour
To be acquainted with the cadet's khuy (dick)!

Итак, тебе не заплачу я:
Но если ты простая блядь,
То знай: за честь должна считать
Знакомство юнкерского хуя!

"Luka Mudischev", prologue; this work was probably written at some time in the mid 19th century, but often it was ascribed to Ivan Barkov, an equally obscene poet who lived in the 18th century[8])

Oh you, men' wives, or widows fair,
Or maids with 'cherry' there intact!
Let me tell you some humble fact
About fucking out there.

О вы, замужние, о вдовы,
О девки с целкой наотлёт!
Позвольте мне вам наперёд
Сказать о ебле два-три слова.

See also


  1. ^ (Russian) Article 20.1 of the Offences code 08.12.2003 edition "нарушение общественного порядка, выражающее явное неуважение к обществу, сопровождающееся нецензурной бранью в общественных местах ... влечет наложение административного штрафа в размере от пятисот до одной тысячи рублей или административный арест на срок до пятнадцати суток" (disorderly conduct displaying explicit disrespect to society, accompanied by obscene language in public ... is punishable by a fine from 500 to 1000 rubles or arrest up to 15 days)
  2. ^ (Russian) Задержанных на юго-востоке Москвы хулиганов оштрафуют за мат (Detained in south-east Moscow, the hooligans will pay fines for mat) at Lenta.Ru, 01-23-2008
  3. ^ (Russian) Министерство связи определит понятие нецензурной речи (Department of communications will define "obscene language") at Lenta.Ru, 06-24-2009
  4. ^ a b (English) Mikhailin, Vadim (2004-09-29). "Russian Army Mat as a Code System Controlling Behaviour in the Russian army". The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies 2004 (1). Retrieved 07-01-2009. 
  5. ^ "Kaliningrad policemen took orders on killing businessmen." from
  6. ^ Mat JRL RESEARCH & ANALYTICAL SUPPLEMENT ~ JRL 8290 Issue No. 28 • December 2004
  7. ^ Obscene lexics in birch bark documents
  8. ^ Лука Мудищев» — история и мифология расхожие заблуждения ("Luka Mudischev" - The History and Mythology: Widespread Misconceptions) (Russian) accessed Aug 8, 2008

External links

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