What’s next? Vodka? 

Now Putin has decided to take on the Russian language—in particular, its florid and flexible lexicon of profanity, known as mat. On Monday, Putin signed legislation that has been floating around the Duma for years: as of July 1st, there will be no swearing in movies and theatrical productions or from the concert stage.

You won’t read it in your local family newspaper, but the law centers on the four pillars of mat: there is khuy (“cock”), pizda (“cunt”), ebat’ (“to fuck”), and blyad (“whore”). Sorry about that, but the English equivalents are, if anything, rather pallid and polite. And that’s just the beginning, the base ingredients for the great lexical fantasia of mat. As Victor Erofeyev describes at delicious length in his 2003 article “Dirty Words,” there are thousands of variations and elaborations on these four words, and they go back to the earliest Russian classics.

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