A BBC correspondent has just tweeted from Russia, with alarm, that the #BBC hashtag has entered the top-trending list for the country. As it turns out, it's not for the British Broadcasting Corporation. The acronym BBC is in Cyrilic and reads VVS – veh-veh-ehss – voenno-vozdushnye sily, or Russian Air Force.
Tomorrow, 12 August, the centenary of the force will be widely marked in Russia. On this day in 1912 tsar Nicolas II signed a decree forming the first Imperial Air Force unit.
Among journalists, and sometimes among listeners as well, the BBC is often jokingly referred to as Veh-Veh-Ehss. In Soviet times the rule was to cyrillize Western acronyms, either with or without translating the name. BBC was transcribed phonetically without translating its name as Би-би-си and, for example, the CIA as ЦРУ - Центральное разведывательное управление.
In the Russian media these days the old-style Cyrillic transliteration of foreign names competes with direct Latin script. Rules are often defined in-house, different publications have different styles.
This new trend is hugely influenced by the ease of switching scripts and the Internet. In two ways. First, the use of Latin transcription of famous brand names, commercial or public, is a way of increasing global traffic to a website. It is more likely that your content will be picked up by the net spiders if they stumble on the more familiar Latin transcription than on a Cyrillic one. Secondly, many Russians use Latin letters on the Internet as though they were Cyrillic where possible. They do it for convenience, but with the resulting back-influence on the spoken language. BBC=VVS is one such example.
Here is a clip from the iconic 1980s film 'ACCA', pronounced 'AHss-ah'. The singer is Afrika, a famous 80s rocker. The man dressed in the uniform of a Soviet BBC major is in fact a member of a gang of criminals who are planning a heist in Yalta, Crimea.
And this is the official Soviet march of the Air Force, 'We are born to make the fairy-tale true'.