Monday, July 29, 2013

Cosmonaut. (New Russian)

A cosmonaut, of course, is the Soviet/Russian equivalent of astronaut. The word is derived from cosmos, in its Russian meaning of space, and -naut - navigator.

The Russian word entered English at the dawn of space exploration, in the early 1960s, after Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, rocketed into orbit.

Recent protests in Russia, which began late in 2011, gave 'cosmonaut' a new meaning. It became a nickname for officers of riot police in heavy gear. Presumably, because large helmets with sliding visors resemble the look of a cosmonaut in spacesuit. It is a slang meaning mostly used by opposition bloggers and commentators on social networks.

Here's one example, from here:
На площади перед метро 'Чистые пруды' появляются омоновцы-'космонавты' в черных круглых шлемах, в нагрудниках, со щитами и дубинами.
[In the square in front of the metro station 'Chistye Prudy' there begin to appear OMON-cosmonauts in black round helmets, wearing breast-plates and carrying shields and batons.']

Read a humorous 'encyclopedic' article on the cosmonauts here with more links and examples (in Russian), and see this Tetradki article on cosmonaut and other Russian space words in English. 

Photo by Александр Владимирович Плющев: 'Cosmonauts' in central Moscow.


Stephen Bullon said...

In Pelevin's Omon Ra, about a Soviet boy who wants to become a cosmonaut, the opening paragraph talks about the character's name (Omon) and says his father chose it, and that his father had been a policeman and wanted him to become a policeman too. I knew that the OMON were Russian riot police, so could see a sort of link there, but I hadn't linked it to cosmonauts. It makes more sense to me now.

Alexander Anichkin said...

Interesting link!
And Omon Ra is of course a take on Amun-Ra, the Egyptian Sun God because OMON is pronounced ah-MON, making the first o sound like a.

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