Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Selfie in Russian.

самострел vs селфи
Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

As Obama and Cameron were taking selfies with the blonde Danish Prime-Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt while attending the Mandela memorial service I thought I should mention that selfie the word is battling with the word samostrel (самострел) in the Russian language.

Samostrél (stress on e) literally means self-shot, strel being the noun formed from the verb стрелять - to shoot. Until the recent proliferation of its self-portrait meaning samostrel meant a self-inflicted unjury (self-harming), specifically, of a soldier trying to avoid front line service, with all the negative connotations. Samostrel also means a crossbow or a child's toy — a pistol or a crossbow, or a dart shooting device made of an empty spool with a piece of rubber band attached to it.

Today samostrel competes with the English borrowing селфи or сэлфи in being the word for a digital photo of oneself that Oxford Dictionaries pronounced the word of the year 2013. Google search gives 221 thousand hits for селфи and 358 thousand for сэлфи. For самострел Google gives 483 thousand hits, but considering the overlapping of the meaning, it is safe to assume that the two words are now neck and neck, perhaps with a slight advantage to селфи. Curiously, the Russian Wikipedia has an article on селфи (with an e) which doesn't mention the word samostrel. And there is an article on self-harming that mentions samostrel.

By the way, a Danish editor, who was interviewed today on the radio, said that there was no Danish word for selfie, they just use the English one.

We will see how it works out in Russian. Early in the 20th Century two words were competing for airplane (aeroplane) — аэроплан and самолёт (samolët). Samolet won even though аэроплан is still used occasionally but has a definite archaic flavour.

Read another post on Russian selfie — Sebyashka.

Photo: Mogens Engelund, from here.

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