Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book Review - Barron's Dictionary of Russian Slang and Colloquial Expressions (Vladimir Shlyakhov and Eve Adler)

In my recent review where I criticized the contents of Edward Topol's book, Dermo!, I mentioned that people interested in Russian slang should instead look at Barron's Dictionary of Russian Slang and Colloquial Expressions, by Vladimir Shlyakhov and Eve Adler.  I want to expand a bit on what I like about this book and add a few words on how this book could be improved.

Book Structure

The first section of this book contains a couple of prefaces - if you have a serious interest in this subject, it is worth it to look at these prefaces.  The first preface talks about how Russian slang had not been documented very well during the Soviet era, and that significant interest in Russian slang manifested itself only after the fall of the Soviet Union.  The titles and authors of some publications from the 1990s about Russian slang (all in Russian) are listed, as well as some American publications about Russian slang (some of these date back to the 1970s). This section also talks about the book's relevance in linguistics and sociolinguistics, and gives instructions on how to use the book when searching for idioms.

Following this section is a page with the prefixes to the second and third editions of the dictionary.  The most recently-released edition, and the one that I am currently using, is the third edition, published in 2006.  The preface mentions that new words and expressions have been added since its last publication in 1999, which is a good thing.  I would expect that some time during this decade, a fourth edition will be made with even more recent words.

Unlike Topol's book which was filled with anecdotes and tangents, this book is clearly a dictionary and it doesn't pretend to be anything other than that.  After the prefaces is the main section, containing more than 5,000 words on 329 pages.  The book goes from only Russian to English, not the other way around.

Positive Aspects

My overall impression of this book is a positive one.  The entries for each Russian word are bolded, and an acute accent is placed over the vowel that should be stressed.  The only thing I don't understand is why the stress marks aren't included in the example Russian sentences.

This book also does a good job at providing the necessary forms/endings so that whoever uses this book will be able to accurately use these words, provided that they already have some background in Russian grammar.  For nouns, the gender and genitive forms are included (since knowing those two things allows you to make accurate predictions about what the noun's other endings will be).  Verbs contain both the imperfective and perfective forms (this is a huge plus), and adjectives contain the feminine and neuter endings next to the default (masculine) ending.  Literary translations are sometimes given for certain words/expressions, and example sentences are provided as a context for most of the words.

Negative Aspects

Besides the fact that the example Russian sentences didn't contain stress marks, there was one other thing that bothered me.  It wasn't made clear in this book where the example sentences were coming from - were they invented by the authors themselves, or were they from some outside sources?  Either way, it would have been useful to know the relative time frame in which each word was used.  I would suspect that the vast majority of words in this book are words that were discovered during the 1990s and 2000s, but it would still be nice to see a year or several years attached to each word (or at least have a special marker identifying which words are new to the 2006 edition). 

Also, even though many words from русский мат are included in this book, they are only marked as rude.  The problem is that many Russian words and expressions are rude, but not all of them are мат.  This could have been differentiated with a simple abbreviation.

Who should use this book?

I recommend this book for anyone who has some knowledge of Russian and wants to start learning about slang.  Those who want to go even further can check out the Russian-language materials mentioned in the preface.


  1. Thanks for this. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about the book "Streetwise Russian" that comes with a CD

    1. I've never used this book, but it looks intriguing. When I get a copy I'll certainly do a review of it.