Old New Words

2019. № 2, 7-16

Irina B. Levontina, Vinogradov Russian Language Institute (Russian Academy of Sciences) (Russia, Moscow), irina.levontina@mail.ru


Emergence of each new word in a language is a story in itself, often a long, complicated and mysterious story. This article examines two words that Russian speakers perceive very differently and often consider them
brand new: zadeystvovat’ (‘to use, to involve’) and poobshchat’sya (‘to talk, to communicate’). Word zadeystvovat’, currently so popular, is used from the early 1980s, at first not very actively, to denote the meanings “to use”, “to involve”. Before that time, it had been used only to denote the meaning “to begin acting”. Zadeystvovat’ found its way into the general language after the WWII: it was used in military documents and, what is more important, in
numerous fiction books and memoirs about the war as well as in war films and accompanying materials. From the speech of soviet officials with military past it made its way into the soviet administrative language, later migrated into the business and managerial language. Now it is often perceived as a completely neutral word, even though it still irritates many people. Word poobshchat’sya (to consort, communicate) is not in fact new at all — one encounters it as early as 1920s. But while initially poobshchat’sya implied more than just “to talk”, as of late it may denote a completely formal conversation, without any “heartfelt contact”: Mozhno poobshchat’sya s menedzherom/zaveduyushchim/otvetstvennym? (Can I talk to the manager/a per son in charge?)