Rukoprikladstvo (‘Manhandling’): from ‘Handwritten Signature’ to ‘Beating’

2023. № 3, 68-79

Tatyana S. Sadova1, Dmitrii V. Rudnev2, St. Petersburg State University (Russia, St. Petersburg),;


The article discusses the history of the semantic transformation of the compound word rukoprikladstvo (‘manhandling’) — from the meaning ‘handwritten signature’ in the business language of Medieval Russia to the meaning ‘beating’ in the modern common Russian language. The word rukoprikladstvo, derived from the stable combination ruku prilozhit’ (‘set one’s hand to’), denoted the symbolic confi rmation of an offi cial text by placing a palm, previously smeared with ink, on a blank sheet, the reverse side of the document. The article stresses that the medieval idea of a Russian person about the state as a ‘house’ headed by a ‘father-sovereign’ left a peculiar imprint on the offi ce work of pre-Petrine Russia. Thus, the reliability of the content of a business text was ensured, on the one hand, by the testimony of the closest relatives or respected people of the clan (‘poslukhi’) and on the other hand by the unwritten laws of Christian morality. Since the time of Peter the Great, who was oriented towards Western models of the ‘state machine’, many offi cial formulas have forever moved into the national language, acquiring new meanings motivated by the original semantics of their lexical components. Without a historical digression into the ‘ritual’ features of this obligatory action when sealing a business transaction and, as a result, without considering the functioning of the combination ruku prilozhit’ (‘put a hand’) in the offi cial writing of pre-Petrine and post-Petrine Russia, it is impossible to trace the meaningful evolution of the word ‘rukoprikladstvo’ to its modern meaning ‘infl ict hand beatings’. The history of the expression ruku prilozhit’ (‘set one’s hand to’) and the word rukoprikladstvo — both in the command language and in common Russian life — testifi es to the history of the Russian offi cial language as a separate cultural phenomenon with its own unique destiny.

For citation:

Sadova T. S., Rudnev D. V. Rukoprikladstvo (‘Manhandling’): from ‘Handwritten Signature’ to ‘Beating’. Russian Speech = Russkaya Rech’. 2023. No. 3. Pp. 68–79.