Mat (Russian profanity)

Mat (Russian: мат; матерщи́на / ма́терный язы́к / мáтный язы́к, matershchina / materny yazyk / matny yazyk; Ukrainian: матюки́, matyuky) is the term for vulgar, obscene, or profane language in Russian and some other Slavic language communities.

Four pillars of mat

Mat has thousands of variations but ultimately centers on four pillars: the words (1) khuy ("cock"); (2) pizda ("cunt"); (3) yebat' ("to fuck"); and (4) blyad ("whore").[1]


The first terms used in mat is huj (хуй;  хуй ) for cock, penis, or for an equivalent colloquial register: dick.[1] The etymology of the term is unclear. Mainstream theories include from Proto-Indo European (PIE) *ks-u-, related to хвоя (khvoya, "pine needles"), attributed to Pederson, 1908;[2] from PIE *hau-, related to хвост (khvost, "tail"), attributed to Merlingen, 1955; from Mongolian хуй (khui, meaning "sheath" or "scabbard"). This was the etymology endorsed by the Soviet government and attributed to Maxim Gorky, who claimed it was a loan word, imposed during Mongol yoke. A Gorokhovski suggests the derivation from Latin huic (lit. "for that", used on prescriptions for genital diseases) as a euphemism, because the old Russian "ud/uda" (from PIE root *ud- meaning "up, out") became taboo in the mid-18th century.[3] Currently, the first volume of the Great Dictionary of Mat by the Russian linguist and folklorist Alexei Plutser-Sarno treats only expressions with the stem хуй (khuy), numbering over 500 entries; 12 volumes are planned.


The second term, pizdá (пизда́,  пизда ) means cunt.[1]


The third term, yebát' (еба́ть,  ебать ) means fuck.[1] It comes from the Proto-Slavic jebati and Proto-Indo-European *h₃yebʰ-e-ti, cf. Ancient Greek οἴφω (oíphō) "to live in a marriage" and Sanskrit यभति (yabhati).


The final term blyád (блядь;  блядь ) means whore.[1]

History and use

Obscenities are among the earliest recorded attestations of the Russian language (the first written mat words date to the Middle Ages[4]).

Mikhail Lermontov's 1834 "A Holiday in Peterhof" ("Петергофский праздник") is one example of the usage of mat.

And so I will not pay you:
However, if you are a simple whore
You should consider it an honor
To be acquainted with the cadet’s dick![1]

  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference Putin was invoked but never defined (see the help page).

Итак, тебе не заплачу я:
Но если ты простая блядь,
То знай: за честь должна считать
Знакомство юнкерского хуя!

Itak, tebe ne zaplachu ya:
No yesli ty prostaya blyad,
To znay: za chest dolzhna schitat
Znakomstvo yunkerskogo khuya!

The prologue to "Luka Mudishchev", probably written at some time in the mid 19th century, was often ascribed to Ivan Barkov, an equally obscene poet who lived in the 18th century:[5]

Hear ye, matrons and widows fair,
Young girls with pussy still untouched!
Let me tell you up front
A few words about fucking.

О вы, замужние, о вдовы,
О девки с целкой наотлёт!
Позвольте мне вам наперёд
Сказать о ебле два-три слова.

Mat is also used in humor or puns by juxtaposing innocent words so that the result will sound as if an obscene word was used. An example is a Cossack song cited in And Quiet Flows the Don (1928-1940) by Mikhail Sholokhov:[6]

Щуку я, щуку я, щуку я поймала.
Девица красная, уху я варила.
Уху я, уху я, уху я варила.

Here "Уху я варила" ("I cooked the fish stew") may be reinterpreted as "У хуя варила" ("Cooked near the penis") or "Ух, хуй я варила" ("Ooh, I cooked a dick").

The contemporaneous use of mat is widespread, especially in the army, police, blue-collar workers, the criminal world, and many other all-male milieus. An article by Victor Erofeyev (translated by Andrew Bromfeld) analyzing the history, overtones, and sociology of mat appeared in the 15 September 2003 issue of The New Yorker.[7]

Legal issues

As of 1 July 2014, mat has been banned in Russia from all movies, theatrical productions, and concerts.[1] In modern Russia, the use of mat is censored in the media and the use of mat in public constitutes petty hooliganism, a form of disorderly conduct, punishable under article 20.1.1 of the Offences Code of Russia,[8] although it is enforced only episodically, in particular due to the vagueness of the legal definition.[9] Despite the public ban, mat is used by Russians of all ages and nearly all social groups, with particular fervor in the male-dominated military and the structurally similar social strata.[10]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Russian mat.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Remnick, David (May 5, 2014). "Putin's Four Dirty Words". The New Yorker.
  2. Obscene lexics in birch bark documents
  3. «Лука Мудищев» — история и мифология расхожие заблуждения («Luka Mudishchev» - istoriya i mifologiya raskhozhiye zabluzhdeniya, "Luka Mudischev" - The History and Mythology: Widespread Misconceptions) (Russian) accessed Aug 8, 2008
  6. (Russian) Article 20.1 of the Offences Code, 8 December 2003 edition] "нарушение общественного порядка, выражающее явное неуважение к обществу, сопровождающееся нецензурной бранью в общественных местах ... влечет наложение административного штрафа в размере от пятисот до одной тысячи рублей или административный арест на срок до пятнадцати суток" ('disorderly conduct displaying explicit disrespect to society, accompanied by obscene language in public ... is punishable by a fine from 500 to 1000 rubles or arrest up to 15 days')
  7. (Russian) Министерство связи определит понятие нецензурной речи (Department of communications will define "obscene language") at Lenta.Ru, 24 July 2009
  8. (English) Mikhailin, Vadim (29 September 2004). "Russian Army Mat as a Code System Controlling Behaviour in the Russian Army". The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies. 2004 (1). Retrieved 1 July 2009.

External links

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