Russian tsar Vladimir Putin has issued an edict that detainees in pre-trial detention centers are forbidden from addressing each other or their guards in the traditional, foul-mouthed slang of the Russian prison system known as fenya. The NY Times calls it “a rich and filthy language”.
The ban prohibits inmates from “socializing with other individuals using lewd, threatening, demeaning or slanderous expressions or slang.” This will be a hard rule to enforce, as Russian prisoners generally live in large, barracks-style communal cells with as many as 80 inmates to a room. And they are usually left alone at night – locked in and largely left to enforce their own rules of behavior.
Putin has been cracking down on naughty words. A 2014 law banned swearing in the arts, whether in novels or at the theater, unless properly labeled for adults. This is perplexing, because Russian dictionaries of cursing draw on a rich tradition—some words have thousands of variants and are woven into Russian literature and culture.
According to The Times, “Dostoyevsky wrote that it is possible to express ‘even deep analytical thoughts’ with one common, versatile Russian word for penis.”
The Times, ever decorous, did not tell its readers this word. But it’s nice to know about fenya.