Friday, March 23, 2007

"Razbliuto Redux"

By Ellen Zunon

Google “razbliuto,” and you will find 1,130 references to it on the Internet. Pretty good for a word that doesn’t exist, don’t you think? In fact, a few years ago there was a real buzz on the Internet about the “word” razbliuto. Some held that it was a perfectly good word, borrowed from Russian, meaning loosely “the feeling a person has for someone he or she once loved but no longer feels the same way about.”

Others maintained adamantly that there was no such word, in either English or Russian; that it was a myth; that it should be expurgated from the writings of any decent and self-respecting wordsmith.

Columnist and lexicographer William Safire, who had cited the word in a published essay, even recanted and corrected himself in a later column, after having received a stack of letters from readers who insisted that the word simply did not exist.

Why such bilious spleen about a mere lexeme, or phantom lexeme, as one might call it? Here in the United States, we have no equivalent for the Académie Française, that group of 40 Immortals, whose charge it is to keep the French language pure by serving as linguistic gatekeepers, nixing such Americanisms as “le cash flow” or “le fast food”; one might as well try holding back the tide with a fishing net. Linguistic borrowing is here to stay. Didn’t the French give us rôti de boeuf in the Middle Ages, only to have us Anglophones hand it back to them as roast beef, which they promptly transformed into rosbif?

Didn’t we Americans borrow a multitude of words from the multicultural mix of immigrants who came here, as well as from the various Native American groups that the newcomers displaced? Mark Twain, that quintessential American writer once wrote of our homegrown variety of English, “There is no such thing as ‘the Queen’s English.’ The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares!” Doesn’t that give us the right to borrow new words where we will?

If razbliuto is not a borrowing, it must be a coinage. In that case, is it thus any less of a word than “jabberwocky,” coined by Lewis Carroll, or than IM, as in “I’ll IM you,” coined by some unknown instant message user? Our language is all the richer for these borrowings and coinages. So why not “razbliuto”? It’s certainly a useful word, if you look at all the relationship problems that abound in modern society. In fact, razbliuto is a large part of what keeps advice columnists in business.

It’s a useful concept for poets and writers, too. Take Pablo Neruda’s “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair,” for example. Neruda could use a bit more razbliuto when he says, “I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.”

“Maybe I still love her” is no way to get over an unrequited yearning.

But the all-time World Champion of razbliuto is Marcel Proust, who wrote seven volumes as a memento of the love he had once felt for the faithless Albertine.

As for myself, about that darkly handsome Frenchman who threw me over for a girl named Angelika so many years ago, and for whom I pined for months before finally leaving France with a broken heart, I am absolutely and forevermore razbliuto. I once loved him, but I no longer feel the same way. I’ll say it three times, just to magnify its incantatory power. Razbliuto. Razbliuto. Razbliuto.

Ellen Zunon is a writer in the Capital Region of New York State.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Funny, I did not know about this. :)

Anyway, in Russian there is a word "razlubit'", which means opposite to "fall in love". Like "unfall in love".

That possibly might have been the cause of misunderstanding.