Kompromat and 8 other Russian-derived words you didn’t think you’d need to know
With the inclusion of kompromat in the most recent update to Oxford Dictionaries, you might feel like we’ve traveled back in time to an era of trench-coat-and-trilby espionage.
Kompromat is a word that means ‘compromising information collected for use in blackmailing, discrediting, or manipulating someone, typically for political purposes’, and while it has been attested in English since at least 1990, it was, until recently, entirely unfamiliar to most English speakers.
That all changed this January, when the word arose in connection with an intelligence dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer about US President Donald Trump.
Kompromat is derived in Russian as a blended abbreviation of the phrase komprometirujuščij material (compromising material), which itself ultimately derives from those English words, making the term a sort of ‘boomerang loanword’. An English word or phrase was adopted into a foreign language, changed and remixed, and then borrowed back. The Japanese-derived cosplay and anime are two more prominent examples of this phenomenon.
Perhaps then, it isn’t so much that we’ve gone back in time as the past has boomeranged back to us in the future. However you choose to think about it though, all of a sudden, the late twentieth-century heyday of spooks and moles feels bizarrely relevant again. In order to help you orient yourself in this not-so-brave, not-so-new world of ours, here are eight more Russian-derived political and military terms that may well be popping up in headlines in the months to come.
- agitprop, n. political propaganda, especially in art or literature
- apparatchik, a functionary within a large political party or institution
- commissariat, n. a non-military government department
- disinformation, n. false information supplied by a government to the media with the intention of influencing the policies or opinions of those who receive it
- maskirovka, n. political or military deception, esp. as practised against Western intelligence
- nomenklatura, n. a political class of powerful, privileged elites
- troika, n. a group of three people working together in a prominent administrative or political capacity
- ukase, a decree or edict issued by the Russian government