Why Can’t Americans Get “Babushka” Right?

Needless to say that when you’re living with someone who is from a former Soviet country and speaks Russian fluently, you find out that some things you took for granted were dead, flat-out wrong. In the first month I knew the girlfriend, the way Americans use the word, “Babushka” was such a thing I found to be used so completely wrong that I was amazed.

It’s true that words get adapted from different languages in strange ways. But, sometimes they’re not so strange as I’ve recently found out that a “jastre” in Croatian and Russian sounds a lot like the English word, “osprey”. I doubt this is much of a coincidence as they’re very similar birds and the English word probably came from this Slavic root.

However, this small detail aside, as I was growing up, I always had a pretty well-defined idea of what a “babushka” was. It’s a name that Russians used in a cute, diminutive way to mean a cute girlfriend. Forever etched in my head is the image of a hot blond-haired, blue-eyed girl with creamy skin wearing a completely white form-fitting outfit that has a fur-lined collar on it. For those who know, this is insanely wrong. The word means “grandmother”.

How and where this gross mistranslation came in to being is beyond me because not only is it wrong, it’s also pretty insulting. What girl in her 20’s in America would want to be called “grandma”. We too use this as an insult. The Russian word does sound like a cute thing to say and someone must have started saying it wrong and it just went forth from there. Just like why Americans write “meter” instead of “metre”.

For those out there who want to say something cute to a Russian girl, I would recommend trying, “zaichik” instead, which means something close to “little rabbit”. As you can see, it makes a lot more sense than telling a girl she’s your cute little grandma when you’re under the covers.