re "posh(ed) digs... etc. from the files

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 12 18:19:44 UTC 2011

But I am wondering why an English-created Yiddishism that was meant to
resemble a Russian word (blending an English verb with a Russian/Yiddish
suffix) would have been expected to conform to any "proper" morphological
rules at all. Is there evidence that it started out as "refusednik"?
Presumably, this was coined some time between 1968 and 1973 (given the
history of Third Wave of Jewish immigration). And it would have been coined
by American or British Jews (or English-speaking European activists or
diplomats), not the refuseniks themselves or it was a calque-blend from a
Russian coinage of the same period. OED goes with the latter:

< refuse v.1 + -nik suffix, after Russian otkaznik Jew who was refused
> permission to emigrate (1970 or earlier), person who refuses to do military
> service (late 20th cent. or earlier; < otkazatā€² to refuse (Old Russian
> ot"kazati) + -nik-nik suffix).

 I heard the term "otkaznik" back in 1970, when I was 4 (if you want, I'll
quote you chapter and verse on that one, as I recall the context very well).
AFAIK it was in common use in the mid- to late 1960s, then throughout the
1970s and 80s (by Soviet Jews, mostly, but not exclusively). "Otkaz" is not
a verb at all--it's a "rejection", the term always used in the context of
Soviet permits for emigration ("permit", incidentally, phonetically adopted
into Russian /from/ English, with final stress [p at rmit]). The earliest OED
citation is from The Times, and it uses the "refusnik" version. A quick
check suggests that "refusednik" was a /later/ reanalysis, trying to make
sense of the original coinage, not the other way around. Dutch sources
suggest that the Nederlands embassy in Moscow (Israeli interest mission and
the issuer of Israel visas) began using the term in 1974, although they
don't specify which version (the sources I am looking at are from the 1990s)
or if there was a Dutch intermediate version. But that's late, as The Times
citation shows. And if it was a calque, the original term would have been
derived from "refusal"+nik, not "refused"+nik. The phonemic analysis might
explain why "refusenik" eventually won out anyway, but "refusednik" still
shows up in some current publications.

"Otkaznik" first appeared in 1939, apparently in a poem by Tsvetaeva. As
Tsvetaeva was a hero to later dissidents, many of whom included Jews
attempting to emigrate, it is no great surprise that the term was adopted as
a label for those who "waited in refusal" (zhdali v otkaze) from late 1960s
through early 1990s. A rejection was never final and those rejected
constantly appealed and re-appealed.

Sakharov's 1978 Alarm and Hope uses "refusednik", but it's not clear whose
choice it was--Sakharov's earlier publications don't use the word at all.
Someone wrote in the 1980s that "refusednik" was a better word than
"refusenik" because it communicated a better sense of victimhood (presumably
through the use of passive). But then he writes, "I use 'refusenik'... to
conform to prevalent usage."

This is not to say that this phonemic analysis is off-base--I just think a
better prototype should be found for it.


On Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 12:12 PM, William J. Sullivan <wjsiii at>wrote:

>     There's a perfectly good phonetic (in the articulatory, motor sense)
> reason for refusednik being rendered refusenik.  Consider the articulation
> of [zdn]:
> Phonemically:    (where Sp = spirant friction, Cl = oral closure, Ns =
> nasal, Gr = grooved mid-tongue, Ap = Apical, and Y = voice)
> z  d  n
> Sp Cl Ns
> Gr
> Ap Ap Ap
>  Y  Y

The American Dialect Society -

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