Fenya or fenka is a Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n cant language used among criminals. Originally it was a cryptolanguage of ofenyas or ofenes, old Russian peddler
A peddler, in British English pedlar, also known as a canvasser, cheapjack, monger, or solicitor , is a travelling vendor of goods. In England, the term was mostly used for travellers hawking goods in the countryside to small towns and villages; they might also be called tinkers or gypsies...

s, and had a number of names. There are no convincing explanations about the origins of the words "ofenya" and "fenya". In modern Russian language it is also referred to as blatnoy language (Russian: блатной язык), where "blatnoy" is a slang
Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker's language or dialect but are considered more acceptable when used socially. Slang is often to be found in areas of the lexicon that refer to things considered taboo...

 expression for "criminal". It is also widely used in "thieves' songs".

The grammar is Russian; the vocabulary has changed over time.

The original fenya consisted of broken Russian words borrowed from Greek and other foreign languages. Vladimir Dahl in his Explanatory Dictionary of the Live Great Russian language gives the following examples of ofenya's parlance:
  • "Ропа кимать, полумеркот, рыхло закурещат ворыханы."
    Normative Russian: "Пора спать, полночь; скоро запоют петухи."
    Translation: "Time to go to bed, midnight; roosters will sing soon."
  • "Да позагорбил басве слемзить: астона басвинска ухалила дряботницей.
    Normative Russian: "Да позабыл тебе сказать: жена твоя померла весною."
    Translation: "Oh, I forgot to tell you: your wife died this spring"

Also, fenya included usual Russian words in unusual meanings, like "shablon" (template)

military or police headwear, "pedal"

cellphone (recent addition) and so on.

The vocabulary changed over time, with notable infusion of words of Yiddish origin. During the times of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 fenya penetrated into common spoken Russian and can no longer be considered cryptic, although it is still commonly associated with those who have connections to the Russian criminal culture or who have spent a significant amount of time incarcerated.

A number of explanations for this phenomenon are suggested. For one, a significant part of the population, not necessarily criminals, went through labor camp
Labor camp
A labor camp is a simplified detention facility where inmates are forced to engage in penal labor. Labor camps have many common aspects with slavery and with prisons...

s, and massive indiscriminate amnesties after the death of Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 resulted in a penetration of the subculture of convicts into everyday life in the form of a shock wave. From another side, many writers, poets, and journalists went through labor camps during Stalin's purges, many of them began to use fenya in their work after release. Also, the criminal life was romanticized in popular culture: for example, in the form of "blatnaya song", see Shanson
Russian chanson is a neologism for a musical genre covering a range of Russian songs based on the themes of the urban underclass and the criminal underworld. This song style, originally called blatnaya pesnya , has been popular in Eastern Europe ever since its first appearance in the beginning of...

. Few "common" Russians possess a complete or even complex understanding of it and fewer still - for various reasons - will admit to it.

Fenya influences Russian culture
Russian culture
Russian culture is associated with the country of Russia and, sometimes, specifically with ethnic Russians. It has a rich history and can boast a long tradition of excellence in every aspect of the arts, especially when it comes to literature and philosophy, classical music and ballet, architecture...

 in different ways. In particular, a whole subgenre of Russian humour
Russian humour
Russian humour gains much of its wit from the inflection of the Russian language, allowing for plays on words and unexpected associations. As with any other culture's humour, its vast scope ranges from lewd jokes and wordplay to political satire.- Jokes :...

 exists, in which a known tale, such as Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

or a popular Russian fairy tale
Fairy tale
A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features such folkloric characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. However, only a small number of the stories refer to fairies...

 is cast into fenya.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the disintegration of the federal political structures and central government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , resulting in the independence of all fifteen republics of the Soviet Union between March 11, 1990 and December 25, 1991...

 and the appearance of "New Russians" introduced new changes into fenya, notably assigning new meanings and accents to common words.

External links

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