Kuzma's mother

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Khrushchev, 1960

Kuzma's mother or Kuzka's mother (Russian: Кузькина мать) is a part of the Russian idiomatic expression "to show Kuzka's mother to someone" (Russian: Показать кузькину мать (кому-либо)) which means "to teach someone a lesson", sometimes "to punish someone in a brutal way". There is no equivalent in English. It entered the history of the foreign relations of the Soviet Union as part of the image of Nikita Khrushchev, along with the shoe-banging incident and the phrase We will bury you.

The origin of the expression is not clear.

In his memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev mentions various "interesting and peculiar situations", including an occasion of him using this expression while mentioning that it was not the first time it confused the translators.[1] The footnote in this volume to this item says that the 1999 Russian edition gave a mistaken "scientific etymology" of the expression derived from the folk name Kuzka the bug of a pest insect Anisoplia austriaca, who winters burrowed deeply under in the soil, so it is hard to uncover it. The editors of the English version claim that it is a guesswork of the annotator.

Viktor Sukhodrev (Виктор Суходрев), a personal interpreter of Khrushchev and later Alexei Kosygin, in his interview says that Khrushchev first used this expression in public during the 1959 kitchen debate with Richard Nixon at the opening of the American National Exhibition in Sokolniki Park exposition centre, Moscow.[2] During a discussion about communism vs. capitalism Khrushchev boasted that the Soviet Union will "catch up with and surpass" (догонит и перегонит) the United States, and "we shall show you Kuzka's mother". The interpreter was stunned and said something literal about the mother of Kuzma.[3]

Phraseologic dictionaries from the 19th century record other versions of the saying about Kuzka's mother, such as "to let someone know Kuzka's mother name".[4] This resembles some sort of naming taboo.

Because of the phrase's use in cold-war diplomacy, it became a code word for the atomic bomb.[5] In particular, the Tsar bomba was nicknamed "Kuzka's mother" by its builders.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev. Vol. III: Statesman, Penn State Press, 2007, ISBN 0-271-02935-8, p. 269
  2. ^ On this day: 26 July, Russia Today, retrieved 2014-06-19 
  3. ^ "Viktor Sukhodrev" (Russian)
  4. ^ Khodiashchiya i Metkiya Slova (1896) p. 326, digitized version at Google Books (Russian)
  5. ^ Muskin, Adam, Kuzka's mother, Russia Today, retrieved 2014-06-19