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Fenya (феня) or fenka (фенка) is a Russian cant language used among criminals. Originally it was a cryptolanguage of ofenyas or ofenes, old Russian peddlers, and had a number of names or it might come from the Russian word фен or fen which is the west wind. 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 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:
- "Ропа кимать, полумеркот, рыхло закурещат ворыханы." (Ropa kimatj, polumerkot, ryhlo zakureščat voryhany.)
- Normative Russian: "Пора спать, полночь; скоро запоют петухи." (Pora spatj, polnoč; skoro zapojut petuhi.)
- Translation: "Time to go to bed, <it's> midnight; roosters will sing soon."
- "Да позагорбил басве слемзить: астона басвинска ухалила дряботницей." (Da pozagorbil basve slemzitj; astona basvinska uhalila drjabotnicej.)
- Normative Russian: "Да позабыл тебе сказать: жена твоя померла весною." (Da pozabyl tebe skazatj: žena tvoja pomerla vesnoju.)
- Translation: "Oh, I forgot to tell you: your wife died this spring"
Also, fenya included usual Russian words in unusual meanings, like шаблон shablon (template) for military or police headwear, педаль pedal for cellphone (recent addition).
The vocabulary changed over time, with notable infusion of words of Yiddish origin. During the times of the Soviet Union 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 camps, and massive indiscriminate amnesties after the death of Joseph Stalin resulted in a penetration of the subculture of convicts into everyday life in the form of a shock wave. Particularly, many writers, poets, and journalists who had been arrested began to use fenya in their work after release. Another reason comes from the fact that criminal life was romanticized in popular culture: for example, in the form of "blatnaya song", see Shanson. Few "common" Russians possess a complete or even complex understanding of fenya and fewer still - for various reasons - will admit to it.
Fenya influences Russian culture in different ways. In particular, a whole subgenre of Russian humour exists, in which a known tale, such as Romeo and Juliet or a popular Russian fairy tale is cast into fenya.
In January 2016, the use of profanity and fenya by prisoners in pretrial detention centers was banned in the Russian prison system. This follows a 2013 ban on the use of fenya by prison guards.
- Moe. "Отдельные вопросы этимологии блатной фени (Russian)". Antisys.narod.ru. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
- See analysis of certain Russian language expressions in The Gulag Archipelago, for example
- Andrew E. Kramer (January 14, 2016). "New Prison Rule in Russia: No Swearing". Retrieved January 16, 2016.