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The secret language of criminals in 18th century Russia
The secret language of criminals in 18th century Russia

The theme of crime in Russia in the 18th century will always be associated with a figure who belongs to both history, mass book literature and folklore - Vanka Kain.

Under this name, the offspring remembered the legendary criminal, a fugitive serf serf named Ivan, by his patronymic Osipov, who took for himself the not very respectable nickname Cain, in fact, as a surname. His fate, although outstanding, can hardly be called completely unique: a young but already experienced pickpocket gives out dozens of acquaintances to the authorities, receives a letter of protection from the Senate and for seven years, from 1742 to 1749, becomes an official detective who, through a network of informants, controls the criminal the world of Moscow.

At the same time, he is playing a double game, continuing to commit and covering up crimes for a certain bribe. He gets rich, dresses like an official, hires a large courtyard, builds lodgings there, eats from silver dishes and does not deny himself anything. Although he is illiterate, he is not alien to culture either: for example, during Shrovetide festivities he directed a folk performance about Tsar Solomon, among other things, with a staged theft and punishment. Finally, the police authorities change, his career ends, and he ends up in prison.

There were quite a few such “detectives from thieves” in Europe in the era of the formation of the modern police; many of them ended on the gallows. Vanka Kain, in the relatively humane era of Elizaveta Petrovna, was more fortunate: he was pardoned and sent to hard labor in Estonia, where, it is believed, he dictated the so-called autobiography, which became popular popular reading in the processing of the popular print writer Matvey Komarov (and in terms of the number of editions the most popular in the 18th century) and strongly influenced folklore.


In the literature, the corrupt detective became the first Russian picaro (the hero of a rogue novel), the “Russian Zhilblaz”; in folklore - an associate of Yermak and Stenka Razin, a heroic fighter against the Tatars, a mortgaged dead man waiting in the cave for his time, and so on. As well as the mass literature about Cain, the huge set of investigative documents about Vanka, his accomplices and victims, deposited in the archives of Russia, were studied by historians and literary critics of Russia and the West.

In this complex of texts, the language attracts attention. Cain's notes (a very interesting text - a mixture of clerical reports on crimes with rhymed buffoonery jokes) are considered one of the very first sources of the Russian argo that have come down to us, or the secret language of criminals and declassed strata of society.

The secret language is used to avoid being understood by the police or potential victims. For a long time (recall the ballads attributed to Villon himself in criminal jargon), the argo of criminals has been a colorful detail attractive to readers, which has often lost the function of a cipher itself.

In the 19th century, the French argot was successfully used by the writer Eugene Sue in "Parisian Mysteries", and then, following his example, introduced the Russian public to expressions like "tyrbanka slamu" (division of booty), "grandma" (money) and "phony" (fake) Vsevolod Krestovsky in the "Petersburg Slums".


In the prison-camp XX century, "thieves' music", already familiar in Russian prose and poetry, merges into the usual vernacular, and then sounds from the high stands. Matvey Komarov, the author of the book The Story of Vanka Cain, explains to the 18th century reader, for whom it was still a literary novelty:

“To many, I think, these words will seem for an empty invention; but whoever has a good deal of horse dealers knows quite well that when they buy and sell horses, they use words among themselves that others cannot understand; for example: they call the ruble, birs; halftina, dyur; half a half, secana, sekis; hryvnia, zhirmaha, and so on. Likewise, the swindlers have many words invented by them, which, except for them, no one understands."

Matvey Komarov."The story of Vanka Kain"

The argotic vocabulary reflected in various versions of Cain's biography was partly preserved in the next, XIX and XX centuries and was later recorded by collectors (including V.I.Dahl, working on a dictionary of suspicious secret languages ​​commissioned by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and in one of the first articles by D. S. Likhachev "Traits of primitive primitivism in the speech of thieves").

However, in the investigative and judicial (then these two instances were not separated from each other) documents of the 18th century, carefully studied by the historian Yevgeny Akeliev, the argo cannot be found. Law enforcement officers were at that time little concerned with fixing and interpreting the speech of criminals and preferred not to infiltrate their environment, but from time to time to recruit volunteers like Cain.

Perhaps, nevertheless, to some extent they knew this language: we note that in his autobiography, Cain offers a corrupt official a bribe for argo. But official documents convey to us a lot of official and semi-official law enforcement terminology of that time (of course, it was perfectly understood and used by the criminals themselves, at least during interrogations), which is not always clear to us without a special comment. This vocabulary is partly inherited from pre-Petrine times, and partly it survived in the command language of the 19th century.

Thus, from the huge "Cainiad" one can isolate two non-overlapping, but equally interesting dictionaries of the 18th century - the dictionary of criminals and the dictionary of law enforcement officers.

Fraudulent "dialect"

Hotel- brush (see treat).

Stone bag- prison (the expression later became common language).

Fine crumbling- anxiety, pursuit.

Our epancha cloth -a member of a criminal community, a thief (see).

Example: “Formerly under the bridge, the swindlers first drank themselves, and then they brought Kamchatka and Cain; and as Cain drank, then one, hitting him on the shoulder, said: “It is evident, brother, that you are our cloth of epanch (this meant that the same sort of man), live here with us, we have enough of everything, nakedness, barefoot, poles, and hunger and cold are full of barn "". (Matvey Komarov. "The story of Vanka-Cain")

Nemshona bath - dungeon (literally "not covered with moss, cold").

Go to dirty work - go to steal.

Work, move in your pocket, make a joke - commit theft.

Example: I worked in a small trunk of 340 rubles.

Stukalov monastery - Secret Chancellery (Central Investigative Committee for State Affairs, was located in the village of Preobrazhensky since Peter the Great).

Raw - a drunk person as a potential victim. By the way, the modern vulgar "buhoy" (that is, "swollen") has the same internal form.

Give quiet alms - to steal, rob.

Example: "We, tenacious here, give our chambers for rent, and give quiet alms to those passing along this bridge at night." (Matvey Komarov. "The story of Vanka-Cain")

Treat - hit with a brush.

As part of the biography of Cain, phrases that differ from other examples of argot have also come down to us in that we are not dealing with rethought words of the common language (the so-called semantic method of classifying, popular with thieves and later), but specially constructed artificial words.

The same or a similar secret language has long been used by the Oheni (itinerant peddlers) and is known as the "Ofen language."

“Trioka kalach ula, stramyk sverlyuk straktirila” is the most famous phrase from the life of Cain, which Matvey Komarov translates as follows: “This meant 'the keys in the kalach to unlock the lock.' Modern researchers of the argo add that "trioka" (that is, in the then spelling of "treka") is "pay attention", and "la" means "there is, there is." This phrase was said to Vanka Kain, who was caught on the chain (not yet a detective), by his "beloved comrade" Pyotr Kamchatka, who brought him a key to escape hidden in a roll in prison. Subsequently, Vanka will thank his savior by handing him over to the police.

In another similar rhymed phrase of Cain in a secret language - "When mas na khas, then the dulias went out" ("When I entered the house, the fire went out") - it is easy to distinguish the well-known in the thieves' language of the twentieth century "khazu" (apparently, borrowed from Hungarian).

The language of law enforcement

Poverty - prison barracks. (Women's poverty - cameras for women in the Investigative Order).

Thief - in the language of the 17th-18th centuries it meant a criminal in general, including a state one ("Tushinsky thief", "thief Emelka Pugachev"). Thieves' - criminal, counterfeit (thieves 'money master - counterfeiter, thieves' passport). See also swindler, thief.

Scorcher - an illegal merchant of burned-out, ingots of gold metals obtained by melting.

Holder - a person who has stolen goods.

Argument, closer - denunciation, informer (words known back in the days of Boris Godunov).

Travel - the report of the clerical officer on the search made, submitted by him in case he was sent to make arrests with a team of soldiers. The minutes of the trip indicated the grounds for arrests, a list of those arrested, a list of suspicious items seized during a search, and a list of soldiers who participated in the special operation.

Informer - Cain's official position: an inviolable agent of the detective authorities to identify criminals. At the time, he was the only such agent and was often referred to as a "famous informer."

Knowingly and not knowingly - in our time, deliberately means the point of view of a person who owns the information: "acquired a deliberately stolen thing" - "which he knew that it was stolen." In the 18th century, this could also mean the dissemination of information: “they didn’t know that they were swindlers with the deacon” - that is, “not confessing to the deacon”. In addition, after these words, the conjunction "what" was necessarily used.

Dungeon - in our time, "dungeons" are used mainly in the plural. In the 18th century, a dungeon was a log structure for torture with a rack, a whip and other useful devices. The prison of the Moscow Search Order was attached to the Kremlin wall next to the Konstantino-Yeleninskaya tower.

Zateyny - knowingly false, fictional (about denunciation).

Izvet - denunciation of a deliberate or committed crime, official communication (cf. "notify"). This is a fairly widely known word, it has been used for several centuries. Unlike the denunciations of the twentieth century, the report could not be anonymous and was always submitted from a specific person who was responsible for it. So officially, in particular, Vanka Kain's reports on the work carried out were called.

Apology - a confession. “He made an excuse for his thefts” - he appeared with repentance, with a confession of crimes.

Go out - find, find the wanted person.

Wellhead - any person in custody, not necessarily shackled in stocks. In the Moscow Search Order, apparently, only shackles were used for shackling.

Scammer - a thief who commits a petty theft that is invisible to the victim (originally purse - a wallet suspended from the belt). With the appearance of pockets in the 18th century, it is primarily a pickpocket. Fraudsters quietly stole luggage from the sleigh, stole clothes and things from those who washed in the baths, and so on. The modern meaning of "trust deceiver" is much later. In the Novgorod birch bark letter of the 15th century, a crumbled tatba is mentioned - "theft from a crumb" (knapsack). It is formed from the name of the storehouse of values, similar to the words "to cheat" (from "purse") and "pickpocket", "pickpocket" (from "pocket").

Example: “In the beginning, both to Almighty God and to Your Imperial Majesty, I am guilty about myself by reporting that I, having forgotten the fear of God and the hour of death, fell into no small sin: being in Moscow and in other towns, in many past The godekh roamed day and night, being in churches and in different places, with masters and with clerks, and with merchants, and took out all kinds of money from the pockets of people, handkerchiefs, wallets, watches, knives, etc. " (From the report of Vanka Kain on December 27, 1741)

Nary - were part of prison life already in the 18th century and that is what they were called.The decree on the repair of the Moscow barracks for the convicts states: "After inspecting the rinsed bunks and beds, they should be repaired decently."

Impressive speech - disrespectful statements about the sovereign and members of the imperial family, damaging their honor.

Example (about Elizaveta Petrovna): “Here's a tree to wait for an heir! Vit de she, Empress Elisavet Petrovna, is a maiden, she is de years old at forty! What kind of heir would she have ?! It would be worthy to be de princess Anna for the fact that de is from her sovereign John Antonovich. And he, detskoe business, he dies, so de and more from her, the princess, will be - all de one royal generation!"

The informer was obliged to word for word repeat the inappropriate speech, even if it was swearing at the king (in the example above, the particle "de" is inserted after the first word of almost every simple sentence to show that someone else's speech is being retold). In "sovereign affairs" there could be no innocent; if the news (see) turned out to be intricate (see), the informer himself was subject to punishment.

Netchik - a person who refuses to appear in response to a summons, is absent.

Disgraced junk - confiscated things, confiscated.

Bidder - a buyer of stolen goods.

Drive - a person who reported a crime and personally brought the offender to the authorities.

Driving people - those arrested, involved in the case.

Example: driven in this case.

Prilika - evidence.

Example: "And the dress, which was stolen with money, was thrown in the same fair on the road, so that they would not be dressed in that dress of any kind." (Evgeny Akeliev. "Everyday life of the thieves' world in Moscow during the time of Vanka Kain")

Beauteous in wine - to convict of a crime.

Break up - subject to robbery. In modern language, the connection between "smash" and "robbery, robber" is not felt.

Example: “And in the same place, past them from the Trinity Monastery, a man rode, to whom the assessor Yakov Kirilov son Milyukov spoke with three people in the same covered sleigh on three horses. And he, Gavrila, with the displayed goods of this Miliukov defeated … ". (Evgeny Akeliev. "Everyday life of the thieves' world in Moscow during the time of Vanka Kain")

Decisive protocol - protocol on the delivery of a court decision.

Find - subject to investigation.

Example: “And I knew of the thieves who asked me to provide them with a pistol for a robbery … which I caught and brought to the Investigative Order and, according to the drive, were searched for, and were blamed for various robberies on the wanted list, which means business ". (Evgeny Akeliev. "Everyday life of the thieves' world in Moscow during the time of Vanka Kain")

Rospros - interrogation; for it to have legal force, the accused had to "establish himself" in it in the presence of judges.

Inquiring speeches - interrogation protocol.

Stanner - harboring criminals.

Search memory - a wanted document handed over to an official, shown to the accused as a subpoena.

Tat, tatba - thief, theft (see also thief, swindler). At the time of Vanka Cain, these ancient words are already becoming rare. The derivative adjective tatian was still used in official documents: the Investigative Order was established in Moscow to conduct "tatian, robbery and murderous cases", and in the personal file of one clerk it is mentioned that he was always at the "trial, search, tatian, murderous and interesting (!) business ".

Pointed torture or specified search - the procedure of torture during interrogation in a dungeon (see), provided for by decrees: rack, whip, burning with fire.

A leak - the escape; link fugitive - a fugitive from a link.

Example: “And near that prison there is a stone patrimony of a merchant man of the second guild Ivan Ivanov, son of Popodin, which Popad'in multiplied with many wooden structures, and made overhangs for roofs on the prison itself, which would raise a considerable fear that the prisoners would not leak out of the prison … ". (Evgeny Akeliev. "Everyday life of the thieves' world in Moscow during the time of Vanka Kain")

Noise - drunkenness; noisy - drunk. Vice united criminals and investigators. The state of alcoholic intoxication is repeatedly indicated in the protocols, including about unseemly speeches (see), and the propensity for alcoholism - in the official files of law enforcement officials.

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