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Slovoers in 19th century Russian

Slovoers in 19th century Russian
20 September 2022

 

If you ever decide to pick up any book written in the 19th century in Russian, you will surely come across SLOVOERS. But what is that and what should you know about it? Let´s find out together!

1. What is Slovoers?

Slovoers is a suffix added at the end of the words in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. It is used in order to express your respect and humbleness toward the person you are speaking with. The name itself derives from the traditional naming of the letters C and Ъ (which is how the suffix used to be spelled) – slovo and er. Slovoers could be added to any word – it didn´t really matter whether it was a verb, noun, or any other part of speech. 

2. History of Slovoers?

How did this unusual suffix come to life in Dostoyevsky´s and the works of his contemporaries? Initially, Slovoers comes from the word государь (gosudar´), which was shortened to сударь (sudar´), and lastly, to just съ (s´). What does this mean? The word государь and it´s varieties are equivalent to the English sir. At the same time, Slovoers began to acquire the function of emphasizing the meaning, as well as a marker of irony.

In the 20th century (especially in the first half), Slovoers was preserved in the subculture of family doctors and it was used to give oneself authority and partly for psychotherapeutic purposes, to calm the sick (especially the elderly, for whom the word was a familiar form of politeness). Slovoers was also preserved in the speech of intellectuals as a sign of involvement in the “old” (that is, more elite than Soviet) culture, as a symbol of “allowed nobility.” 

Today, Slovoers is used extremely rarely and only to mark the author’s irony.

3. Examples in Russian literature

Here are examples where Slovoers is to be found in some of the most popular works of 19th century Russian literature.

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin: Eugene Onegin

Он дамам к ручке не подходит;
Всё да, да нет, не скажет да-с
Иль нет-с — таков был общий глас.

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov

— Николай Ильич Снегирёв-с, русской пехоты бывший штабс-капитан-с, хоть и посрамлённый своими пороками, но всё же штабс-капитан. Скорее бы надо сказать: штабс-капитан Словоерсов, а не Снегирёв, ибо лишь со второй половины жизни стал говорить словоерсами. Слово-ер-с приобретается в унижении.
— Это так точно, — усмехнулся Алёша, — только невольно приобретается или нарочно?
— Видит бог, невольно. Всё не говорил, целую жизнь не говорил словоерсами, вдруг упал и встал с словоерсами.

 

Have you ever heard about slovoers that was used in 19th century Russian? Now that you know the story about them, it is time to grab a Russian novel and try to find slovoers in the text! Good luck!

 

This text was written by Dina Stankovic, currently studying in Liden & Denz in Riga, Latvia

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