Professor at St Petersburg University, Valery Mokienko, and Professor at the University of Greifswald, Harry Walter, have delved into how the era of the coronavirus pandemic is reflected in the Russian language. The result of the study is the 'Dictionary of Russian Covid-Related Quarantine Anti-proverbs'. It is part of the academic 'Dictionary of the Russian Language of the Coronavirus Era' prepared by the Institute for Linguistic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The research is supported by a grant from the Russian Science Foundation.

Anti-proverbs are how people respond to a shock and a way of how native speakers who have a considerable knowledge of proverbs and sayings can address a situation, said Valery Mokienko, Professor in the Department of Slavic Philology at St Petersburg State

University. Such short sayings, as a rule, are humorous or ironic in nature and based on the linguistic folklore.

We could witness the first examples of how proverbs were transformed to reflect the coronavirus topic just a month after the pandemic had been declared. This evidences the universality of this phenomenon that is both social and linguistic in nature. The sources for the linguistic research carried out by Valery Mokienko and Harry Walter were various online media and blog posts. This is because Internet communication was the first to move to the forefront during the coronavirus period and best reflected how the language was changing.

The researchers recorded all cases of how the proverbs were transformed from March 2020 to February 2021. They also determined the frequency of how often they appeared on the Internet. The dictionary includes both the most common variants and singular cases that aroused curiosity in linguists.

'It is important to understand that no Covid-related proverb is an accident. These proverbs use the models of proverbs and are based on their meaning as an object for jokes or a contradiction of eternal wisdom. Anti-proverbs cause laughter because every native speaker knows the source and compares it with its playful version. We can say that such antiproverbs are a picture of the world during the pandemic in the mirror of the Russian language,' says Valery Mokienko.

  • Two heads – one and half metres apart – are better than one– at least one and a half metres from each other (two heads are better than one)
  • Friendship is friendship, and one and a half metres apart (Friendship is friendship, and service is service)
  • They are met by a mask, they are escorted by temperature (They are met by their clothes, they are escorted by their minds)
  • One in the field is not sick (One in the field is not a warrior)
  • Do not have a hundred roubles, but have an antiseptic (Do not have a hundred roubles, but have a hundred friends)

Each word that came into being with the advent of the coronavirus became an example of how words and phrases were formed in response to what was happening in our life. Among them are corona (means ‘crown’ in English), Covid, quarantine, and new meanings of the word mask. This word was a source for over 40 anti-proverbs only in the Czech language during the first months of the pandemic, the expert said.

According to the expert, proverbs and sayings are natural to any language. They reflect how people creatively convey a wisdom. As a rule, such units of language express instructions or advice. Anti-proverbs use well-known plots in a new way based on the overall meaning of the expression ('one is not sick in the field' / 'one is not a warrior in the field') or create a humorous effect thanks to consonance (for example, 'an eye for an eye, zoom for zoom' / 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth').

'Language reacts to everything, even to an ordinary dialogue between people. This is the socalled everyday linguistic poetry. By studying the language of a certain period of time, we, linguists, can learn a lot about our contemporaries, ideals, and life,' said Valery Mokienko.

Prepared by researchers of Russian phraseological units and proverbs Valery Mokienko and

Harry Walter, the 'Dictionary of Russian Covid-Related Quarantine Anti-proverbs’ is part of the

‘Dictionary of the Russian Language of the Coronavirus Era' published by the Institute of Linguistic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. It contains over 3,500 words that have appeared during the coronavirus pandemic. The project was carried out with the financial support of a grant from the Russian Science Foundation (No 20-18-00091 'The world of the Eastern Slavs in a paremiological interpretation: axiological dominants and their linguistic and cultural representation').

The ‘Dictionary of the Russian Language of the Coronavirus Era’ perfectly reflects how the language responds to changes in society and helps anticipate what will happen next, said St Petersburg University Professor Valery Mokienko. If you read the dictionary from cover to cover, you can first see the symptoms of the disease and then application and phraseological units of this era that play on what has already happened.

Yet, the expert warns, we should not assume that when the pandemic is over, new linguistic units will also disappear. As a rule, such units remain in the language for a long time, and dictionaries are an opportunity to record and explore our life. This will be of interest to future generations in new circumstances.

Nothing just disappears from the language. Of course, jokes about coronavirus will eventually become a thing of the past. However, the language models for constructing these jokes will remain and continue to work on a different basis, thus strengthening the norms of the language.

Valery Mokienko, the author of the study, Professor in the Department of Slavic Philology at St Petersburg University

'Our dictionary may become a chronicle as well. It is valuable. Nestor also wrote “The Tale of Bygone Years” without knowing whether someone would read it or not. Later, Alexander Pushkin created “The Song of the Wise Oleg” by starting the structure of the text with the language and the ancient legend written by the chronicler. So you will read our “kovidki”, revive well-known proverbs in your memory, or simply remember this era, which would go (Oh, Goodness!) into the past. Recording and continuing to keep the chronicle of life is important because if we forget, the language will remind us, just like Pushkin reminded us about Nestor,' explains Valery Mokienko.

Anti-proverbs are a deeply rooted creative process that helps cope with difficulties by using linguistic means. Every global change is reflected in language and 'Covid is not so terrible as it is painted' ('the devil is not so terrible as it is painted').