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What exactly do these words mean? How can you correctly use them in speech?

I know that "портак" is some sort of a prison tattoo, but then what does "напортачил" mean?

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Портачить is a dictionary word:

ПОРТАЧИТЬ

-чу, -чишь; несов. (прост.). Плохо, неумело или небрежно делать что-н., портить. || сов. напортачить, -чу, -чишь.

Kobyakov in Бессмертный дар argues that портачить originates from порт ("linen fabric"), having the same root as портной, портки, портянка and пороть, which is a remote cognate to English "fare" (both originate from PIE *per, "to pass through").

He explains that the serf tailors often spoiled their masters' fabric so this previously neutral word came to mean "to bungle, to spoil".

However, he does not provide any sources for that, and this explanation seems quite implausible to me, since the word did not come into any significant use until 1930's.

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Напортачил means that someone has failed to do his work right, maybe has spoiled expensive materials. When you напортачил, you have to apply too much effort to correct your mistake, sometimes it is even impossible.

Напортачить comes from портак because a spoiled tattoo is a very good example. Also, prison tattoos are low-quality.

Напортачить is strictly colloquial. Some colloquial synonyms are накосячить, налажать, набедокурить. An idiom наломать дров has the same meaning, but is more widely used. Use наделать ошибок in most cases and see Quassnoi's comment for good examples.

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  • 2
    Can you provide an example sentence? I'm asking because I'd like to see it being used in a sentence. :)
    – Alenanno
    Nov 19 '12 at 11:30
  • Usually we prefer longer and more elaborated answers on short answers. If you can improve your answer by adding detail, context, examples, and backing up with references, this would increase your answer's quality. Poor answers risk being down-voted and subsequently removed.
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 19 '12 at 11:51
  • @Alenanno: search.ruscorpora.ru/…
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 19 '12 at 11:52
  • @Quassnoi Thanks but I meant in the answer... :P
    – Alenanno
    Nov 20 '12 at 9:41
  • No, it is not related to tatoo. Tatoo meaning is a very limited one, I hever heared of it. -1
    – Anixx
    Nov 22 '12 at 17:45
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Note that in prisoners' slang портак (tattoo) is often pronounced and spelt as партак

In the army slang портак is a short name for портупея ("shoulder belt, Sam Browne Belt"):

— Подтянуть портаки!

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  • What about напортачил? Please include it in your answer (and let me know via comment). :D
    – Alenanno
    Nov 22 '12 at 11:23
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"Портак/партак" is also a bad quality tattoo in general. Tattoo artists use this word not only for prison or army tattoos but for the bad ones too. To see the examples, type "портак" in the Google search box and browse the pictures.

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  • Welcome to Russian Language and Usage Beta! While probably being legit, your answer does not seem to add to the answers given by the other users. If you want to support one of the answers given earlier, please up-vote it rather then repost.
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 30 '12 at 15:56
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It is definitely connected to the word "портной" (tailor). It is well known that if you cut the material you cannot undo it. If you sew a bad suit you also hardly can improve it.

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  • Any reliable reference?
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 23 '12 at 10:35

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