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In Russia, the place name "Kamchatka" at some point became a generalized means of referring to faraway, underresourced, or undesirable places (according to a couple of sources, this includes the far rear of a classroom).

When did this usage begin? Why Kamchatka and not Kad'iak nor Ross, which are farther away? Is the reference still in use in the Russian language? Have Kamchatkans objected to this kind of usage of their place name?

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    Perhaps the board game Risk has something to do with it? upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/5/55/Riskgameboard.svg/… – Stedy Feb 13 '17 at 23:42
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    @Stedy The board game Risk is much newer than Russian idiom. – Vitaly Feb 14 '17 at 2:31
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    It seems that I was wrong to think the term connoted poverty. I'm not removing that part of the question because it was addressed in answers. – Aaron Brick Feb 14 '17 at 4:34
  • May I ask you how did you run into this definition of the word Kamchatka? I am just curious. – VL-80 Feb 15 '17 at 1:33
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    Thanks! By the way, in my school it was more common for teachers to keep misbehaving students closer to the front of the classroom, so that such student are more visible and more under control. – VL-80 Feb 15 '17 at 16:31
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I agree with Artemix in most things (but not all), just writing my own response to provide more details.

First of all, in my opinion, (as Artemix already had said) Kamchatka does not have the meaning of a poor "underresourced" place. It just has a meaning of very faraway place. And (again agreeing with Artemix), when people were sent into exile to Kamchatka, - they were not subjected to hard labor. It was not a prison, just far-far distancing the person from the big cities. See, for example, here: exiled people were participating in scientific expeditions, or teaching natives literacy.

It was not economical, I guess, to keep labor camps on Kamchatka, there existed much closer places in Siberia where there was more police presence.

Kamchatka as idiomatic expression means - student desks in the last row in a classroom. This assumes that there are at least 6 rows of desks, so from the last row students may not see well the chalkboard, and do not hear well the presenter in front of the board.

Though, I don't agree with Artemix that pupils were only "exiled" to the last desks. They may well choose this place themselves because they like it - especially on a boring subject. In the last desks they could do whatever they wanted without teacher noticing.

Why other more far places not used as Kamchatka: Кадьяк (Kodiak island) is part of Alaska which was discovered approximately 80 years later (Kamchatka 1651, Alaska 1732) and was not much in the public ear to become an idiom. Fort Ross, California (est. 1808) - even later than Alaska and even less in public ear, I guess. And both places are in America - separated by ocean from continental part of Russia. The desks of the last row are not separated from other desks by any aisle, they are just far.

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  • While its true for students, in schools it is a teacher who decides where children sit in the classroom, at least in first three grades. – Artemix Feb 13 '17 at 20:18
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    "They may well choose this place themselves because they like it - especially on a boring subject. In the last desks they could do whatever they wanted without teacher noticing." - totally true )) – MolbOrg Feb 14 '17 at 4:19
  • @Artemix it depends. Secundo, I doubt they do that if there is no such necessity. First of all, they do not have criteria in the first day of first class, and rather over time the situation may change because of certain reasons if certain arrangement causes problems. It might have the place, depend on personal preferences of the teacher, but to state it as a fact it needs some facts. – MolbOrg Feb 14 '17 at 4:27
  • @Artemix и что же сделает учитель, когда школьник сбегает со своего места за последнюю парту?.. Он... он накажет его и пересадит на последнюю парту, не так ли?! :) – Pavel Mayorov Feb 14 '17 at 11:19
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    @Artemix в общем, хоть учитель и рассаживает школьников как хочет - но попасть на последнюю парту по своему выбору достаточно просто. – Pavel Mayorov Feb 14 '17 at 11:20
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Kamchatka since early years of 18 century was used as a place for sending politically disloyal people to exile. So, in the classroom a teacher sent bad pupils to the "exile" - to the rear seats of the classroom.

I'm not aware of using Камчатка as a synonym for any "poor faraway place".

Why Kamchatka and not Kad'iak nor Ross, which are farther away?

Because of 'exile' meaning. There were other far places that were not used for exile, or other ones that were used for more strict punishments (exile and hard labor in salt mines, etc.).

Is the reference still in use in the Russian language?

As far as I know there is no practice to send pupils to the rear of the classroom, however as a reference to the usage of the term in literature, it still can be used as a joke.

Have Kamchatkans objected to this kind of usage of their place name?

In those times - no, because it was colonization of Kamchatka at those times (much like Indians on American Wild West). So, locals (much like Indians) could not object.

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    Also, after traveling thousands of miles through wildernes you had to take a ship to get to Kamchatka, and the seas there are stormy and cold, that added to the image of that place as the hardest to get to (and from). – Yellow Sky Feb 13 '17 at 19:11
  • @YellowSky I agree, it's a really treacherous passage. Before the first successful trip across the Okhotsk Sea, though, there were land routes onto the peninsula: history.stackexchange.com/questions/34398/… – Aaron Brick Feb 15 '17 at 4:08
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I will provide my answers for some of your questions.

Why Kamchatka and not Kad'iak nor Ross, which are farther away?

Kamchatka is a well known region of Russia. I am sure it will be very hard to find a Russian person who does not know what is Kamchatka and where is it located.

I assume that most of the people who know about Kamchatka will not recognize such names as Kad'iak or Ross. I had to look these places up in the Wikipedia to see their location, because I did not recognize them.

So, use of Kamchatka is influenced by the widespread knowledge of the location of this region.

Is the reference still in use in the Russian language?

Per the Russian dictionary this definition was used only until 1917 (see update):

КАМЧАТКА, -и; ж.

  1. Полуостров, расположенный на северо-востоке России.

  2. Разг. В России до 1917 г.: Шутливое название задней парты или нескольких задних парт в классе, на которые сажали самых плохих учеников. Сидеть на камчатке.

However, it is not uncommon to hear this word used in this definition today. When I was in school (15 years ago) some of our teachers would use this word often by saying something like

Hey, Kamchatka, pay attention! Did you hear what I just said?

UPDATE

The modern dictionary of Russian language that I have does not mention "only until 1917", so it is perfectly valid to use this definition today.

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underresourced, or undesirable places

I cannot agree with this sentence. "Камчатка" often has no negative meaning, only "far and/or hard to come area". It could be district of the township, detached by railways, or residential area of the city which is hard to arrive by the public transport.

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This idiom comes from schools.

It is common that a map of Russian Federation is hanged on the right wall of a classroom, when facing blackboard. Because of this Kamchatka is near the desk, farthest from the blackboard and teacher. So Kamchatka became synonym for such a desk.

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  • If the map was consistently hung on that wall, this is a very succinct explanation of the classroom usage. However, could this have been the case in the Imperial era? – Aaron Brick Feb 16 '17 at 16:08
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    It is common that a map of Russian Federation is hanged on the right wall of a classroom. How do you know? There are so many schools in Russia and one needs to visit most of them in order to confirm this statement. Some of our classrooms had map hanging on the front wall. I do not remember map on the right wall. – VL-80 Feb 16 '17 at 16:21
  • There is a right wall in most classrooms so that ambient light from the street doesn't cast shadows on a notebook when writing right handedly. – Ander K. Feb 16 '17 at 16:35
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    There is a right wall in most classrooms so that ambient light from the street doesn't cast shadows on a notebook when writing right handedly. Most schools in villages and small towns only had one classroom, so math and lessons on other studies were in the same classroom as geography. A map could be hanged in place of the blackboard, on the right wall or back wall. Back wall is bad choice because pupils have to turn 180 degrees to see it. Ceilings were mostly low, so a map wouldn't fit over a blackboard, and places to hang it to the left or right are small. This leaves the right wall. – Ander K. Feb 16 '17 at 16:46
  • @AnderK. are you saying that most Russian classrooms have their windows on the north side, to avoid direct sunlight, and the maps on the south side, visible from outside? – Aaron Brick Feb 16 '17 at 17:12

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