My friend (St. Petersburg born and raised) recently got a tattoo:


I asked him what БОШЕТУНМАЙ ("Boshhetunmai") meant, and he said it was the refrain from a song that very much impressed him in his youth, the 1986 hit Бошетунмай by Кино (Kino) from the album Группа крови ("Blood Group"). You can hear Kino singing this word, in context, at ~2m22s in the linked video.

What does this word mean? My friend claims that it's, at first glance, nonsense, and Kino refused to unequivocally define it until the day he died.

That's roughly in accord with the Wikipedia.ru history of the word, though automatic translation to English¹ is very rough, fragmented, and hard to follow:

Интервью с В. Цоем, Мурманское ТВ, апрель 1989 г. (Interview with V. Tsoi, Murmansk TV, April 1989):

— А что такое «Бошетунмай»?
— Это секрет.

His answer: "It's a secret".

Интервью с В. Цоем, «РИО» № 19, 1988 (Interview with V. Tsoi, "RIO" No. 19, 1988):

— Откуда взялось слово «Бошетунмай»? Сам придумал?
— Нет, не сам. Есть несколько разных версий возникновения этого слова.
— А у тебя какая?
— Классическая. Просто такое вот волшебное слово.

Roughly, he answers "It's a word with many interpretations. Mine is: it's classical. Just such a magic word".

Георгий Гурьянов так трактует это выражение (Georgy Guryanov interpreted this expression as follows):

— О-о-о… Бошетунмай
— это отдельная история. Была такая группа «Ю би фоти»
— реггей, британский «нью вейв». Они приехали к нам в Ленинград, мы ходили на их концерт, слушали их песню, даже исполняли её сами. А у них же всё вокруг марихуаны и косяков. Виктор под впечатлением всего этого написал реггей-песню. А «бошетунмай»
— это одно из наших названий этого продукта. Скорее это всё Тимур придумал, у него был круг друзей, которые говорили между собой, что человек, который бросил это курить, продался. Соответственно, когда предлагалось курнуть, говорили: «Давай, не продадимся». Так не продавались, не продавались, а потом для конспирации перевели слово на китайский язык. Он был очень модным. Слово взяли из разговорника. «Не продаваться»
— это глагол… Никто значения этого слова до сих пор и не знает, м.б. лучше и не знать.

This is much harder to follow in English, but it seems he concludes the word means " 'Do not sell' as a verb ... nobody knows the meaning of this word to this day. It's better not to know."

Given that the creators of the word didn't assign it a meaning, my question is:

  • If a native speaker, the average man on the street, encountered Бошетунмай never having heard the song, would it be mean anything to him? What would he interpret it to mean?
  • If not, does the word have any allusions, references, either in whole, or in part, which lend it shades of meaning based on morphology or phonology alone?
  • If not, does it have any assonances, consonances, rhymes, or other similarities to other common words which would create links in the hearer's or reader's mind?
  • Would it consistently provoke any emotion or constellation of emotions in native speakers?

In short, without a familiarity with the Kino song, is this word complete nonsense? If not, what does it mean, or what associations would it create in the mind of a native speaker?

¹ Forgive me, I only speak English. I won't be able to understand answers or comments in Russian or any other non-English language. Of course you're free to speak among yourselves in any language you like, but addressing me won't be effective in anything but English.

  • 4
    G.T. translates "don't sell" to Chinese as "Bù mài" - so if someone would manage to find extra words that would add inner syllables like "zhe tun" or something - the hypothesis would get standing. 择东 - "Zedong" - means just "choose east [over west]" so can not be inserted there meaningfully
    – Arioch
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 17:31
  • 7
    @shabunc I'm ok with the question being closed as off-topic, but the specific text of the closure reason says "unless prior research effort is clearly indicated". Did I not do that? Did I not do that sufficiently? The word will not appear in any Russian dictionaries, so I was forced to turn to the Russian Wikipedia article on the track. You see the results of that research in my question. Also I don't think the characterization "bulk" applies: I asking on a single, specific word.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 18:58
  • 2
    @Arioch I don't speak Chinese, so I can't say the following is correct, but wikipedia article says: "Один из вариантов перевода на китайский "Не продавать", "не продается" - 不是出卖, что звучит как "буши чумай", и здесь легко узнается "бошетунмай", искаженное незнакомыми с китайским парнями."
    – Dmitriy
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 12:56
  • 4
    Watching you guys exchange messages in three languages and three character sets to unravel a mystery set by a musician who died too young is one of the most rewarding things I've experienced on SE!
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 13:38
  • 6
    Guryanov's version makes sense: looks like the band mates decided to invent a new word from a phrase like 'won't sell ourselves' using Chinese phrase-book. А person without any knowledge of Chinese would just combine similar words which can be found in such a book. Those easily found words could be NO (不是 - bu shi = бу ши in the so called Palladium /Russian/ transcription), SELL (卖 mai = май) and TOGETHER (同 tong = тун). So, NO-TOGETHER-SELL gives Бушитунмай, which could be finally memorized with a slight distorsion as Бошетунмай.
    – Alex_ander
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 11:15

3 Answers 3


OK, I've waited long enough and since nobody's answering, I'll do it myself.

If a native speaker with no knowledge of the song hears "Бошетунмай", it won't mean anything to him. As for allusions and references, this sounds slightly, vaguely "turkic" (or Tatar) - but that's basically it, nothing more specific. Any popular rhyming word you can think of - like "сарай", "каравай" - still give you no hint.

As for evoking any emotion - no. It doesn't sound harsh, it doesn't sound aggressive — it's pretty neutral.

To conclude, this word has nothing to do with the Russian language — it's a completely made-up word, and only Viktor Tsoi knows it's exact meaning, assuming that it has one. It's as much Russian as, say, Kid Rock's Bawitdaba is an English word.


У меня есть версия, что это слово, не что иное как немного исковерканное русское выражение "Боже ты мой!". Оно почти так и звучит на слух если произносить очень быстро, или если оно произносится иностранцем. Так как время написания песни совпадает с визитом UB40, можно предположить что Виктор услышал как это выражение было произнесено кем-то из этой группы, и он взял это на заметку чтобы использовать в своей будущей песне. Более того, это выражение очень подходит по смыслу к самой песни, так как в ней поется о сумасшествие в нашем обществе...


I have an alternative version of the word's meaning. In my humble opinion, it sounds almost exactly like a Russian expression "Oh My God!" (Bozhe ti Moy!). If you say it very quickly, it sounds very similar, if not exactly, like that. It is just slightly distorted. On top of that, if it is pronounced by a foreigner, who does not speak Russian, it will be sounding exactly like that. Since creation of the song coinsides with the visit of UB40, it is possible that Victor heard the expression being pronounced by someone from the band and took a note of it to incorporate into his song. By the way, the expression fits quite well in the context of the song because it is about our crazy societal problems...


This is much harder to follow in English, but it seems he concludes the word means " 'Do not sell' as a verb ... nobody knows the meaning of this word until now. It is better not to know."

Not exactly.

"Don't sell" = "Не продавай", but according to quote there is "не продадимся" or maybe "не продавайся". According to google translate "продаться" = "sell out". If I try to translate (with google translate still) sell out to Traditional Chinese, I can get (among the others) "出賣", that is read as Chūmài which is чумай and looks very similar to тунмай.

So it seems originally it was предавать, not продавать.

Not exactly too.

You can предать some other person, but not yourself. In the quote it's definitely about themselves. Продаться (or also продаваться in case of alive subject) is forget about you own principles in favor of money or other benefits. Не продавайся = don't sell yourself [you principles].


@Dmitriy, yes, I believe this is the correct phrase. Also note that translation was made long time ago and if it was not made by professional translator, its quality can be low. Anyway it matches the story and in general seems to be a nice catch. My attempts to get this translation now lead only to the last part (in other hieroglyphs, but with same sound), but you succeeded in the whole phrase - great!

  • Why downvoting? o_O
    – Qwertiy
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 7:55

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