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

БОШЕТУНМАЙ tattoo

I asked him what БОШЕТУНМАЙ ("Boshhetunmai") meant, and he said it was the refrain from a song which very much impressed him in his youth, the 1986 hit Бошетунмай by Кино (Kino) in 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 it is, on its face, 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.

He answers: "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 word with many interpretations. Mine is: it's classical. Just such a magic word".

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

— 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 until now. It is better not to know."

Given the the creators of the word did not assign it a meaning, my question is:

  • If a native speaker, the man on the street, encountered Бошетунмай, never having heard the song, would it be meaningful 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 from 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 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 are free to speak among yourselves in any language you like, but addressing me won't be effective in anything but English.

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    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 Aug 22 '17 at 17:31
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    @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 Aug 22 '17 at 18:58
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    @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 Aug 23 '17 at 12:56
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    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 Aug 23 '17 at 13:38
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    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 Dec 18 '17 at 11:15
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OK, I've waited enough and while nobody's answering this, I will do it myself.

If a native speaker with no knowledge of song will hear "Бошетунмай" this will mean nothing to him. As of 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 of provoking emotion - no. It does not sound harsh, it does not sound aggressive, it's pretty neutral.

To conclude - this word has nothing to do with Russian language, it's a completely made up word and only Viktor Tsoi knows what it exactly means - if it does mean anything at all. It's as much Russian as, say, Kid Rock's Bawitdaba is an English word.

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