Where and when did the phrase in question originate? Was it the invention of Soviet propaganda, or did authorities themselves adopted the earlier phrase from other literary sources? Could it be used in its disdainful connotation by earlier religious critic or someone on either side of Orientalist/Occidentalist (as the case may have been in Russia) debate?

Obviously, the literal and neutral meaning “their customs” as used by, say, an anthropologist is clear. When and how did “customs” became explicitly “their”?

Где и когда появилась фраза «их нравы»? Было ли это изобретением советской пропаганды или власти в свою очередь взяли эту фразу из других литературных источников? Могла ли она быть использована с пренебрежительной коннотацией ранним религиозным критиком или, быть может, ориенталистом.

Очевидно, что буквальный и нейтральный смысл фразы, как используемой, скажем, антропологом, понятен. Когда и как «нравы» стали недвусмысленно «их»?

  • Some answers on when this phrase came to life can be found here books.google.com/ngrams/… Jan 2, 2013 at 3:36
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    Скорее всего этот штамп закрепился как название газетной рубрики, в которую помещали новости отражающие "падение буржуазной морали".
    – Artemix
    Jan 2, 2013 at 13:22
  • @Artemix, я понимаю, как он закрепился. Меня интересует, почему эту рубрику так назвали в первую очередь.
    – theUg
    Jan 9, 2013 at 16:10

3 Answers 3


Just as a theory that has a chance of being true.

In "Кавказский пленник" by А. С. Пушкин one may meet the following:

Но европейца всё вниманье
Народ сей чудный привлекал.
Меж горцев пленник наблюдал
Их веру, нравы, воспитанье,
Любил их жизни простоту,
Гостеприимство, жажду брани,
Движений вольных быстроту,
И легкость ног, и силу длани;
Смотрел по целым он часам,
Как иногда черкес проворный,
Широкой степью, по горам,
В косматой шапке, в бурке черной,
К луке склонясь, на стремена
Ногою стройной опираясь,
Летал по воле скакуна,
К войне заране приучаясь.

Considering the enormous success the poem enjoyed right after its publication, it had plenty of time to form some popular quotations, one of which (or the unchanged passage) could just come across someone's mind when writing the aforementioned newspaper headline.

  • That phrase in literal sense, as I noted in my question, had been used long enough, and there are plenty examples. I specifically talk about disparaging connotation.
    – theUg
    Feb 2, 2013 at 0:41
  • @theUg Isn't the "We, the people of the country where Communism has won" vs. "They, the countries of rotting imperialism" enough to make "Us vs. them" have special meaning? I think Const's answer is correct. In early years of Soviet Russia there were plenty of people that had "tsarist" education and popular Pushkin citation in new context may become instantly popular.
    – Artemix
    Apr 10, 2013 at 13:36

I'm not sure that we can really find the sourse of the phrase. There can be dozens of theories. For example:

Castigat ridento mores «Смехом бичуют нравы» Девиз театра комедии (Opera Comique) в Париже. Первоначально - девиз итальянской труппы комического актера Доминика (Dominico Brancolelli) в Париже, сочиненный для нее новолатинским поэтом Сантелем (XVII в.).

There was a period in Russia when French culture (Paris theatre is a part of) was very popular (just try to start reading Война и Мир, you'll see :-), and it could easily come frome there.

Then, just because this is not a Russian slogan, "their" appears, to accent that this is not russian, это их нравы, not ours.

So the common ironic meaning of the source transforms into irony about THEM, not us.

That was just an example. It could be so, definitely before USSR.


The phrase obtained its second life in the eighties of the Soviet Union soon after the underground release of casset album of the same name by a pseudo-punk band ДК (1983).

This is the first recorded example of the mocking sense given to this phrase.

More information (in Russian) is available at


Lets's look at the history of the subject. The oldest examples of the phrase can be traced back as long as to the 18th century. The phrase then used to be a part of three-dimetional paradigm accompanied by two cognates, namely

их нравы/нравы их

сих нравы/нравы сих

оных нравы/нравы оных

Notice that prepositional pronoun combination stands mainly for compound subject, while postpositional pronoun combiation stands mainly for compound object/adverbial; see e.g. Rodionova (2001) and Dyakonova (2009). By the beginning of 1800 их нравы/нравы их began the most frequently used combination.

Before 1850s both directions were used. However, их нравы became predominant by that time, not being a cliché yet.

  • 4
    First, you are referencing an album which hardly can be called influential in any sense, especially in context of this very question. Second, the question was about the origin of the phrase, not about any kind of post-modernist quotation.
    – shabunc
    Jan 6, 2013 at 22:07
  • First, the album was influential because it was a good representation of Soviet rock (or Russian rock) in general and that of (pseudo)pank rock in particular. Also, it was the first recorded example of a satirical usage of propaganda cliché. Maverick bifurcations often give a start to non-linear probabilities and events development of 'black swan' type. Second, the question was about the origin of the phrase, which implies the whole story of the phrase meaning throughout the history of its existence, including its modern, post-modernist meaning.
    – Manjusri
    Jan 7, 2013 at 18:31
  • PS To understand the present, we should know the past, and knowing the past we get the whole picture.
    – Manjusri
    Jan 7, 2013 at 18:32
  • Manjusri, you talk about "its second life". What about its first life? The reference to the album is OK (also proving its importance) but not sufficient. Try to explain also the path that this expression had, of course as long as you manage to find references, not all expressions have a clear history but you should be able to report something here. :)
    – Alenanno
    Jan 9, 2013 at 9:23
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    @Manjusri google is a bad assistant for finding an origin of something. The phrase definitely had existed long before the album you mentioned. Unless you have investigated the topic by yourself or found an explicit investigation of a source, you have no relevant information.
    – Netch
    Jan 17, 2013 at 7:55

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