6

Wiktionary gives eight different meanings as well as the etymological origin of the word "чурка": Meanings 1-4 are various small pieces of wood or metal, Meaning 5 is a simpleton or uneducated person, Meaning 6 is "someone whose face features are different from those of the Russians - a darker skin, slant eyes, etc.," Meanings 7-8 are regional dialect meanings, and the etymological origin is "чуръ," an old word for stump (link).

Although the original meaning of "чурка" was a piece of wood, I see in Google that nowadays the most usual meaning is Meaning 6 - a Southern or Asian ethnic origin. Here are a few of typical examples:

Фархад, хотя и чурка, но водитель классный, — стал делиться с Раздолбаем Мартин, нисколько не смущаясь присутствия самого Фархада. — Водитель всегда должен быть чуркой. Русских нельзя брать водителями. (Source)

В твоём возрасте у меня был одноклассник из Дагестана. Несмотря на то, что чурка, он был одним из достойнейших людей. (Source)

Любопытно, что я, как русский воспитанный в СССР, был вхож во все местные общины. Потому что в русской культуре нет снобизма. Да, наша культура грубоватая, мы можем сказать в лицо чурке, что он чурка, но мы сразу же принимаем любого человека за равного и если человек правильный, то общение пошло. (Source)

The word is pretty frequently used nowadays.

Analyzing the Google Books statistics, I found that the word has been being actively used at least since the 1800s (link), when it was used in books only about twice as fewer per unit of text length as it is used in books nowadays.

Opening books of that epoch, I saw use of various meanings of "чурка," including a couple of apparent instances of Meaning 6 (ethnic origin):

Он всегда был смуглъ, сутуловатъ, морщинистъ и грубоватъ, - такъ и остался; словом, ничего не прибавилось. Бѣдный старый Чурка! (From a book of 1866)

Но, по счастiю, оказался он живъ, а только опаленъ какъ чурка, и кровь лилась съ лица и со всей головы его. (From a book of 1873)

So it seems the Russians already called Asians and Southern people чурки in the 1800s, but I have no idea whether, for example, the Russians called the Mongols чурки during the Mongol invasion of Rus in the 1200s.

(Update: As @tum_ pointed out in a comment below, I was terribly wrong. In the example of 1868, the word Чурка does not mean an ethnic origin. The text from which I had taken the sentence turned out to be an old Russian translation of the English text entitled "The Tale of Aunt Margaret's Trouble," and Чурка is how the Russian interpreter translated the nickname "Stock," which, in turn, was derived from "Stork." In the example of 1873, "опален как чурка" can be understood as "burned like a piece of wood." Opening other books of the 1800s, I was unable to find any example where "чурка" means an ethnic origin. So it is quite possible that the Russians did not yet call Asians чурки in the 1800s.)

My question is this: When and why did the Russians start to call people with darker skin and/or slant eyes чурки, а word for а piece of wood? I am curious what the logical connection was.

I am especially interested because as a Japanese I myself qualify as чурка.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Quassnoi May 27 at 12:12
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Quassnoi May 27 at 17:44
  • I hope you do realise that this word is highly offensive? Sorry for stating the obvious, but your question doesn't acknowledge this. – Ivan Milyakov May 28 at 2:52
  • In a nutshell usual russian says it when he talks about southern people with a negative shade. It's very inpolite and racist so I suggest you not to use this word – User May 30 at 16:58
  • 1
    On a side note, чурка, even though it's grammatically female, is never used (that I've heard) for women. So, Mitsuko-san, if that's your real name, you don't qualify. – Seva Alekseyev Jun 10 at 18:30
0

My idea (which I, however, can not properly substantiate) is that the word "чурка" originally meant "a stump of wood" and could be used as a generic prerogative term for a person. Later, in XIX century, it had become popular when disparaging Turkish people because of easy rhyming ("турки-чурки") and when the animosity towards Ottoman Empire was high. There is some literary evidence of that.

Later on, the word "чурка" had become "reserved" for people of Turkish origin, and extended to all Asians who ended up within Russian Empire (so, Buryats and Chukchi can be called "чурки", while Chinese and Japanese are not).

It's probably safe to say that the word "чурка" was not is use yet in 1200's during the Mongol invasion.

  • Wow, this is really an excellent answer! You found a very interesting piece of evidence: In a book of 1890 the Turks are explicitly called чурки! This is really enlightening! – Mitsuko May 31 at 18:22
  • the Chinese and Japanese can't be called чурки also because чурка has a connotation of barbarity, backwardness and underdevelopment which can't be attributed to the Chinese and Japanese – Баян Купи-ка May 31 at 19:02
5

First of all you are misunderstanding the term a bit. Normally you would say азиат for Asian and южанин for Southern which would be neutral. On the other hand чурка in modern Russian stands for highly insulting reference to anyone Turkish- or Persian- looking. Can also be sometimes used as a standin for "not white people" or "not Russian", again insulting. The closest analogy in English is "nigger"

The word itself has been around in language for quite a while. For example, my grandma (b. 1930s) would use it from time to time. I believe is has gained a much wider spread in Post-Soviet Russia as the USSR collapse has led to a flood of cheap workforce from Asian and Southern ex-USSR republics to large Russian cities (mainly Moscow) increasing xenophobia and racism in local citizens.

I am especially interested because as a Japanese I myself qualify as чурка.

You do not. If you want to say something as insulting you would qualify as узкоглазый but that is less insulting.

1

The word чурка meant a piece of wood / log, probably after that, the чурка came to mean an insult "Тупой как пень".

  • Thanks a lot! But it is yet to be explained what the connection between being dumb and being an Asian was. Is it like with the word немцы? The Slavs called Germanic people deaf (немые, немцы), as Germanic people did not understand Slavs because of the language barrier. Could it be that the Russians called Asians pieces of wood (чурки) for exactly the same reason - the inability to understand the Russians? – Mitsuko May 26 at 19:38
  • @Mitsuko take into account that "chorniy" (чёрный) in Russian means "black" and the non-Russians are called "chernota" (чернота) "the blackness" because of their black hair. – Anixx May 26 at 21:11
  • @Mitsuko quite probable, чурка could be a synonym of чурбан, which besides a piece of wood also means an awkward, thick, emotionally impenetrable, clumsy person, see also Чурки_(национальное_прозвище) – Баян Купи-ка May 26 at 21:24
  • @Mitsuko I imagine this is because many asians have round face and small facial features (compared to europeans, anyway), with flat-ish nose. Maybe this is even more pronounced for ethnicities that Russians were in contact with. So there is a denigrating comparison between a trunk of wood and a flat round face. Now that it is a general slur, it may be used towards many central asians or even people of caucasus, most of whom actually look europeoid and even with over-pronounced facial features. – alamar May 27 at 9:02
  • @alamar no, чурбан is usually used for caucasians, who have bigger noses than whites. I never heard this used for mongoloids. – Anixx May 27 at 10:57
-1

The was a nation at Caucases, called "черкессы". They had extremely bad reputation as bandit nation. They were forcibly relocated to Turkey in the middle of XIX. But there reputation of a nation wich despised labor and education (true warrior should only know how to handle sword, gun and women) outlived them. So Russians keep calling all other uneducated highlanders by there shorten insulting name - "чурки" (of case having a second level of comparing them to logs).

Now - almost two centuries later - most people forgot about origins, but remember that this is an insulting name for some nations from "south"

  • can you provide source for what you claim? down-voted since folk etymology is not my favorite thing ) – shabunc May 30 at 14:15
  • I can't find a link to the book where I read it couple of years ago. It might be not so authoritative source as I thoght. – ksbes May 30 at 14:36
  • Thanks for an interesting version. What eludes me in this version is why the people from Middle Asia are called чурки as well. People from Middle Asia - Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, etc. - are not highlanders and are not bandits at all. – Mitsuko May 30 at 14:43
  • 1
    @БаянКупи-ка OK, sorry. I’ll rewrite it. – Neith May 31 at 11:40
  • 1
    I totally disagree with this. First, ordinary Russians outside of military had almost no interactions with Caucasian peoples until 20th century, so, for example, Leo Tolstoy in his “Prisoner of Caucasus” called them “Tatars” because he targeted the story for peasant children. Second, even Pushkin’s “Prisoner of Caucasus” (yes, a story with the same name. Lermontov wrote one too.) describes Circassians working their fields, so their village is empty during the day. Third, overall image of Circassians in Russian culture created by Pushkin and Lermontov is quite positive, of “noble savage” type. – Neith May 31 at 11:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.