11

I discovered yesterday that the Russians often use the word "кабан" ("wild boar") or its Old Russian analogue "вепрь" to talk about people:

(1) Что ещё раз доказывает, что здоровья у Уайта предостаточно, чтобы ронять любого. Он вообще кабан ещё тот. Просто не умеет вовремя и точно бить, чтобы всю силу удара проявить, то корпус не вложит, кинув просто одну руку, то промажет. (Source)

(2) Когда он выбирается за КПП, он рыщет в поисках самки аки вепрь. (Source)

(3) Саша был на вид лет сорока, рост — ​190 см, (здоровый как кабан, примерно 120 кг), волосы на голове короткие, на обоих бедрах спереди наколки в виде тигра. (Source)

(4) Куда мне с таким кабаном сладить? Он мне сам руки скрутил и заставил! (From Google Books)

(5) У нас в спортзале мужик носился как кабан, потом сразу тяжести, далее баня, бассейн и холодный душ, почти каждый день. (Source)

(6) Лоуренс растолстел, посмотрите трейлер 'Смерть на похоронах' там он вообще кабан. (Source)

(7) Даже не удивившись, я услышала, как запор щелкнул, и в дверь ввалился злой, как кабан, Сардонет. (Source)

(8) Он крутой, как кабан. (Source)

(9) Она должна быть в хорошей форме, чтобы спать с таким кабаном. (Source)

I am unsure precisely what qualities the word "кабан" expresses in each of these sentences, but the Russians appear to me to see the wild boar as a big, strong, hot-tempered, and dangerous animal, and I am completely surprised by this. I cannot speak for all Japanese, but I see the wild boar rather as a cute, small, and peaceful creature. Here is a typical video showing a cute wild boar wandering in a city: https://youtu.be/KBqBRxPwFJQ. As you see in the video, no one is afraid of the boar. And wild boars are by no means big - they are pretty short, well below the human waist, and have very short legs.

Experts, even Russian-speaking ones, clearly say that boars are harmless, at least unless seriously provoked. Let me quote from a Russian article:

Директор зоопарка Алексей Григорьев, кандидат ветеринарных наук, знает о кабанах почти все: - Это животное практически совершенно лишено агрессии. Когда в средствах массовой информации сообщают, что кабан - хищник, мне просто смешно. ... Чтобы дикий кабан преследовал мальчика, этот мальчик должен был бы либо животное ранить (а это само по себе непросто), либо попытаться нанести вред детенышам. Я наблюдаю кабанов не один год, и могу сказать, что даже самка с детенышами, заметив человека, всегда старается уйти, скрыться в чаще. Кабан неконфликтен, он избегает столкновений с другими животными. (Source)

As you see, this expert laughs about the popular conception that wild boars are aggressive. My view on wild boars fully coincides with the view by this expert.

Sure, if you seriously attack a wild boar or threaten its babies, it can respond with counter-aggression if it sees no other choice, but this is common to all animals, I believe. I think there is nothing really special about the wild boar in this regard.

I am puzzled how the Russians could end up having such an irrational fear of boars. After all, boars are much smaller and less aggressive or dangerous than bears, aren't they? Yet the Russians say "добрый как медведь" ("kind as a bear") and call bears by the cute word "мишка." I am totally confused by this. I think it is much more natural to call a big hulk a bear rather than a boar. Bears are big and intimidating, whilst boars are rather small and almost completely vegetarian.

In my culture the wild boar is portrayed as an animal that, if really provoked and left no choice but to fight, becomes totally reckless. That is, if a wild boar has to fight, it fights for real, no matter who the enemy is. It is about the true fighting spirit.

But it does not seem to be any fighting spirit that the Russians convey by using the word "кабан". At least this is what numerous examples, including Sentences (1)-(9), seem to suggest.

I got intrigued by this apparent cultural difference and am curious why the Russians see the wild boar how they see it. Maybe there are some relevant fairy tales, cartoons, songs, poems, novels, or movies. After all, children learn about animals from fairy tales, and the first impression is the most important. And fairy tales are notorious for being too different from the reality.

My question is this: Precisely what qualities do the Russians mean when they figuratively call someone a wild boar or compare someone to a wild boar, and why? The question "why" refers to how the Russians learn about wild boars, that is, to things like fairy tales, cartoons, etc. And I am especially curious to know the default meaning of "ты (как) кабан" ["you are (like) a wild boar"] and whether this phrase is a compliment or an offence.

  • boars are harmless in that sense that are not serial killers just trying to kill anyone they happen to encounter - however if they will feel - even mistakenly - that they are in danger - they become quite furious. – shabunc May 29 at 18:13
  • example of the fury youtube.com/watch?v=SW6wj3ceH78 – Баян Купи-ка May 29 at 21:16
  • 4
    I guess Hayao Miyazaki must have used Russian idea of a wild boar in his animation classic "Mononoke-hime" :) – Alexander May 30 at 0:07
  • I rolled back the edit made by Ivan, because my explanations provided in the post are needed to properly understand my question "why." My post describes not only my personal opinion, but also an opinion by an expert on boars and provides hard facts such as the use of Russian expressions like "добрый как медведь." I was puzzled how the Russians could choose the boar to figuratively call big people. And I am happy to have received answers addressing exactly what I wanted to ask. This would be impossible without all my explanations made in the post. – Mitsuko May 30 at 13:32
  • @Mitsuko sorry, but this stack exchange is dedicated to questions about Russian language, and lengthy discussions on perceived vs actual danger of European boars are, or should be, offtopic. Your personal feelings towards boars are offtopic. Video of a cute boar wandering somewhere presumably in Japan has no relation whatsoever to Russian language. I would suggest that, instead of rolling back your post to its original War-and-Peace-like eloquence, you'd leave a brief description of your attitude towards boars, without gratuitous videos and quotes. – Ivan Milyakov May 31 at 12:32
3

the Russians often use the word "кабан" ("wild boar") or its Old Russian analogue "вепрь" to talk about people

Not exactly.

  • We use [кабан] to talk about people
  • Wo do not use [вепрь] to talk about people
    [вепрь] is only used to talk about real boar, for example, hunters use this word. Or reporters use this word in articles when they inform about hunting for real boar. Also [секач] means male boar.

In your example (2) they say not [как вепрь] but [аки вепрь].
[аки], [яки], [як] are 200-300 y.o. eqvivalents for contemporary [как].
Therefore by using [аки вепрь] the authour of this text wanted to create some style of 200 y.o. way of speaking.

I see the wild boar rather as a cute, small, and peaceful creature

In the place where I live (it is Yekaterinburg, Urals, 2000 km east from Moscow) we have boars 2m height and 500 kg of weight. Its size is like Toyota Land Cruiser.
If you meet such a boar at the forest it might kill you.
Anyway, hunting for a boar is considered to be deathly dangerous.
The main danger comes from male boars, not from female boars.

enter image description here

I am puzzled how the Russians could end up having such an irrational fear of boars.

Russians are not affraid of boars.
Russians just know that it is risky to meet male boar at the forest.

I am totally confused by this. I think it is much more natural to call a big hulk a bear rather than a boar.

When we call someone [кабан] it is not about hulk, it is about health and speed of reaction.

If compare to Japanese culture, I feel (I don't know, I just feel) that Japanese feeling for tuna with counter [to:] not [hiki].
[кабан] is about healthy, speed and solid shape.

For Russian perception bear is powerfull, the king of forest, like lion is the king of jungles.
But bear is not the most clever person.
Bear is not fast reaction person, even slow thinker. Bear is not solid speaking about shape. Bear's shape is flexible, like jelly, but [кабан] is solid like tuna or even like bullet.

Boar is just a wild form of pig [свин] [свинья].
But [свинья] is offensive.
[свинья] is grown up by a man to be killed for meat.
[кабан] is wild and a free creature.

[кабан] = healthy + solid shaped + fast reaction + wild freedom. [кабан] is forest big tuna.

[bear] = huge + unlimited power + flexible shaped + slow reaction.
[bear] eats all summer and sleeps all winter.
Bear is [сила есть ума не надо] = [might goes before right]

Maybe there are some relevant fairy tales, cartoons, songs, poems, novels, or movies.

I personally do not remember boar as a character in Russian tales.
Bear, fox, rabbit, wolf, hedgehog - the main animal characters.
Cat, mouse, peackock, chicken, goose - they are from european tales.
We have famouse "Three Pigs" tale, but it is not about [кабан] at all and it is european rooted tale.

I do belive to name someone [кабан] does not come from any folklore or tale. [кабан] is just from perseption of boar itself.

Precisely what qualities do the Russians mean when they figuratively call someone a wild boar or compare someone to a wild boar, and why?

[кабан] = healthy + solid shaped + fast reaction + wild freedom.
[кабан] is a big forest tuna.

The question "why" refers to how the Russians learn about wild boars, that is, to things like fairy tales, cartoons, etc.

No, [кабан] is not from tales.
[кабан] is from reality.

And I am especially curious to know the default meaning of "ты (как) кабан" ["you are (like) a wild boar"]

Default meaning [you act like a wild male animal with fast reaction, which gives you a little time to think about what you are doing].

whether this phrase is a compliment or an offence.

1) No, it is not a comliment.
2) It is unpleasant word, but it is not offence.
If your task is to insult a man and you say that he is [кабан] your insult will fail.

The main usage of word [кабан] speaking about a man can be devided to 2 functions.

1) When you use word [кабан] to tell the man that he is [кабан].
In this case it is a tool to shame a man for his wild actions.
By naming a man as [кабан] you are saying: stop being a wild animal, rememeber that you are human and start thinking on what impact on others your wild behaviour does.

2) When you use [кабан] to speak about a man with someone else.
In this case you express a kind of complaint that he behaves like a wild animal, but not like a socialized human.
[кабан] in this case means lack of taking in account social environment. Maybe some king of egoistik behavior, but not as a result of intellectuar choise like a egoistik philosophy. [кабан] as egoist is just a consequence of his wild and mindless nature.
[кабан] is someone who makes problems or incomfortable things to others not because [кабан] is bad or intentionally wants to do something bad to others.
No!
[кабан] creates problems to others, because his blood is filled with ulimate life enegry and his brain is out of idea of thinking at such things as "we all live in a society and therefore each of us must think about people who is near us and around us".
[кабан] is just a bag of life enegry like tuna at the ocean.
[кабан] is a solar rocket without habbit to think before do something.


My comments on your examples

(1) Что ещё раз доказывает, что здоровья у Уайта предостаточно, чтобы ронять любого. Он вообще кабан ещё тот. Просто не умеет вовремя и точно бить, чтобы всю силу удара проявить, то корпус не вложит, кинув просто одну руку, то промажет. (Source)

Meaning here: health + speed of reaction + wildness

(2) Когда он выбирается за КПП, он рыщет в поисках самки аки вепрь. (Source)

Meaning here: health + wildness + male hormones in the blood

(3) Саша был на вид лет сорока, рост — ​190 см, (здоровый как кабан, примерно 120 кг), волосы на голове короткие, на обоих бедрах спереди наколки в виде тигра. (Source)

Meaning here: health + solid shape of body + wildness

(4) Куда мне с таким кабаном сладить? Он мне сам руки скрутил и заставил! (From Google Books)

Meaning here: health + wildness + do not think of consequences

(5) У нас в спортзале мужик носился как кабан, потом сразу тяжести, далее баня, бассейн и холодный душ, почти каждый день. (Source)

Meaning here: health + solid shape of body + wildness

(6) Лоуренс растолстел, посмотрите трейлер 'Смерть на похоронах' там он вообще кабан. (Source)

Meaning here: health + solid shape of body + wildness + absence of understaning of what he is doing, but he personally is fine with that

(7) Даже не удивившись, я услышала, как запор щелкнул, и в дверь ввалился злой, как кабан, Сардонет. (Source)

Meaning here: health + wildness + male hormones in the blood

(8) Он крутой, как кабан. (Source)

Meaning here: health + wildness + freedom + no need to think about consequences when wants to do something - if he wants something - just does and period. If someone will be hurt, that is not the problem of [кабан], that is the problem of one who was hurt.

(9) Она должна быть в хорошей форме, чтобы спать с таким кабаном. (Source)

Meaning here: health + wildness + speed of reaction

  • Thanks a lot, it is a very nice explanation :) – Mitsuko Jun 11 at 12:27
10

The perception that a wild boar is violent and dangerous comes from hunting it. Russians have been hunting wild boars for food for thousands of years and still do. These animals are notoriously dangerous to hunt because not only are they very difficult to put down, they have a very thick hide that's hard to pierce and can take many shots to their body without slowing down. Once wounded, they go into a frenzy and try to chase and attack the hunter until their last breath. Unlike some other animals that would try to escape. Many inexperienced and even experienced hunters have died in a boar hunt gone wrong. Even when you think it's dead, it may suddenly get up and attack you. It also has sharp tusks the size of your arm that it can easily gut a person with.

Also the boar linked in your video is tiny, much smaller than the kinds generally hunted in Russia and Eastern Europe. The hunted boars are fully grown males, usually around 150-200kg, but have been known to reach up to 500kg, definitely not small and cute, here is an example picture: https://pikabu.ru/story/biznesmen_iz_chelyabinska_zavalil_gigantskogo_kabana_v_sverdlovskikh_lesakh_3798860

Imagine that thing in a crazed state charging at you, knocking down trees in its path after you've already shot it 5 times and you get the idea. Imagine how it was to hunt them before firearms!

Edit: wild boars have been known to be aggressive throughout history, especially solitary males during rutting season, and they can attack humans unprovoked during this period. See here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_boar#Attacks_on_humans

  • Thanks a lot, this is an excellent answer and explains the source of the Russian perception of boars. Of course, when you intend to kill an animal, you can expect the fiercest resistance. The boar is a true fighter. But I believe it is a peaceful animal unless seriously threatened. Following your link, I see a text starting with: "Actual attacks on humans are rare..." – Mitsuko May 30 at 13:46
  • The boar shown in the photo is a real monster. The weight of 500kg is the weight of a typical wisent. How sure are you that the photo is not fake? The website does not seem to be serious, and I am afraid that hunters can be tempted to photoshop photos of their trophies just as magazine editors photoshop photos of models. – Mitsuko May 30 at 13:50
  • @Mitsuko: Most animals, even large predators, will usually leave humans alone unless the human acts scared (and thus prey-like) or aggressive (and thus threatening) or does something stupid like getting between a mother and her offspring. This is especially true for animals that have historically been hunted by humans. That said, "usually" is not "always", and if an animal does attack, some of the most dangerous ones are large herbivores such as wild bovines or, indeed, boars. They may not be predators themselves, but they've evolved to defend themselves against things like bears and lions. – Ilmari Karonen May 30 at 17:57
  • @Mitsuko you can scroll down on that site and see more photos of it in the comments from other angles. The photos are real, but I can't verify the "over 500kg" claim, that might be an exaggeration in this case. It's not the only one, you can find quite a few on Google, I simply chose the first one I saw. The North American species is even bigger, apparently. assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1720841.1394742600!/img/… – Curiosity May 30 at 20:34
8

When you say that someone is кабан it's about him being huge, bulky and sometimes being strong is also implied, quite often it's used with adjective "здоровенный", like in "Да он же кабан здоровенный, куда тебе с ним тягаться". Depending on context, it can be said quite friendly or can have some negative connotations.

The other word used more or less in the same context is лось (which also could be здоровенный лось. Because, you know, moose and boars are huge and bulky :)

There's also бык or бычара, but this more about not being just strong but aggressive and stupid at the same time.

I can not help but notice that you quite often asking why something is the way it is - well, for good or for bad when it comes to languages this question is quite counterproductive. It's the way it is. Why, for instance not, "здоровенный медвежара" - well we can speculate that bears were taboo animals that's why but we quite often say сильный как медведь.

  • Thanks a lot. What about Sentences (2), (5), (7)? They seem to be rather about the temper or attitude. – Mitsuko May 29 at 18:03
  • @Mitsuko 2,5 are about someone who moves furiously and vivaciously (like a boar), 7) is about being angry as a boar - it's just something this particular author used. – shabunc May 29 at 18:06
  • Does any famous Russian fairy tale, cartoon, poem, writing, or movie about a wild boar come to your mind? (Apart from what you already showed me in a comment under another question of mine :) ) – Mitsuko May 29 at 18:13
  • @Mitsuko nothing comes to my mind to be honest – shabunc May 29 at 18:14
  • 2
    +1 especially for pointing out that asking "why?" when discussing language is a fun, but counterproductive question. – David Mulder May 30 at 11:44
5

It's my own speculation, but I think there are two reasons behind this perception of a wild boar:

  1. They are much more likely to do damage to the land and crops than other animals.
  2. They rely on their body mass in their fight tactics and general behavior more than other animals.

Russian Urheimat was of course populated with bigger animals like bears, elks, wisents etc., but when you are about to think of something big and sturdy and, most importantly, not willing to go out of their way once their mind is set on something, nothing beats the wild boar.

If early Russians played Family Feud and were asked to fill the gaps in "he goes through the crowd like a … through the fence" or "he's moving like a …, nothing can stop him", what would be the most popular answer?

  • 1
    like a hedgehog! – shabunc May 29 at 19:13
  • This is an excellent answer, thanks a lot. I now see that it may be about such factors as harm to the land, reliance on body mass, body proportions, protective fat, the ability to run fast and blew people off their feet, etc. It all makes sense to me now. I think I now get the idea what people are called boars and why. – Mitsuko May 30 at 13:57
4

The image of wild boar is conflated with the image of domestic pig. And the most obvious trait of domestic pig is being fat. Wild boars, on the other hand, are perceived as strong animals, so most of your examples say that someone is big or even fat but strong.

As for wild boar mental image, two main type of interaction between a human and a wild animal, (before the advent of zoos and popular science media), are hunting and damage to crops (killing of livestock for predators).

Boar hunting is dangerous, it even lead to invention of a specific weapon, boar spear. Also, Russian culture is influenced by Greek one, which has a story of a monstrous Calydonian Boar.

Boars are known for crop damage too, which is also featured in Rudyard Kipling’s Letting in the Jungles (one of Mowgli stories), which is obviously influenced by both British and Indian cultural images.

Also, you compared the Russian mental image with Japanese perception. It must be noted that most big wild animals are expected to be smaller in Japan than on Eurasian mainland due to insular dwarfism. And even bigger animals appear in colder, more Northern parts of the continent due to Bergmann’s rule. Look at the table of boar’s subspecies, Japanese boars are much smaller than Central European and Carpathian ones, which are most relevant to Russians. Interestingly, the article on Japanese boar claims it is perceived as “fearsome and reckless animal” in Japanese culture too.

As for your question on boars in Russian fairytales, they seem to appear quite rarely, probably because the role of a big, strong and not so smart animal is already filled by the bear. Also see some discussion here. However, this link claims that the wisent appears more frequently in fairytales than the boar, but I cannot remember any tale with a wisent in it, and even can’t find one in Google. Russian article on wisents suggests that while they were present in Ukraine and Belarus, wisents went extinct in what is now central Russia in prehistoric times.

  • 1
    I saw signs on forest hiking trails in Japan, warning you of a danger associated with the boars. The text, in both Japanese and somewhat broken English, was something like "Be careful, a wild boar may appear". It didn't specify how you should exercise said care, though. – Headcrab May 31 at 1:44

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.