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I noticed that Russians sometimes incorrectly spell жирный as жырный, even despite that the rule "spell жи and ши with и" is one of the most basic Russian orthography rules. I also see that Google gives a large heap of results for жырный.

Apparently it is often an intent rather than ignorance, as people often make the letter ы capital:

Хороший официант, прохладная веранда, остальное - жЫрный минус! (Source)

Нашу сеть муж назвал просто «Коля, купи свой Wi-Fi». Это был жЫрный намек соседу — другу детства и редкому халявщику. (Source)

Why do Russians sometimes spell жирный as жырный? In particular, I am curious what they mean to say by that, what the underlying logic of the meaning change is, and how the letter ы changes the pronunciation of this word.

  • 16
    For the same reason some anglophones spell “what” as “wot” and some germanophones spell “hast du” as “hastu” etc. – Ainar-G Sep 24 at 9:50
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    Similarly, a stereotypical big SUV with an arrogant driver is sometimes called БЧЖ — Большой Чёрный Жып. – Roman Odaisky Sep 24 at 18:00
  • @Ainar-G : >> For the same reason some anglophones spell “what” as “wot” and some germanophones spell “hast du” as “hastu” etc.<< "Hastu" and "wot" are abbreviations, i.e., shortened versions, whilst "жырный" has the same number of letters as "жирный." Russians do not write "жырный" for brevity. – Mitsuko Sep 25 at 13:01
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    @Mitsuko But people do not typically use those just to abbreviate, but to imply a subtly different sound and/or meaning. For example I read "wot" as being a more surprised, uncomprehending, and/or contrary "what", suggesting that the thing preceding the "wot" was ridiculous, nonsensical, wrong, and/or inappropriate. – mtraceur Sep 25 at 20:47
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    Since when has any rule of orthography in any language ever been absolute? – Sean Sep 25 at 22:47
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As you can see from your own question, Russians indeed do spell жирный as жырный sometimes. It’s just that people sometimes tend to ignore strict orthography rules for convenience or fun — especially in “light-weight” e-message communication. In this particular case it’s more about fun. This intentionally illiterate spelling is a part of so-called “падонкаффский язык”. This phenomenon is pretty similar to why sometimes, for instance, “whore” is spelled as “hoe” in English.

As of pronunciation — unlike in Ukrainian, in Russian ж and ш are impossible in palatalized form. In fact, for a Russian speaker it’s quite difficult to pronounce ж or ш softly, so the answer is — it always sounds as “жырный”.

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    @YellowSky см. напівпом’якшені приголосні – shabunc Sep 24 at 19:23
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    I don't know any Russian but as a native English speaker, I can tell you whore is never spelt as hoe. Hoe and Whore are two separate words but have a very similar meaning. – user1898829 Sep 25 at 13:19
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    @shabunc Ho(e) is not an intentional misspelling of whore as such; it’s a written representation of a dialectal pronunciation of whore. Ho(e) originated as a variant of whore (just like mo’ is a variant of more), but their meanings have diverged somewhat. It’s not uncommon slang to call your girlfriend your ‘ho’ (and just mean ‘girlfriend’), but if you call her your whore, you are actually saying she’s a prostitute. I can’t tell from your answer whether this is quite parallel to the intentional Russian misspelling or not. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 25 at 19:07
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    The difference, as far as I can tell from the different answers on this page, is that this actually represents a standard pronunciation which is somewhat illogically represented in the standard orthography (so it’s really more like a miniature spelling reform, like writing jail instead of gaol or vittles instead of victuals), whereas ho(e) represents a pronunciation that diverges from the (reasonably logical, apart from the w) standard orthography. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 25 at 19:23
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Referring to English, you stated, "It’s not uncommon slang to call your girlfriend your ‘ho’ (and just mean ‘girlfriend’)." I don't know what nation you are speaking of, but I would say that in any English speaking country, that is in fact incredibly uncommon in all but specific subsets of the population, i.e. certain classes. In most educated classes, or among those of higher socioeconomic status, calling your girlfriend "ho" would be very insulting and not at all acceptable. – Kallaste Sep 25 at 22:32
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To place emphasis on this word

These patterns are called "Sensational spelling" and "Cacography".
It is not a unique Russian language trait:

Cacography is deliberate comic misspelling, a type of humour

Sensational spelling is the deliberate spelling of a word in an incorrect or non-standard way for special effect

People change spelling of a word to stress this particular word, capitalizing the "wrong" letter to indicate the fact the misspelling was intentional:

остальное - жЫрный минус!

The author spelled "жирный" as "жЫрный" to place emphasis on this word in the sentence (so the rest was "VERY bad", not just "very bad"). Comparing to “падонкаффский язык”, there is only one word is misspelled, not the whole sentence.

how the letter ы changes the pronunciation of this word.

It doesn't. The word "жирный" is spelled as [ˈʐɨrnɨɪ̯] — the same phoneme ɨ as in the word "мыть" [mɨtʲ], for instance. It's the reason why we learn "ЖИ-ШИ пиши с буквой И" in school — it's easy to write "жырный" by mistake, because it is basically what you hear.

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    +1, finally the words 'emphasis' and 'sensational spelling' have been used after two days of discussing... – tum_ Sep 26 at 10:53
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(In addition to shabunc's answer.)

Aside of just fun, жырный is used mostly when they want to stress that it's not just "some bold X" but an extremely huge and/or explicit X.

E.g.:

  • Жырный минус in your example is not just "whatever bold minus" but an enormously stressed/big one, i.e. it's the worst possible assessment for "the rest" of the restaurant.
  • Жырный троллинг (или тролль) (another typical example) is not just an "explicit trolling" but an extremely explicit/evident/cheesy/silly one.
  • etc.

Often the same trick also used for жир:

"Ах какой экземпляр! Жыр так прямо и капает/сочится!".

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    Good point! "жырный" > "жирный" - sort of extremely greasy ) – shabunc Sep 24 at 15:00
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Adding to great answers above.

This is deliberately incorrect form of writing a word. Moreover, this is one of the most obvious incorrect versions - the corresponding rule is hard and fast (ж is always followed by и and never by ы), and kids learn it in school in rhymes until they can say it in their sleep.

This particular misspelling is probably the most detectable one - even for someone who could not notice a less subtle one, and this is probably the one adults would never do accidentally.

This all adds to the comic effect. There were other ways of misspelling words back in a day (in particularly, replacing ик with ег in words like кувшинчик -> кувшинчег) but it faded now, and I suspect, one of the reasons could be that in this case misspelling is less obvious, and as such, has smaller comic effect.

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I'm writing this livin' in Russia and I think this is more interesting question than I ever thought before. So why Russians do it? As seven-phases-max had formulated before, they simultaneously do this for fun (the phone "ы" sounds funny and capital character "Ы" is very rare using in russian words, never in words in lower case) and for exaggerate the meaning of the word. IMHO of course.

Sorry for my English thou.

2

Google gives a large heap of results for жырный

Half of this heap is likely honest mistakes, there are lots of people who fail to observe even basic rules in writing. The rest, especially when the letter is emphasized by formatting or character case are likely done on purpose, mostly referring to this meme condemning crude explicit internet trolling which is known as "fat" trolling and is opposed to more refined ways of joking such as sarcasm.

Your first example seems to misuse the meme though, I never heard “жырный” in the sense of "extremely bad". The second example fits better, as someone who won't understand subtle hints must be told explicitly what they are doing wrong.

BTW, searching for "Harwy Potah" yields 2 million results which is almost 5 times as much, so intentional misspelling is a quite universal thing.

  • >first example seems to misuse the meme though - why misuse? it simply does not use the meme. The expression "жирный минус" has been well established in Russian long before the Internet era, and Ы is simply used as an instrument of an extra emphasis. Could be ЖИРНЫЙ instead but the author liked the idea of using жЫрный (as often seen on the Internet, obviously). +1 for Harwy Potah, anyway. – tum_ Sep 26 at 15:15
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Это просто сленг или жаргон, действительно противоречащий правилам орфографии. Подобное написание было модно примерно в 2006-2010 годах. Кажется, в 2019 никто уже так не говорит 🙂

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I think the spelling "ы" amplifies the meaning. It is that you can pronounce looong ы after ж.

  • and I'm a strong believer that more new answer adds to the answers already provided the better. – shabunc Oct 1 at 9:12

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