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Отморозок is a contemptible and objectionable person.

It looks like the word comes from the verb отморозить, or the noun мороз.

Why is отморозок originally associated with getting frostbite, freezing or just frost?

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Interesting question.

My first guess was that since Russia is a very cold country, Russians figuratively referred to scumbags as to people whose brain got damaged by frost, hence отморозок. My guess was based on the existence of the similar word отмороженный (literally "damaged by frost"), which refers to a scumbag, too. The idea is that once your brain gets damaged by frost, you become capable of doing terrible things that normal people are uncapable of doing.

Then I tried to google the etymology of отморозок and found numerous theories, including a theory that this word originally denoted a young wolf excluded from its pack:

Поэтому таких молодых волков, которые своими поступками ставили под угрозу жизнь волчьего общества, из стаи выгоняли. Так как дело происходило по первому снегу и морозу, такого волка звали «отморозок». То есть это молодой волк, совершивший плохой поступок, и за это изгнанный из волчьего общества.

An article on the portal Русская семерка claims that the word originates from criminal slang of the 19th century:

Слово изначально употреблялось в воровском жаргоне XIX века. Оно означает оборванца, отброса общества, представителя маргинальной молодежи, который не знает настоящих воровских законов, но при этом совершает противоправные действия.

Another theory says that this word denoted a runaway serf:

От «чёрных» крестьян. Которые не бежали на юг в казачество. А как правило уходили в леса или на болота (никого не боясь, готовые постоять за себя). Из-за этого их стали называть отморозками. Места их проживания Морозами (д. Морозы; Нижние Морозы; Верхние Морозы — Беларусь, Украина), а затем уже сопоставили и фамилию Мороз.

I also found explanations sounding similar to my hypothesis:

Отморозок = отмороженный = ничего не понимающий, не отдающий отчёта в происходящем… Попробуйте помёрзнуть в на ветру в – 30-40 градусов… потом, когда совсем замёрзнете – и вас принесут домой… попытайтесь мыслить логически – поймёте…) (Source)

Мне всегда казалось, что отморозок – это тот, у кого мозги отморожены. И появилось это понятие от болезни под названием менингит – воспаления мозга, его рискуют получить люди, которые ходят в мороз без шапки. Одним из последствий менингита является задержка умственного развития. (Same source as above)

Отморозок - агрессор без правил, как будто с отмороженными мозгами. (Source)

To find out which theory is true, I looked in dictionaries, but was unable to find any dictionary that provides the etymology of this word. In particular, neither the etymological dictionary by Preobrazhensky nor the etymological dictionary by Vasmer contain this word. Vladimir Dal's famous explanatory dictionary does not contain the word either.

In Google Books and in the Russian National Corpus this word can be found only starting from the 1990s, and there are no hits in Google Books and Russian National Corpus for отморозокъ, the spelling in accordance with the old spelling rules. This undermines theories in which the word has an old origin.

I looked in Google Books to see how the word отморозилъ (i.e., in the old spelling) was used, and in all instances it meant "damaged by frost."

Interestingly, I found numerous examples in Google of use of the word обморозок (i.e., with б instead of т), which seems to have the same meaning as отморозок, e.g.:

В Архангельской области обморозок зарезал пенсионерку, чтобы забрать водку и 200 рублей. (Source)

– А этот, раненный, кто? – Да никто. Обморозок местный. Его опера как облупленного знают. Бандит с примесью «баклана». (From book "Полное блюдце секретов" by Kivinov)

Like отморозить, the word обморозить means "to damage by frost," so the concurrent use of обморозок and отморозок supports my original hypothesis.

Another fact supporting my original hypothesis is that the word отморозок is sometimes used to refer to slow thinkers:

Отморозок: идиот, тугодум. Частая характеристика конченного, окончательно опустившегося наркомана. (Source)

This is concurrent with my hypothesis, because slow thinkers can be figuratively compared with people whose brain got damaged by frost. Other theories do not explain how отморозок could come to mean a slow thinker.

To conclude, we may never know the true etymology of отморозок, but, given the evidence at hand, I'd say that my first guess may well be the truth.

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  • This one is not right at least partially: "а затем уже сопоставили и фамилию Мороз." - Мороз was a Slavic name. – shabunc Sep 27 '19 at 7:26
  • @shabunc : Yes, I dislike the theories I quoted, and I like my hypothesis more. – Mitsuko Sep 27 '19 at 7:34
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    "обморозок" is most probably a typo. – tum_ Sep 27 '19 at 8:27
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    Actually, does not look like a typo if you read the google results.. but I've never heard/seen it before and couldn't grasp the difference from "отморозок" so far (if there is any). Might be something regional(?) – tum_ Sep 27 '19 at 8:37
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    "Результатов: примерно 1 440" - this is not many, this is very few (you keep underestimating the amount of text being generated on the Net every minute). And these 1440 are indeed a mixture of typos, some ad-hoc usages related to 'frost', the equivalents of "отморозок" that some people somehow decided to use instead and some different meaning of "обморозок" that I struggle to figure out (and, given the scale, will not waste my time on this any more). When you get to the last page it becomes "Page 14 of about 138 results" - the rest are duplicates. – tum_ Sep 27 '19 at 10:07
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It is indeed derived from the adjective «отмороженный», which means someone who has no moral and no sentiments of any kind (like his emotions were frozen). This word in this particular meaning initially came from criminal jargon.

«Мерзавец» and «мразь» mentioned in a comment have indeed the same etymology and are connected to «мороз».

Сonnotation of lack of emotions is something quite common for frost-related words is not something uncommon to Russian, check out, for instance "холодно посмотреть", "холодная жестокость", "холодный расчёт".

As a side note, there’s also a verb «отморозиться» which ironically has nothing to do with «отморозок» or «отмороженный». «Отморозиться» means to ignore someone’s invitation or request.

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