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Several websites I've come across state "чалый" as a synonym of "рецидивист", but I haven't been able to find any definitions of чалый that would suggest it's synonymous with рецидивист.

Are they synonymous? Is one a slang word for another?

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Чалиться is a slang word meaning, in the wider sense, "be stuck somewhere, be forced to waste time": чалиться на заводе, чалиться в деревне etc.

In the narrower sense, чалиться means "to do one's time" (as in the prison). This might be used as чалиться на шконке ("do the time on the prison bunk bed") or чалиться на зоне ("do one's time in the corrective colony") or similar.

The person who is known to have been engaged in this activity might be called чалый.

This is an active participle from this verb, using an old pattern with -л- which is not productive in Russian anymore.

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  • Passive participle?.. Anyhow, the verb чалиться comes from чалить (derivative: причалить) "to haul, tug, and then attach a boat to the pier." In the slang of бурлаки (barge haulers), the verb чалиться meant "to pull barge with rope". In its figurative meaning "pull the strap, to do the long and exhausting ordeal = to be in prison" it migrated into the criminal slang.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 6, 2020 at 14:08
  • @YellowSky: yes, passive participle (страдательное причастие), why? The pattern with -л- is not productive anymore and those are perceived more like adjectives these days (зрелый, вялый, бывалый, лежалый etc.). Normally they are actually called "deverbal adjectives". But in this very case we see the formation of a new word so I thought participle would be a better word to describe it.
    – Quassnoi
    May 6, 2020 at 15:23
  • My point is that in Russian one cannot form a passive participle (страдательное причастие) from an intransitive verb.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 6, 2020 at 15:37
  • @YellowSky: do we consider зрелый and лежалый participles (at least from etymological perspective)? Зреть and лежать are both intransitive.
    – Quassnoi
    May 6, 2020 at 16:02
  • Sure, they are participles, but note, they are past active participles. Active, not passive. "Чалый" is 'тот, кто чалил', not 'тот, кого чалили', "зрелый" — 'тот, который созрел', not 'тот, которого созрели'. Active, not passive.
    – Yellow Sky
    May 6, 2020 at 16:09

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