In Ода пешему ходу by Marina Tsvetaeva we read:

В век сплошных скоропадских,
Роковых скоростей —

I was unable to find the word "скоропадский" in any dictionary. I recognize the word "скоро" but I'm still unable to understand the expression.

3 Answers 3


This is an example of commonization: making a common noun out of a proper noun.

The commonization of proper names (including made-up ones) based on their phonology and etymology (rather than on the personal traits of their notorious bearers) is a common source of puns in Russian: попить чайковского (= чаю), готовченко (= готов), ебанько, самоделкин etc. Some of them catch on, some don't.

It's not unlike a similar pattern of word play in English: "Boaty McBoatface", "You couldn't be any gayer if your name was Gay Gayerson" etc.

Of course I have no way of getting into the author's head, but I don't think there are any political connotations to this particular pun. It looks to me like an attempt at word play, forming a noun meaning "fast moving and falling" through the commonization of a well-known last name with the same etymology.

In Мой Пушкин, the author mentions this experience from her childhood:

Не знаю, как другие дети: так как я из всего четверостишия понимала только злодея и так как злодей здесь в окружении трех имен, то у меня злодея получалось — три: Гетман, Царь-Петр и Кочубей, и я долго потом не могла понять (и сейчас не совсем еще понимаю), что злодей — один и кто именно. Гетман для меня по сей день — Кочубей и Царь-Петр, а Кочубей — по сей день Гетман, и т. д., и три стало одно, и это одно — злодей. Донос я, конечно, тоже не понимала, и объяснили бы — не поняла бы, внутренне не поняла бы, как и сейчас не понимаю — возможности написать донос. Так и осталось: летит казак под несуществующе-ярким (сновиденным!) небом, где одновременно (никогда не бывает!) и звезды, и луна, летит казак, осыпанный звездами и облитый луною — точно чтобы его лучше видели! — а на голове шапка, а в шапке неизвестная вещь, донос, — донос на Гетмана-злодея Царю-Петру от Кочубея.

Это была моя первая встреча с историей, и эта первая историческая история была — злодейство. Больше скажу: когда я во время Гражданской войны слышала Гетман (с добавлением: Скоропадский), я сразу видела того казака, который — падает.

...which may or may not have something to do with this pun.

  • 1
    I accepted this answer even if I am not convinced by "I don't think there are any political connotations to this particular pun". The first paragraph of @Michael_1812 's answer is probably a partial explanation too. But I think your explanation based on phonology and etymology is missing in his answer. Both explanations are probably right and complementary.
    – Bruno
    Apr 10 at 17:51

Arguably, Tsvetaeva is expressing her attitude towards Pavel Skoropadsky, a Russian aristocrat and highly decorated general of the Royal Army, who in 1917 made a swift political switch and joined the Ukrainian nationalists, and, with German support, became at some point a de facto ruler of the Ukraine.

Again, arguably, Tsvetaeva's words "Слава стойкому братству // Пешехожих ступней!" may be interpreted as a reference to her husband's participation in the Ice March, a historical episode which she glorified in her epic verse cycle "Лебединый Стан" (The Encampment of the Swans).


Well, this is off-topic in the sense that it won't help anyone who's learning Russian, however I'm not sure how to close it - I guess we need to update our rules. Formally, this is indeed not information one can easily find in a dictionary — it's actually just a poetic play on words, just something Tsvetaeva did as a sort of neologism.

"Sort of" because, well, there's a surname Скоропадский (quite well known in a historical context) and, of course, Tsvetaeva knew of this surname and used it as a contextual synonym for just "swift", "fast". This isn't something that would be used by anyone apart from Tsvetaeva.

  • 1
    As a Russian learner, if I came across this and couldn't find it in a dictionary, I'd naturally come here for answers. How is this "off topic"? If we don't know what it means, we can't classify it to know where to ask about it. From your explanation, I can see that it means "In an age overrun with Skoropadskis" just like you'd say that the US is overrun with little Trumps. It's linguistic. It's valid. Your answer would be perfect if you cut out everything in front of "Formally".
    – CocoPop
    Apr 10 at 14:57
  • 1
    Of course I agree with @CocoPop. Moreover this off-topic comment distracts us from the question. If we take this example: "the US is overrun with little Trumps", in English we have a capital 'T'. In "normal" Russian would we not use capital letters also? That is: would "В век сплошных Скоропадских" be more straightforward if we mean "In a world overrun with Skoropadskis" or should we use a lower case letter as Tsvetaeva does? I don't fully understand "used it as a contextual synonym for just "swift", "fast"" - anyway I would expect a substantive here. –
    – Bruno
    Apr 10 at 15:26
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    "the US is overrun with little Trumps" would be also off-topic at English SE because generally speaking explaining metaphors, poetry and song lyrics can be off-topic.
    – shabunc
    Apr 10 at 17:44
  • @shabunc You are wrong, not only because on English SE there are explanations of puns in literature (see, for instance, english.stackexchange.com/questions/128191/…) but also because when I asked my question I didn't know that it was a pun, it could be a rare word I did't know (rare since I did't find it in some dictionaries). I don't see your point in insisting to close my question. It seems you had skills to give a useful answer but, for some reason, you would prefer that I had no answer and I keep doubts in my process of learning Russian.
    – Bruno
    Apr 10 at 19:10
  • 1
    @CocoPop: this would make a perfect question for meta.
    – Quassnoi
    Apr 10 at 23:11

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