In addition to the masculine, feminine, and neuter genders, there are words of "common gender" (слова общего рода) that nearly all decline like a feminine noun but are applied to both men and women. What I find striking about these words is that essentially all of them describe negative types of people, e.g., выпивоха (heavy drinker), задира (bully), скряга (stingy person), тупица (fool). There are some words in this 4th gender that are not negative descriptions, such as коллега (colleague), but the vast majority of these words that I have seen are negative. Can any reason be given for this, or is this just some weird coincidence?

Edit: Dima has pointed out that many affectionate terms fall into this category, and of course those don't have a negative meaning. I want to say I'm not interested in words that are specifically meant to be affectionate (лапочка) or diminutive (белочка).

2 Answers 2


In Vinogradov's Русский язык, there is a whole chapter (§7) about this phenomenon:

Яркая экспрессивная окраска, свойственная почти всем словам общего рода, подчеркивается несоответствием их строения и значения. Вся эта сложная гамма смысловых оттенков воздвигается на основе класса слов женского рода. Применение слов женского рода к мужчинам и порождает своеобразную экспрессивную окраску этих слов. В этом явлении пережиточно отражается социальное положение женщины, отношение к женскому полу

Basically, the social position of a woman (not unique to Russian culture of course) made gramatically feminine words to be only perceived germane to semantically feminine (or gender-neutral) concepts and objects. Calling males the "feminine" words could not help sounding peculiar, so almost all these words have expressive connotation.

I can think of but few emotionally neutral words, some of them already mentioned by you and Dima. All of them are loanwords or evolved from emotionally colored words:

  • коллега (from Latin possibly through Polish)
  • предтеча (from Church Slavonic)
  • сирота (a metonymy not perceived as such anymore. Similar modern words would be emotionally colored: Я — могила, ты — глыба)
  • тёзка (or тезя, a diminutive not perceived as such anymore)

Zaliznyak in Древненовгородский диалект mentions:

Очень интересны экспрессивные сложные слова на -хота и -сова. В современном русском языке в классе существительных общего или мужского рода на с основой, состоящей из приставки и корня или или из двух корней, ничтожно мало слов с положительной или нейтральной коннотацией. Таковы в сущности лишь древнейшие слова вельможа и воевода, сохранившиеся в основном лишь как исторические термины. Практически все остальные имеют более или менее ярко выраженную отрицательную коннотацию (насмешливую, пренебрежительную, уничижительную и т. п.), носят экспрессивный характер и свойственны в основном разговорной речи (ср. 5.8, конец). Из общеизвестных таковы, например: выжига, недотрога, надоеда, привереда, непоседа, подлиза, растрёпа, растяпа, задира, обжора, повеса, пустомеля, ср. также расстрига. Очень много таких слов имеется на периферии словарного состава языка и в говорах. Так, в словаре Даля находим, например, заброда, завида, зацепа, заеда, провора, прожига, пролыга, пройда, ужима, пустовира, пустозёва, пусторёва, пустогрыза, брюзга, пустожира, дармоедa, пустохлёба, водохлёбa (и много других с пусто-), гологрыза ("нищий", "голыш"), кривоныра, пролазa, пройдоха, рукомоя ("белоручка") и др.; в СРНГ — например, заблуда, заплёва ("бесстыжий"), колоброда, непросыпа, ненажора и т. п. Уникальное свидетельство грамоты Ст. Р. 35 показывает, что описанная коннотация данной морфологической модели существовала уже в XII в.

In a nutshell: almost all masculine and common-gender words ending in -a have ironical or negative connotation at least since XII century.

The gramota St. R. 35 he mentions is a letter of a citizen of Staraya Russa to his brother:

Якове брате еби лежя ебехото аесово

which means

Jacob, my brother, fuck lying (i. e. do things proper way), you randy ball-inserter

Here, the apparently invented words ебехота and аесова (literally, "willing to fuck" and "ball-inserter") are both of first declension.

  • Thank you for that excerpt. I'm not familiar with the reference. How old is it? If I understand it correctly, this is merely observing that most of these terms are negative, rather than providing any kind of rationale for why this has occurred. Is that accurate?
    – KCd
    Jun 22, 2012 at 21:59
  • @KCd: the book was first published in 1995, the gramota was written between 1120 and 1150. There is no explanation for this phenomenon in the book.
    – Quassnoi
    Jun 22, 2012 at 22:05
  • What about "cудья"
    – Anixx
    Jul 7, 2016 at 20:43
  • @Anixx: what about it?
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 7, 2016 at 21:45

There are non-negative examples as well:

  • заводила (someone who is in charge of a group/gang)

  • водила (colloquialism from водитель)

  • умница

    By the way, the first declension consists of masculine and feminine nouns ending in -а or -я. So these nouns belong there too, and that is exactly how they decline.

  • I know there are non-negative examples (and gave one in the question), but an overwhelming proportion of these words seem to be negative. That's why I was asking about a possible reason these words are so much more often in the negative direction. Do you think such words are equally balanced between negative and non-negative, and that I might just have seen extremely biased lists?
    – KCd
    Jun 22, 2012 at 21:21
  • I don't know the statistics, but I can think of lots of terms of endearment which would fit this category: заинька, лапочка, etc.
    – Dima
    Jun 22, 2012 at 21:28
  • Actually, возница is masculine. The dictionary mentions водила as common but I can't imagine a phrase like из неё получится хорошая водила.
    – Quassnoi
    Jun 23, 2012 at 9:10
  • @Quassnoi, so what would you call a woman driving a buggy?
    – Dima
    Jun 24, 2012 at 20:55
  • возница, just the same as доктор or директор. All these words are masculine: она хороший возница, опытный доктор, строгий директор. A common gender word would make the adjective agree with the subject: она страшная пройдоха but он страшный пройдоха.
    – Quassnoi
    Jun 24, 2012 at 21:16

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