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Comment from: Don [Member] Email
For a bit of historical context please consider this posting from the SEELANGS discussion group:

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Date: Wed, 2 Sep 2009 00:34:50 +0100
From: William Ryan
Subject: Re: Chernoe kofe

Olga Meerson wrote: 'The masculine norm itself is comparatively new (certainly post-revolutionary but even later), as originally what was masculine was kofij, not kofe, and kofij declined like any RUSSIAN word. .... If anyone can find a counter example, with the undeclinable masculine for kofe, I would be very glad.'

Looking for examples is not hard - why not try the older dictionaries? I have two immediately to hand: the second edition of Dal' gives 'kofe, neskl.' as a head word, followed by kofei and gives an example 'shvedskii-kofe, Astragalus boeticus'; the fourth edition of Reif (1889) gives 'kofe, sm[i.e. substantif masculin], ind[indeclinable], kofei, le cafe'. Even the Slov. Russk. Iaz. XI-XVII vv. gives 'kofe' (no variants) as masculine, with examples dated 1653 and 1700 (the older dictionary of Vasmer gives 1724 'kofii' as earliest). Neither of the examples is accompanied by an adjective to prove it is masculine, but the 1700 example (from the Pis'ma i bumagi of Peter the Great) 'chaiu i kofe zdes' zelo malo', at least shows that it was indeclinable. Shanskii's etymological dictionary quotes eleven variants of the word in the 17th century.

A quick search for 'kofe' in Brokhaus and Efron on the web gave a few unambiguous examples (i.e. with an adjective), several masculine and one neuter. A web search for 'kofe chernyi' got 9 million hits and 'kofe chernoe' five million.

My hasty conclusion is that in fact masculine indeclinable 'kofe' was the original usage, remained standard for a long time, although with the common variant 'kofei', and is still dominant.

Will Ryan
09/02/09 @ 02:51
Comment from: Dmitry [Visitor]
Меня порядком задолбала ситуация с тем какого рода слово кофе :)сам не могу понять :)
11/29/09 @ 08:12
Comment from: Shady_arc [Visitor]
There was a lot of controversy regarding the law on the official language. Still, liguists say that the law did not introduce anything new. Just some dictionaries were "officially established" as the dictionaries that contain the norm. However, the books themselves do not have anything particularly surprising. One thing that the specialists found disturbing is that the otherwise most authoritative and large dictionary edited by Lopatin was not in the list ("Russian Academy of Sciences Russian Language Orthographic Dictionary"). Its online version can be found at www.gramota.ru. It contains 180 000 words while the largest dictionary approved in 2009 was "only" 100 000 words long. Of course, for such popular words as "кофе" there cannot be any difference amongst such dictionaries.

This neuter variant was marked as an acceptable colloquial variant years ago. I think nowadays the word "кофе" is masculine ONLY because older speakers prefer it this way, and because the dictionary says it is the norm. Nothing else about this indeclinable noun is especially masculine for even a native speaker who encounters the word for the first time.

Well, my old dictionary has only the masculine variant, but it was published in 1968 (which is more than fourty years ago). A dictionary published in 2003 states that "neuter variant is unacceptable in strict/formal literary speech". The linguists discussing the new law said that dictionaries had been including neuter gender for "кофе" as a not-quite-good-for-formal-writing colloquial variant as early as in 80's.

There is an article on the subject by GRAMOTA.RU here:
http://www.gramota.ru/lenta/news/8_2442
05/19/10 @ 14:53

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