ЗЫ, винт, смайлик, собака

by Don  

One of the great things about the internet is that it's really easy to access Russian language materials nowadays. One of the most amazing sites is livejournal.com. I'm not quite sure why, but livejournal quickly became a major center of Russian blogging. When you start look at these blogs and forums, you will encounter various words and phrases that are either unique to the internet or have a curious history buried in technology. For instance someone might write «У меня сдох винт». You look up винт and discover it's primary meaning is screw. My screw died? That doesn't make much sense. And then someone tells you that винт is computer jargon for hard disk. Ah, now you understand. But why the heck would the word for screw come to mean hard drive? A hard drive doesn't look like a screw. Sure, you can turn a screw, and a hard drive turns, but that's really stretching it. It turns out that there is a good reason. One of the early hard drives, the IBM 3340, was nicknamed "the Winchester," which in Russian gets transliterated Винчестер, which got shortened to винт.

One of things you'll see quite often when you start reading Russian-language forums and blogs is ЗЫ. Once again you go to the dictionary, and this time you don't find a blessed thing. You notice that the ЗЫ is usually toward the end of an entry or comment. You notice that it is often followed by a comma or a colon. So what's the scoop? Here's the explanation. Let's say you are typing at a computer, and the computer has a standard QWERTY keyboard. And let's say you are typing in the standard Russian keyboard mapping that comes with MS Windows. The letter З is on the P key, and the letter Ы is on the S key. PS = postscript! That's right. The Russians are basically writing PS, but they aren't being anal-retentive enough to switch their keyboard to English just to write those two letters. You can see an example of this here (mirror).

There are lots of other fun vocabulary bits in Russian internetspeak. For instance a smiley :) is called смайлик, and the @ symbol is called a собака. Okay, readers, let's hear your guesses where the Russian word for that last item comes from. If you want to have a bit of fun, read the Russian Wikipedia entry on Компьютерный сленг internet slang. It's great!

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