March 01, 2008


I just discovered a kind of alphabet-to-alphabet encoding/shorthand/slang - I don't know what to call it - that I had never been aware of before. I have a Live Journal account where my "friends" are mainly young Russian linguists, so most of the posts are in Russian, in the Cyrillic alphabet, but user-names, tags, etc., are all in the Roman alphabet. There was one tag that I had often seen in one particular user's posts, "lytdybr", and I had just guessed that it was some private code word of her own (I even invented a romantic etymology for it as an abbreviation starting with "love you".) But then last week I suddenly saw the same tag on a post by another young Russian linguist, and realized that it wasn't just one person's private tag.

So I googled it and discovered what it really is: it's how the Russian word дневник, dnevnik 'diary', comes out if you're typing on a QWERTY keyboard with the keystrokes you would use on a Cyrillic keyboard. There's a Wiktionary entry about it; and I didn't even know such a category of -- of what? I guess I'll call it slang -- existed.

So on my LJ, I asked if there were any other examples, and it generated some interesting discussion. One person told me about usus for гыгы (gygy 'laughter' -- think hee-hee); someone remarked that the "usus" of usus is fun in itself. Another example is ghbdtn, which is привет, privet 'hi' or 'greetings', common in instant messaging, with ICQ, Google Talk, etc. [Update: I had misunderstood; this one occurs is common in instant messaging by accident, but isn't used intentionally. Thanks, "alexkon".]

One common example goes in the other direction: Russians typing in Cyrillic often use З.Ы. for P.S. so as not to have to switch out of the Russian keyboard. And one person told me they even sometimes use Ж-) instead of : -) for the same reason!

Here's one I was informed of that has an extra layer: there is a character named Фрейби Freybi (an Englishman) in a novel by Akunin, Freyby being a QWERTY version of Акунин Akunin.

As for the tag I first noticed, lytdybr, there were several ideas about who had invented it, with the consensus that it had been invented more than once. One of my students commented that lytdybr, even sometimes transliterated back to лытдыбр, has become a word of its own, with a meaning more specific than the original 'diary'.

It is often (but not always, there is a neutral meaning too) used to tag posts in blogs that are nothing more than boring retelling of author's life. For example, something like "Just eaten some apples. Cool." is a typical lytdybr in its negative meaning.

Posted by Barbara Partee at March 1, 2008 09:41 AM