List of English Words of Russian Origin: Common Loanwords

Did you know there are several English words of Russian origin? Languages have borrowed words from each other for centuries and still do today. While many English words are derived from ancient Latin and Germanic languages, there are also loanwords from other languages, including Russian. After Russia became a world power, more Russian words made their way into other languages such as English. Discover a few Russian words used in English that you may have encountered.

matryoshka nesting dolls example of a Russian word used in English matryoshka nesting dolls example of a Russian word used in English
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Russian Cuisine Names

Several foods enjoyed around the world come from Russia. Here are a few favorites:

  • blintz - a thin pancake, often stuffed with a filling

  • borscht - a soup made with beets and vegetables

  • kefir - a fermented milk drink similar to yogurt

  • kvass - a fermented wheat beverage

  • pavlova - a meringue dessert with fresh fruit and whipped cream

  • pierogi - a stuffed dough dumpling, literally means "pie" in Russian

  • samovar - a tea urn or tall pitcher that holds hot drinks

  • ukha - a type of clear fish soup

  • vodka - an alcoholic drink

Russian Political Vocabulary

Few countries have a political history as rich and tumultuous as Russia. Due to this history, many topical political terms originated in the Russian language.

  • Bolshevik - a radical or revolutionary, predecessors to the Communists in Russia

  • boyar - a high ranking member of feudal Russian nobility, second in rank to a prince

  • commissar - a political officer responsible for providing education

  • disinformation - derived from the Russian dezinformatsiya; false information or propaganda

  • gulag - a political labor camp system

  • intelligentsia - intellectuals who form a political, social or artistic elite

  • Kazakh - nomadic people of Kazakhstan

  • Kremlin - a fortress, citadel or castle, generally as a seat of power; a fort with the President of the Russian Federation stays

  • kulak - a person with liberal values and private property, seen as an opponent of the Communist Party

  • obshchina - peasant farmers in Russia during imperialist rule: literally “community” or “commune” in Russian

  • pogrom - organized massacre of an ethnic group, not to be confused with "program"

  • Soviet - a person, place or thing related to Soviet-era Russia, literally means “council” in Russian

  • spetsnaz - special agents and officers of the Russian police or military

  • Stalinism - a form of rigid authoritarian rule under Joseph Stalin

  • tsar - a historical term for a Russian emperor, also commonly spelled as czar, tzar, or csar in English

Russian Technical Terms

Russia has given us several inventions and, by extension, interesting words and terms.

  • banya - a traditional steam bath

  • dacha - a seasonal or second home

  • elektrichka - an electric train for commuters

  • sputnik - a series of satellites launched by the Russian space program, literally "traveling companion" in Russian

  • knout - a type of whip

  • matryoshka - Russian nesting dolls

  • Pavlovian - named after physiologist Ivan Pavlov, also called classical conditioning (A process by which a biological subject responds in a specific way to a previously neutral subject.)

  • ruble - a coin cut from a silver ingot

  • taiga - a swampy forest between the Siberian tundra and steppes

  • troika - three things or people working together; a Russian folk dance; a sleigh pulled by three horses

  • yurt - a round, portable tent

Russian Loanwords Related to Clothing

Russia has a rich fashion history and some clothing items and terms have become popular in English as well.

  • babushka - in Russian, an endearing term for granny; in English, it refers or a scarf folded diagonally and tied underneath the chin

  • balaclava - a knitted hat that covers the whole head and neck

  • parka - a wind-repellent coat with a hood, often lined with fur

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Russian Animal Names

Some animals native to Russia have lent their names to English.

  • beluga - a species of white whale

  • mammoth - an extinct ancestor of the elephant (In Siberian myths, they lived underground. In English, the word can also be used to mean “huge.”)

  • sable - a small mammal in the marten family found in the Ural Mountains and parts of Asia (In English, it is sometimes used to refer to black-furred animals generally or the color black in heraldry.)

Words of Russian Origin: Explore the Language and Culture

Russia is certainly a fascinating country that has lent interesting words to the English language. To hear some of these Russian loanwords in their original Russian form, listen to a native speaker pronounce them. If you are interested in studying the Russian language, explore a list of Russian dictionaries to help you get started.