Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Ukraine....not THE Ukraine

Are you woke? Are you hip to the newest and latest way to assert your political correctness?  Do you think you have it covered? 

Perhaps not.

Perhaps you think that using The Ukraine is no different than using Ukraine to refer to the country at the center of the impeachment inquiry.  You are wrong, according to a friend of Big Cuter and The Washington Post.

In 5 Myths about Ukraine the post tells us this:
It is true that the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was commonly known as “the Ukraine” in English, but even then, the term was a shorthand. The fraught definite article is rooted in a traditional translation choice that has geopolitical implications. In Russian, the word “Ukraina” means “borderlands” and takes the preposition “na.” Using the phrase “na Ukraini” to describe the sovereign nation of Ukraine in Russian is derogatory, akin to saying “in the sticks” in English. It implies that Ukraine is not an independent state but simply a “borderland” on Russia’s outskirts. Ukrainians (and Ukraine’s Russian-speaking supporters elsewhere) use a different preposition when speaking about the country: “v.” The proper English translation of this preferred construction would be “in Ukraine.” 
There is so much to love in that paragraph, but my favorite sentence is this one
The fraught definite article is rooted in a traditional translation choice that has geopolitical implications. 
So much to unpack there, as the talking heads say.  I'm kvelling over the notion of a fraught definite article.  I'm quailing at the thought that I have been inadvertently dismissing a nation that is, for now, holding its finger in the dike of Russian imperialism, and that I've been doing it in the voice of those Russian oppressors.

I have to force myself to think before I speak (always a good thing).  But I can learn to skip that fraught article and just go with Ukraine.  And so should others, as the Post reminds us:
But even if you ignore the linguistics, the country’s official name is Ukraine.Leaders, journalists and pundits should use it.


  1. I had heard that "the" in front of Ukraine was discouraged but I had not heard the explanation. It will take retraining of the ear though.
    Does anyone say United States without "the"? I wondered maybe is was the initial U thing, but then one wouldn't say "the Uzbekistan" so that's not it. I guess for the U. S. the article kind of implies THE one and only. Interesting.
    As someone of Ukrainian heritage I will try to be more aware.

    1. I also thought of THE USA. But the slur attached to The Ukraine was new to me.

  2. Faculty colleagues and students educated me about this some time ago, but I do still hear it occasionally, even in the news media. Thanks for spreading the word that it is inappropriate, and why!

    1. It was the why that interested me. I'm reading Tolstoy right now; the slurs against the peasants, the outliers, those far from civilization brought this topic into specific relief.

  3. It's taken me awhile, but I finally dropped "the" when speaking about Ukraine. It still sounds awkward, but it's their language.

    1. SO awkward! I have to pause every time. But, as you say, it's their language and I should try to respect it, right?

  4. Thanks for the "Wake up call". It's always good to be a little more "woke". It seems to be a full time job anymore.

    1. There are so many things I do wrong.... and I think I'm pretty "woke"
      Fat shaming, slut shaming, The Ukraine..... the world is getting away from me.

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Talk back to me! Word Verification is gone!