It’s common knowledge that Peter the First (sometimes known as “the Great,” though whether he was great is still up for debate) introduced a beard tax ( In short, he did everything he could to get those hairy Russians looking more “civilized.” 

But beards are not really today’s subject (If you recall, I have a different post on beards. I just needed a reason to remind you of Peter’s penchant for all things “Western.”

Nevertheless, the related subject of hair is on today’s plate or, more appropriately, in the barber’s chair. 

You would find that barber’s chair in a парикмахерская. That’s straightforward enough you may say, besides it being about as long of a word as Pinnochio’s nose, but the fun doesn’t stop there. And the explanation relates to why the above photo is amusing. You see, парикмахерская is a compound of several non-Russian root words, yet the font in the above photo is pseudo-Church Slavonic and, furthermore, by the time парикмахерская came into use in Russia, the use of Church Slavonic font to write Russian had been scrapped by westernizing Peter (replacing it with latinized characters). (As a related side note, the subject of the resurgence of the use of the Church Slavonic letters in modern Russia is superbly covered in the book Religion and Language in Post-Soviet Russia).

Peter’s “John Hancock slash” through the letters.

Those two non-Russian roots in парикмахерская are парик and махер and their stories are about as interesting as Peter’s mustaches. Парик, they say, is from the Italian and/or French and means “wig.” As you may know, wigs were quite popular in the 18th century, so it is no surprise that such a word would be introduced into Russian. Парик has remained an individual word in Russian (still meaning wig). You may be able to guess what the next word, махер, means by replacing the x with a latin k. That’s right, it means “maker,” coming from the German macher. Thus, we have a wig maker, a парикмахер, and the place where the парикмахер works, a парикмахерская (probably originally followed by лавка since it’s in the feminine). Парикмахер then acquired a general meaning of someone who combs hair. 

You now may be asking yourself, “How did those poor Russians ever cut their hair before Peter came along with his wicked Western scissors?”

Thankfully, there was the a-little-less-Western Polish word цирюльник (from Polish cyrulik from Greek “cheirourgos”). What is interesting to note here is that the цирюльник originally combined cutting the beard (those beards crept in) with the job of a лекар who would do things like bleed you out and attach leeches.

Since beards just happened to come up, we have to mention that there’s a word for that: брадобрей, beard cutter. This is made up of the ancient root for борода (брад-beard) and брить (to shave; conjugates as брею etc.).

Ok, so if you want a really Slavic haircut you would have to use the verb подстричься. You would, for instance, say Мне нужно подстричься or Я пойду подстричься (I need a haircut [lit. to have my hair cut], I’m going to get a haircut [lit. get my hair cut]).

By the way, if you’re going to go cut the grass you would say Я пойду подстричь газон, so imagining your grass as hair might help you remember this verb.

Since you probably won’t read the book I mention above (Religion and Language in Post-Soviet Russia ; ps, affiliate links: buy the book and financially support wonderful posts like this), I’ll give you a quick run down of some of the language aspect: Russians have been consuming English words like they’re free Happy Meals, while at the same time the use of Church Slavonic fonts (and sometimes the varied characters) is popular as some sort of “return to the roots.” And this ties in with this post because… (drumroll) барбершоп (“barbershop”) is one of those great words business moguls have decided to capitalize on (as though Russian had no possible word of its own). 

For what I hope to be shocking illustration purpose only; the worst of it is that such English words used for capitalistic designs are usually left in latin characters.

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