I had a rather splendid day today. As regular readers are no doubt aware, I teach English during the summer months..Today saw the return of the Russians and their charming tour leader and a rather pleasant Russian English teacher. The result of which got me thinking about the English language and Russian.
I once read that Stalin and Trotsky had two things in common: neither of them spoke Russian as a first language and neither of them was called either Stalin or Trotsky.
Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein and was brought up speaking Ukrainian. In 1902 he adopted the code name, or nom de guerre, of Trotsky, which he seems to have stolen from one of his gaolers.
Stalin was born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili and was brought up speaking Georgian. After training as a priest he got into communism and adopted the code name, or nom de guerre, of Stalin, which means Man of Steel.
Margaret Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts, and was brought up speaking English, or as close as they get to that in Lincolnshire. She married Denis Thatcher and adopted the married name, or nom de guerre domestique, of Margaret Thatcher.
On January 24th 1976, a Soviet military propaganda outlet called Krasnaya Zvezda reported on the new leader of the British Conservative Party under the headline Zheleznaya Dama Ugrozhayet, which means Iron Lady Wields Threats. Zheleznaya means Iron and Dama means Lady.
The article claimed (utterly falsely, so far as anybody can tell) that this was how she was referred to in Britain. The article would have died a death, but it was seen by Robert Evans, who was the Reuters Bureau Chief in Moscow. So Evans wrote an article saying that: “British Tory leader Margaret Thatcher was today dubbed ‘the Iron Lady’ by the Soviet Defense Ministry newspaper Red Star.” The name caught on in the West, but it was invented in Russia.
What’s interesting is that, though the Russian story was hogwash, it would have made perfect sense to a Russian. The Soviet Union had, after all, been ruled for thirty years by The Steel Man, and this, I suspect, was what prompted the (baseless) story. If I’m correct in this reasoning (and it all looks pretty reasonable to me), then the Iron Lady was, essentially, named after Stalin.
Neverthless, Margaret Thatcher was seemingly delighted.