‘Khokhol’ Offensive to Ukrainians and Should Not Be Used in Public, Moscow Scholar Says

July 7, 2015
The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan of Turkey. By Ilya Repin (1880-91).

Staunton, July 4 The word khokhol must not be used “in official or public speech,” Aleksandra Olkhovskaya of Moscow’s Pushkin Russian Language Institute says, because it denigrates those to whom it is applied and thus is offensive. It can only be used, she says, when those employing it know those with whom they are speaking.

Olkhovskaya says
that “the etymology of the word khokhol is connected with the fact that among the Little Russians there was a widespread habit of cutting hair so that the head was shaved and there remained only a strand of hair, that is, a forelock.” Consequently, initially at any rate, the word was not a denigrating one.

There is additional evidence for this: such a hairstyle was an indication of membership in the elite and the name was applied to numerous places in Russia, such as Khokhlovka and Khokhlovsky Ruchey. “These toponymns suggest that Little Russians settled in these locations,” she adds, oblivious to the fact that the use of the term “Little Russians” is itself offensive to Ukrainians.

But if the word initially did not have any negative connotation, that is no longer the case, Olkhovskaya says. She says she recently conducted a survey of Russian speakers and found that “young people consider the wordkhokhol carries with it a clearly negative assessment” and that they “would never use it” for Ukrainians they feel close to.

Older Russians in contrast, she continues, “consider that the word ‘khokhol is simply a conversational word and can be used in communications with relatives and friends.”

This issue periodically surfaces in Russia. It is now the subject of discussion because Facebook took down the account of Eduard Bagirov, a Russian who used the term khokhol, an action that led Maksim Ksenzov, the head of the Russian Internet regulator to ask the service why (and to get a Facebook administrator’s warning himself). Facebook responded that the use of the word “violates the rules of the community.”