By Edward Gorin
I was once a violinist for the Bolshoi Symphony in Moscow. I was once a Soviet dissident and refusenik. I was also the son of a man who served six years in one of Russia's gulag camps. Today, in my retirement, my mind has little to do besides muse on the idiocies of some of our politicians. So when I heard Illinois Senator Dick Durbin's comparison of the terrorist storage facility at Guantanamo Bay to "Soviets in their gulags," my mind reeled from such a flaunting of ignorance by an American senator — not to mention his trivialization of the experiences of my father and of countless other Russians who suffered unspeakably or perished in the gulags of the old Soviet regime.
Especially because I recalled how the mother of one of the eight Russian detainees at Guantanamo pleaded with authorities to keep her son at the prison camp. "I am terribly scared of a Russian prison or Russian court for my son," Reuters quoted Amina Khasanova in 2003. "At Guantanamo they treat him humanely. The conditions are fine." Her son, Andrei Bakhitov, had written her a letter saying, "I think there is not even a health resort in Russia on the level of this place."
The only way my assaulted brain was able to recover from Mr. Durbin's boggling remarks was by finding refuge in the Russian language. For it occurred to me that the word "Dur" means stupidity in Russian. From it are derived the words "durnoy" (stupid), "durak" (fool) and "durdom" (mental hospital). Now, "bin" is the American word for something like a hamper or a trash can or a container for all manner of refuse.
Americans should know that especially over the past decade, many American-English words feature prominently in the Russian language— for example, director, computer, region, manager, Internet, traffic, PR, sponsor and producer, to name just a few. (While the French may go out of their way to avoid using American terms such as "email", and come up with French substitutes, the Russian inferiority complex is not as strong.)
So there is actually a real possibility that very soon a new word will enter the Russian vocabulary: durbin (accent on the second syllable). And its meaning will be "a trashcan for idiotic ideas, suggestions, speeches, and hysterical parallels."
In fact, I'd like to be the first to suggest it.