Today, on #LinguisticsWithSlava
The Russian word for a sports fan is "bolel'shchik." I'll explain in a minute. But first, did you know that for a long time Americans had no word for it?
Sports fans appeared in the US in the 1850s, but the word didn't come about until early XX c..
— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) November 24, 2021
Per a professional sports journalist and Russian expat:
Until baseball began to proliferate in NYC and people began to support teams from their neighborhoods, their only interest in sports was betting. The concept of following a team over a period of time with nothing at stake except emotional investment was utterly new…
So, for a long time, folks who weren’t into this culture, just assumed these were some new type of gamblers. This is how they were described in newspapers. Eventually, the word “fanatic” was used.
This, of course, tells us something about the prevailing emotion in the stands…
… or, rather, how they were viewed by outsiders. American sports fans were, first and foremost, explosively emotional and, to others, irrationally so.
Interestingly enough, in England, the word “supporters” is used for those who are more serious and invested into the culture…
The word “bolel’shchik” tells you all you need to know about the Russian approach. We did adopt the English word (in the form of “fanaty”), but it describes soccer hooligans exclusively.
“Bolel’shchik” is ours. Oh so very, very ours.
The root word is “bol”, which means “pain”
“Bolet” is a verb derived from it. Its meaning is “to be ill.” Therefore, “bolel’shchik” is someone who feels constant pain and/or is very sick. However, the word applies exclusively to sports supporters. A regular ill person is “bol’noi.”
How Dostoyevskian is this shit?
The prevailing emotion of a Russian football fan (and this is where the word originated) is, of course, pain. Constant, unyielding feelings of sickness and discomfort that can only be understood if you ever sat on a wooden bench to watch a 0-0 slog in half-frozen mud in Saratov.
To support a sports team, in Russian culture, primarily means to experience pain, to be emotionally unwell, to subject one’s mental health to voluntary mistreatment. To be unhealthily addicted to something bad.
Don’t ever ask me why I root for the Buffalo Bills and Sabres again.