Glossary of Terms from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

BUR: Russian, Barak Usilennogo Rezhima, reinforced security barracks

Caucasus: a region that includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and a small portion of southern Russia

Estonians: people from Estonia, a country on the Baltic Sea in northeastern Europe, a Soviet republic from 1940-1991

Gram: a measure of weight in the metric system equal to about 1/30 of an ounce. There are 25-30 grams in a typical slice of bread.

Hussars: light cavalrymen with rifles, swords and pistols

Kilo: a kilogram. A measure of weight in the metric system equal to a thousand grams.

Kilometer: a measure of length in the metric system equal to 3,280.8 feet (about 5/8 of a mile)

Kolkhoz: a type of Soviet collective farm that most peasants were forced to join. Farm products were sold to the government and profits were shared.

Kopeck: a coin worth 1/100 of a ruble. See also Ruble.

Kulak: Russian for “closed fist.” The Soviet government defined kulaks specifically as peasants who hired permanent workers, owned an industrial enterprise (such as a flour mill), hired out agricultural machinery or practiced usury. Between 3 and 5 percent of the population was considered to be kulaks.

Lag: a convict who has been transported or sentenced to penal servitude

Latvia: a Baltic Sea country in northeastern Europe; a Soviet republic from 1940-1991

Lithuania: Baltic Sea country in northeastern Europe; a Soviet republic from 1940-1991

Moldavia: a Soviet republic in southeastern Europe from 1940-1991, when it declared its independence and changed its name to Moldova

OGPU: Russian, Ob’edinennoe Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenie Rezhima, literally, “Unified State Political Administration,” the Soviet secret police

Patronymic: a name derived from that of a father or other male ancestor. For example, a man named Ivan whose father’s name is Denis would be called Ivan Denisovich or “Ivan, son of Denis.” This form of address is used formally as well as among friends. However, on occasions when the diminutive of a name is used, such as Alyoshka for Aleksey, the patronymic is always omitted.

Pood: slightly more than 36 pounds

Ruble: a unit of currency. Since the ruble circulated only within the Soviet Union, which arbitrarily assigned value relative to foreign currencies, it is difficult to state the ruble’s worth in relation to the dollar during the time in which One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich takes place.

Skilly: thin, watery porridge, gruel or soup used in prisons and workhouses

Screw: a prison guard

Stakhanovite: an unusually productive worker, named for Soviet coal miner Aleksei Stakhanov, who was reported to have cut 102 tons of coal in a single shift

Taiga: the swampy coniferous forest area of Siberia

Tartars: a Turkic-speaking people of eastern Europe and central Asia

Troika: a Russian vehicle drawn by three horses abreast

Ukraine: a country in eastern Europe, a Soviet republic from 1922-1991

Valenki: knee-high felt boots

Content last updated: April 30, 2006

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