„Not a Living Soul“ – linguistic and political manipulation from the Russian playbook

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A Facebook post is spreading false information that the English language has no equivalent for the Russian expression “ni dushi” (ни души) or the equivalent in our language “ni zhiva dusha” (ни жива душа). Consequently, the English and the Americans use the word “nobody”, which allegedly is evidence that they lack spirit and see only the material and physical, i.e., mankind for them is just a “body”. In the English language, however, such an equivalent exists – „not a (living) soul“ – which can be found in the dictionaries of the Oxford and Cambridge universities, in the works of Shakespeare, and other sources 


post on the social network Facebook claims the following:

When there is nobody, the Russians say “Ni dushi... It is similar in our case.. “Not a living soul. English and Americans say “No body.. For them mankind is a BODYFor us, mankind is a SOULThat, maybe, the basic difference between them and us, simple Slav souls.

This is not original but most probably translated from the many expressions in the Serbian language (for example: here, here, here, here, and here), while they all stem from the statement given by the Russian satirist Mikhail Zadornovknown for mocking the Americans. 

The post spreads falsehoods by claiming that the English language lacks an equivalent for the Russian expression “ni dushi” or the equivalent in our language “ni zhiva dusha”. It suggests that English speakers use the word “nobody”, which allegedly signifies their lack of spirit and focus solely on the material and physical aspects of mankind, reducing it to just a “body”.

The Cambridge University dictionary has listed the expression not a (living) soul, which is exactly the equivalent of the Russian “ni (zhivoidushi and our “ni zhiva dusha, while the Oxford Dictionary lists the exampleThere wasn’t a soul in sight. A similar example can be found in the dictionary published by Merriam-Websteralso known as that of HarperCollins listing the exampleThere was not a soul there. Longmanon the other hand, lists the following exampleIn fact, there is not a soul on the streets. The expression “not a soul is featured in the work “The Tempest by William Shakespeareand if someone prefers a more contemporary example, here is a hip-hop song with the title Not A Soul“The spot for the song is exactly spiritual, showing that not all Americans are soulless people. 

Therefore, the fact-checked post lacks substantiation, and the stereotypes about the English and Americans are rooted in the philosophy of 19th-century Russian Slavophiles. According to them, the non-Orthodox West was seen as being purely materialistic, inclined towards debauchery and homosexuality, and lacking spirituality. In contrast, Russia was viewed as spiritual and traditional, with a path distinct from the West, emphasizing the mysterious Russian soul that the West purportedly failed to comprehend.

The author of the post seems to be presenting some kind of Slav unity, the one advocated by the Slavophiles, but that unity was not envisaged as an alliance of equal Slav people but like an alliance dominated by a Russian Emperor and the Orthodoxy, which, in fact, was disliked by millions of Slavs (the Russian Empire oppressed Ukrainians, Belorussians and Poles, and the problem was that the Poles were mainly Catholics). 

Exactly the Slavophiles were the ones that made popular the expression “the rotten West”, which was later taken over also by the Soviet Communists, and now the Putinists, including the author of this fact-checked post (judging from his other posts). 

Although true that Russian society is generally more traditional than Western ones, that is still a generalization with a great deal of hypocrisy. For example, Vladimir Putin frequently moralizes family values, while he is divorced and rarely appears publicly with his daughters. It was said that he was in a relationship with the gymnast Alina Kabaeva, who, allegedly, gave birth to his illegitimate children. This is not to moralize, but we question how Putin deals with this in his speeches related to family values, faith, spirituality, and other traits. Inconsistency is the issue. 

Russia is the world champion in the number of divorces, which is not something that came from the “rotten West”, but is a years-long practice in the country. The already mentioned Zadornov had extra-marital affairs, meaning that the bodily was not foreign to him, and he was divorced too. There are also indications that the biggest nationalist in Russia, the now-deceased Vladimir Zhirinovsky, was bisexual. Moscow has (or had until recently) more gay clubs than some Western cities. Putinists’ frequent target is also the Eurovision, condemned as a decadent festival of homosexuals and the like, but Russia contributed to this by sending the lesbian duet t.A.T.u in 2003.  

Putin promotes a great deal of Soviet nostalgia, which raises the issue of how he puts that with religion and spirituality that were repressed under the Communist regime when Putin himself was an agent of the repressive secret service KGB. 

Briefly, the story about Russian spirituality has many falsehoods, exaggerations, omissions, contradictions, and hypocrisy. Some of that is present in this Facebook post, and therefore we assess the post as untrue.