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Everybody knows what a flash mob is, right? Right?

Well, despite what every English-speaking netizen knows about this concept, in Russian these words mean something subtly different, progressively less subtly every day. The initial idea of flash mob involved moving in real space, swarming a real life location, actually doing something. Not so in Russian.

When the idea of a flash mob first gained notoriety and spilled into Russian-speaking netspace, everybody1 knew what it was and thought it was cute. That was until the “albanian language”2 became widespread. The story behind the name “albanian” is also interesting, and I’m not sure if most people even remember where the name came from, even though the genesis of that slang itself is widely known.3

A few years ago4 a clueless American LiveJournal user wrote something very self-centered… in short, something normal for quite a sizable portion of Americans. This, however, randomly attracted attention from the Russian segment of LJ, so someone posted a Russian comment, to which the clueless American wondered what are Albanians doing on an American blogging site. A few popular bloggers posted links to his journal, which was subsequently flooded with comments, topping out the comment limit in just two days. Since the aforementioned slang was widely used in these comments, it gained the “albanian” moniker.

This event was called a flash mob… does anyone else see something wrong with this picture?

Since then, the misuse of the term “flash mob” grew. As far as I know, no real flash mobs involving actually quickly massing in real-space occurred on Russian soil in the past three years,5 but multiple net-mobbings of random and not so random victims have happened since then, far too many for me to bother counting. Such behavior is normally called a “raid” in all other parts of the world, but not in Russian.

It would be fine if the meaning kept constant, but it is not. In the past year, I see the term “flash mob” used more and more frequently to refer to meme explosions as well — when you see a link widely reposted, you can also see the event being called a “flash mob”. This kind of culminates in the recent Easter — as some people know, it is customary in Russia to greet each other with proclamations that Christ has, indeed, risen on that day, regardless of how deeply religious you are. As a result, you can have your whole blogroll full of such proclamations during Easter, and this year, this event, too, was called a “flash mob”, albeit humorously.

…Why am I writing this? Oh, I just got a piece of spam6 with a chain letter from a student, who badly needed extra luck and hoped to find it in a chain letter.

And she called it a flash mob.

When will that drift finally stop at something, dammit?!


  1. Well, everybody who’s opinion I cared about back then. ↩︎

  2. One of the more hideous slang systems in Russian language which developed in recent years. ↩︎

  3. Long story, really hard to translate, and beside the point. ↩︎

  4. I should track down the exact date someday, but that involves a lot of tiresome looking through logs which I’m not about to do right now — but it should be possible since I remember discussing it and I should have logs. ↩︎

  5. It’s a mystery as to why exactly, which, I believe, demands a special study. I have no theories on the subject which could hold water. ↩︎

  6. I say it’s spam because I don’t think I know the girl I got it from. If I’m mistaken, too bad for the girl. ↩︎