Wednesday, 6 March 2013


Catherine Breshkovsky, Babushka of the Russian Revolution
Catherine Breshkovsky, Russian socialist, better known as Babushka of the Russian Revolution


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[Russian = grandmother]

1 In Russia: a grandmother, an old woman. M20

2 A head-scarf folded diagonally and tied under the chin. M20

Babushka is a word that has carried itself all the way from Russia to reside as a beloved resident both in the English language and as a regular in lists of favourite words. Its sound encapsulates everything that a dear grandmother is: the soft, double-b of babu is filled with her warmth and hospitality, the softness of her gossamer cheeks as she pulls you close for a kiss, and the wry exasperation of recounting better, more honest times. Just as you have rounded the double-b, however, and are sounding the gentle sh of babush, you strike the hard ka, for the babushka is nobody's fool. With a mind as sharp as a razor and a tongue to match, she can smoke like a chimney and sting the ears off a sailor. She is the matriarch; she is the babushka.


  1. Your description has captured the essence of a grandmother, especially the last part!
    In Greece babushka refers to a Matryoshka doll. However, in some areas, like the one I live, βαβω (vavo) is the dialectal word for grandma. Could they be related?

    1. The OED is frustratingly silent on the etymology of the word, stating is simply as 'Russian'.

  2. Did not know the meaning of this word but it was like reading a description of my grandmother. Thanks for the memory!! (apart from the smoking bit)

    1. You're welcome ... it was a fun word to write : o )