Word of the day: bolshie

Last Wednesday marked the centenary (the 100th anniversary) of the 1917 Russian revolution. In March that year, Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia, abdicated. The First World War had been disastrous for the country and food shortages and rampant inflation proved to be the last straw. In Petrograd (now known as Saint Petersburg), soldiers joined forces with striking workers and forced the tsar to stand down. The old regime was replaced by a provisional government, alongside which arose grassroots community assemblies – known as ‘soviets’ – which competed for authority. In November, the provisional government was toppled and power was seized by the soviets.

The dominant soviet group were the Bolsheviks (‘ones of the majority’), led by Vladimir Lenin, who campaigned for an immediate end to the war, land for the people and bread for the masses, demands which proved popular with the downtrodden millions. On taking power, the capital was moved to Moscow, Russian participation in the war was ended …. and civil war soon broke out, with the Bolsheviks (‘the Reds’) fighting all those who opposed their revolution (‘the Whites’). Five years – and around ten million deaths – later, the Reds finally prevailed and in 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR) was created.

News of the Bolsheviks and their extreme tactics quickly spread around the world and before long, the adjective bolshie (or bolshy) came to be used to describe people perceived as stubborn, combative and aggressive. Bolshie people were very assertive in their pursuit of their goals and frequently hostile to authority. A bolshie person would get cross when confronted and may well resort to responses such as “What’s it got to do with you?” and “Keep your nose out of my business!”  Bolshie people relish heated discussion and arguments and may even be quite handy with their fists. In other words, you wouldn’t mess around with them because they mean business!

Bad drunks may get a bit bolshy after a few pints; bad workers may have a bolshy attitude at work and may make themselves a real pain in the neck; and you be bolshy when you answer back, demand something or simply get verbally aggressive with a person you’re debating with. Finally, people sometimes look back and realise they deserved whatever bad things may have happened to them because they were a bit too bolshie at the time and probably needed bringing down a peg or two!

Want to learn more with Lexical Lab? Why not take our ADVANCED LANGUAGE AND CULTURE course next summer?

  • Do you know anyone who can get a bit bolshie sometimes? IN what way?
  • Do you know any other countries that have had revolutions? When? What happened?
  • Has you ever marked the centenary of a particular event? Which one? When? Why?
  • Can you think of any politicians who have been forced to stand down? Why?
  • Can you remember the last time you had a heated discussion? Who was it with? Why were you arguing?
  • Can you think of anyone you wouldn’t mess around with? Why not?
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