What does "Бошетунмай" mean?

Russian Language Asked by Dan Bron on October 4, 2021

My friend (St. Petersburg born and raised) recently got a tattoo:


I asked him what БОШЕТУНМАЙ (“Boshhetunmai”) meant, and he said it was the refrain from a song which very much impressed him in his youth, the 1986 hit Бошетунмай by Кино (Kino) in the album Группа крови (“Blood Group”). You can hear Kino singing this word, in context, at ~2m22s in the linked video.

What does this word mean? My friend claims it is, on its face, nonsense, and Kino refused to unequivocally define it until the day he died.

That’s roughly in accord with the history of the word, though automatic translation to English¹ is very rough, fragmented, and hard to follow:

Интервью с В. Цоем, Мурманское ТВ, апрель 1989 г. (Interview with V. Tsoi, Murmansk TV, April 1989):

— А что такое «Бошетунмай»?
— Это секрет.

He answers: “It’s a secret”.

Интервью с В. Цоем, «РИО» № 19, 1988 (Interview with V. Tsoi, “RIO” No. 19, 1988):

— Откуда взялось слово «Бошетунмай»? Сам придумал?
— Нет, не сам. Есть несколько разных версий возникновения этого слова.
— А у тебя какая?
— Классическая. Просто такое вот волшебное слово.

Roughly, he answers “It’s word with many interpretations. Mine is: it’s classical. Just such a magic word”.

Георгий Гурьянов так трактует это выражение (Georgy Guryanov so interpreted this expression):

— О-о-о… Бошетунмай
— это отдельная история. Была такая группа «Ю би фоти»
— реггей, британский «нью вейв». Они приехали к нам в Ленинград, мы ходили на их концерт, слушали их песню, даже исполняли её сами. А у них же всё вокруг марихуаны и косяков. Виктор под впечатлением всего этого написал реггей-песню. А «бошетунмай»
— это одно из наших названий этого продукта. Скорее это всё Тимур придумал, у него был круг друзей, которые говорили между собой, что человек, который бросил это курить, продался. Соответственно, когда предлагалось курнуть, говорили: «Давай, не продадимся». Так не продавались, не продавались, а потом для конспирации перевели слово на китайский язык. Он был очень модным. Слово взяли из разговорника. «Не продаваться»
— это глагол… Никто значения этого слова до сих пор и не знает, м.б. лучше и не знать.

This is much harder to follow in English, but it seems he concludes the word means ” ‘Do not sell’ as a verb … nobody knows the meaning of this word until now. It is better not to know.”

Given the the creators of the word did not assign it a meaning, my question is:

  • If a native speaker, the man on the street, encountered Бошетунмай, never having heard the song, would it be meaningful to him? What would he interpret it to mean?
  • If not, does the word have any allusions, references, either in whole, or in part, which lend it shades of meaning from morphology or phonology alone?
  • If not, does it have any assonances, consonances, rhymes, or other similarities to other common words which would create links in the hearer’s or reader’s mind?
  • Would it consistently provoke any emotion or constellation of emotions in native speakers?

In short, without familiarity with the Kino song, is this word complete nonsense? If not, what does it mean, or what associations would it create in the mind of a native speaker?

¹ Forgive me, I only speak English. I won’t be able to understand answers or comments in Russian or any other non-English language. Of course you are free to speak among yourselves in any language you like, but addressing me won’t be effective in anything but English.

3 Answers

OK, I've waited enough and while nobody's answering this, I will do it myself.

If a native speaker with no knowledge of song will hear "Бошетунмай" this will mean nothing to him. As of allusions and references, this sounds slightly, vaguely "turkic" (or Tatar) - but that's basically it, nothing more specific. Any popular rhyming word you can think of - like "сарай", "каравай" - still give you no hint.

As of provoking emotion - no. It does not sound harsh, it does not sound aggressive, it's pretty neutral.

To conclude - this word has nothing to do with Russian language, it's a completely made up word and only Viktor Tsoi knows what it exactly means - if it does mean anything at all. It's as much Russian as, say, Kid Rock's Bawitdaba is an English word.

Correct answer by shabunc on October 4, 2021

This is much harder to follow in English, but it seems he concludes the word means " 'Do not sell' as a verb ... nobody knows the meaning of this word until now. It is better not to know."

Not exactly.

"Don't sell" = "Не продавай", but according to quote there is "не продадимся" or maybe "не продавайся". According to google translate "продаться" = "sell out". If I try to translate (with google translate still) sell out to Traditional Chinese, I can get (among the others) "出賣", that is read as Chūmài which is чумай and looks very similar to тунмай.

So it seems originally it was предавать, not продавать.

Not exactly too.

You can предать some other person, but not yourself. In the quote it's definitely about themselves. Продаться (or also продаваться in case of alive subject) is forget about you own principles in favor of money or other benefits. Не продавайся = don't sell yourself [you principles].


@Dmitriy, yes, I believe this is the correct phrase. Also note that translation was made long time ago and if it was not made by professional translator, its quality can be low. Anyway it matches the story and in general seems to be a nice catch. My attempts to get this translation now lead only to the last part (in other hieroglyphs, but with same sound), but you succeeded in the whole phrase - great!

Answered by Qwertiy on October 4, 2021

У меня есть версия, что это слово, не что иное как немного исковерканное русское выражение "Боже ты мой!". Оно почти так и звучит на слух если произносить очень быстро, или если оно произносится иностранцем. Так как время написания песни совпадает с визитом UB40, можно предположить что Виктор услышал как это выражение было произнесено кем-то из этой группы, и он взял это на заметку чтобы использовать в своей будущей песне. Более того, это выражение очень подходит по смыслу к самой песни, так как в ней поется о сумасшествие в нашем обществе...


I have an alternative version of the word's meaning. In my humble opinion, it sounds almost exactly like a Russian expression "Oh My God!" (Bozhe ti Moy!). If you say it very quickly, it sounds very similar, if not exactly, like that. It is just slightly distorted. On top of that, if it is pronounced by a foreigner, who does not speak Russian, it will be sounding exactly like that. Since creation of the song coinsides with the visit of UB40, it is possible that Victor heard the expression being pronounced by someone from the band and took a note of it to incorporate into his song. By the way, the expression fits quite well in the context of the song because it is about our crazy societal problems...

Answered by Alex on October 4, 2021

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