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When and why did Asian and Southern people start to be called "чурки"?

Russian Language Asked on October 4, 2021

Wiktionary gives eight different meanings as well as the etymological origin of the word "чурка": Meanings 1-4 are various small pieces of wood or metal, Meaning 5 is a simpleton or uneducated person, Meaning 6 is "someone whose face features are different from those of the Russians – a darker skin, slant eyes, etc.," Meanings 7-8 are regional dialect meanings, and the etymological origin is "чуръ," an old word for stump (link).

Although the original meaning of "чурка" was a piece of wood, I see in Google that nowadays the most usual meaning is Meaning 6 – a Southern or Asian ethnic origin. Here are a few of typical examples:

Фархад, хотя и чурка, но водитель классный, — стал делиться с Раздолбаем Мартин, нисколько не смущаясь присутствия самого Фархада. — Водитель всегда должен быть чуркой. Русских нельзя брать водителями. (Source)

В твоём возрасте у меня был одноклассник из Дагестана. Несмотря на то, что чурка, он был одним из достойнейших людей. (Source)

Любопытно, что я, как русский воспитанный в СССР, был вхож во все местные общины. Потому что в русской культуре нет снобизма. Да, наша культура грубоватая, мы можем сказать в лицо чурке, что он чурка, но мы сразу же принимаем любого человека за равного и если человек правильный, то общение пошло. (Source)

The word is pretty frequently used nowadays.

Analyzing the Google Books statistics, I found that the word has been being actively used at least since the 1800s (link), when it was used in books only about twice as fewer per unit of text length as it is used in books nowadays.

Opening books of that epoch, I saw use of various meanings of "чурка," including a couple of apparent instances of Meaning 6 (ethnic origin):

Он всегда был смуглъ, сутуловатъ, морщинистъ и грубоватъ, – такъ и остался; словом, ничего не прибавилось. Бѣдный старый Чурка! (From a book of 1866)

Но, по счастiю, оказался он живъ, а только опаленъ какъ чурка, и кровь лилась съ лица и со всей головы его. (From a book of 1873)

So it seems the Russians already called Asians and Southern people чурки in the 1800s, but I have no idea whether, for example, the Russians called the Mongols чурки during the Mongol invasion of Rus in the 1200s.

(Update: As @tum_ pointed out in a comment below, I was terribly wrong. In the example of 1868, the word Чурка does not mean an ethnic origin. The text from which I had taken the sentence turned out to be an old Russian translation of the English text entitled "The Tale of Aunt Margaret’s Trouble," and Чурка is how the Russian interpreter translated the nickname "Stock," which, in turn, was derived from "Stork." In the example of 1873, "опален как чурка" can be understood as "burned like a piece of wood." Opening other books of the 1800s, I was unable to find any example where "чурка" means an ethnic origin. So it is quite possible that the Russians did not yet call Asians чурки in the 1800s.)

My question is this: When and why did the Russians start to call people with darker skin and/or slant eyes чурки, а word for а piece of wood? I am curious what the logical connection was.

I am especially interested because as a Japanese I myself qualify as чурка.

5 Answers

My idea (which I, however, can not properly substantiate) is that the word "чурка" originally meant "a stump of wood" and could be used as a generic prerogative term for a person. Later, in XIX century, it had become popular when disparaging Turkish people because of easy rhyming ("турки-чурки") and when the animosity towards Ottoman Empire was high. There is some literary evidence of that.

Later on, the word "чурка" had become "reserved" for people of Turkish origin, and extended to all Asians who ended up within Russian Empire (so, Buryats and Chukchi can be called "чурки", while Chinese and Japanese are not).

It's probably safe to say that the word "чурка" was not is use yet in 1200's during the Mongol invasion.

Correct answer by Alexander on October 4, 2021

From my personal experience (as russian from Kazahstan) the meaning beheid the word "чурка" is being stupid/dumb/slow. People from soviet asia (geographically) were often from country side, had less education and often had troubles speaking or even understanding russian language und thus in the eyes of russians they seem dump/stupid. We have a saying "тупой как чурка" (dumb as a pice of firewood), so russians start using the word "чурка" (firewood) against people from soviet asia. Also the word "чурка" have meaning of being rude (people who barely speek the laguage often seem rude to native speakers) As anecdoral evidence, I myself use the word "чурка" against asian (geographically) rednecks and against russian rednecks a word "быдло" which means cattle (in the same meaning of being dumb, rude and thus non-human).

Answered by Evgeny on October 4, 2021

The was a nation at Caucases, called "черкессы". They had extremely bad reputation as bandit nation. They were forcibly relocated to Turkey in the middle of XIX. But there reputation of a nation wich despised labor and education (true warrior should only know how to handle sword, gun and women) outlived them. So Russians keep calling all other uneducated highlanders by there shorten insulting name - "чурки" (of case having a second level of comparing them to logs).

Now - almost two centuries later - most people forgot about origins, but remember that this is an insulting name for some nations from "south"

Answered by ksbes on October 4, 2021

First of all you are misunderstanding the term a bit. Normally you would say азиат for Asian and южанин for Southern which would be neutral. On the other hand чурка in modern Russian stands for highly insulting reference to anyone Turkish- or Persian- looking. Can also be sometimes used as a standin for "not white people" or "not Russian", again insulting. The closest analogy in English is "nigger"

The word itself has been around in language for quite a while. For example, my grandma (b. 1930s) would use it from time to time. I believe is has gained a much wider spread in Post-Soviet Russia as the USSR collapse has led to a flood of cheap workforce from Asian and Southern ex-USSR republics to large Russian cities (mainly Moscow) increasing xenophobia and racism in local citizens.

I am especially interested because as a Japanese I myself qualify as чурка.

You do not. If you want to say something as insulting you would qualify as узкоглазый but that is less insulting.

Answered by schikin on October 4, 2021

The word чурка meant a piece of wood / log, probably after that, the чурка came to mean an insult "Тупой как пень".

Answered by SupinePandora43 on October 4, 2021

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