Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When I played the Battle Zone II video game in the late 1990s, which was plotted around a war between a New Soviet Union and a future analog of the USA, I noticed that Russian tanks and pilots frequently exclaimed "For Mother Russia!".

This made me quite curious because not only the expression does not exist in Russian, but also would sound awkward.

Under the USSR it was very uncommon to call the USSR "Russia" especially by loyal citizens, those who were outside of the emigrant and dissident circles. Thus a common expression would be "For the Motherland!"("За Родину!") or (in more official style) "For our Soviet Motherland!"(За нашу советскую Родину!).

But the case is that the expression would sound awkward not only in the USSR, but in modern Russia as well (one can say "For Russia!", although this is uncommon, but "For mother Russia" sounds very much strange).

The expression also could not have come from Czarist Russia as well, it was common to call "За Отечество!" (can be translated "For the Fatherland!") those times.

I have seen the expression "For Mother Russia!" many times since then, but always only in English.

So my question is where did this expression came from and why it is so widespread in English?

share|improve this question
    
So you're saying that "За Россия-Матушка" is strange sounding to a native Russian speaker? Is "Россия-Матушка" reasonable? –  mgkrebbs Aug 27 '11 at 4:23
1  
"За Россия-Матушка" is grammatically incorrect anyway, because it uses incorrect case (nomenative instead of accusative). Also the word order is incorrect: it can be "За Матушку-Россию". But this should be translated "For Mummy Russia" because "Матушка" is a deminutive. –  Anixx Aug 27 '11 at 4:45
4  
I don't think it's widespread at all –  simchona Aug 27 '11 at 7:25
1  
@simchona: as personifications of countries go, it’s not by any means unusual. Google Ngrams confirms that it dates back to about the first world war, and that in recent decades it’s about a seventh as common as “Uncle Sam”. –  PLL Aug 28 '11 at 0:10
    
Although I never seen a movie with American soldiers crying "For Uncle Sam!" –  Anixx Sep 20 '11 at 18:20
show 1 more comment

3 Answers

Mother Russia has long been familiar as the standard English form of the personification called in Russian Матушка Россия (Россия-матушка, Мать-Россия, Матушка Русь); the use of родина 'motherland' is much less familiar to the English-speaking world and is also ambiguous. It’s possible that the designers simply used the familiar Mother Russia without giving any consideration to authenticity. However, it’s also very possible that For Mother Russia! was a deliberate compromise between an authentic but somewhat opaque For the Motherland! and the familiar personification Mother Russia. If so, they could have done worse: it does at least capture in English the 'mother' of родина 'motherland' while still clearly identifying just which motherland is intended.

(At least they didn’t make it За родину слонов 'For the Motherland of Elephants'!!)

share|improve this answer
    
Interesting link. They say there is a known personification of "Mother Russia" but in the Russian quotes they give there is only "Mother Motherland" or "Mother-native land" of to translate literally (Родина-Мать), and no "Mother Russia". The only "Mother Russia" quote on that page belongs to Oswald Spengler and not in Russian. –  Anixx Aug 27 '11 at 9:45
add comment

The video game you are talking about was made in the U.S.A. by a company called Atari and the programmers were simply using a cold war reference in the game possibly inspired by movies, television, or books. Mother Russia is a common term in English and there is even an Iron Maiden (British rock band) song with the title "Mother Russia".

share|improve this answer
    
And where this came from? –  Anixx Aug 27 '11 at 7:17
    
I've corrected. It was BattleZone II by ActiVision, not the very first game by Atari. –  Anixx Aug 27 '11 at 7:18
1  
@Daniel Pereira, you might want to include parenthetical info like the source of the game in a comment rather than an answer, especially since the answer you gave does not actually respond to the OP's questions (" where did this expression came from and why it is so widespread in English?"). –  JeffSahol Aug 27 '11 at 20:13
    
It sounds in Russian (the Soviet times) perfectly well "За Родину! За Сталина!". You may find this phrase in all patriotic war films. –  subic Sep 5 '11 at 16:40
    
"За Родину" means "For the Motherland!", of course the motherland was meant to be the USSR, not Russia. –  Anixx Sep 20 '11 at 18:18
add comment

Slightly off the page, so far. Mother Russia goes back to the Mongols, sacking Kiev (then capital of Russia), making big parts of Russia belong to Khanates (or at least pay tribute or taxes).

What was left? The rest of the Russians hiding in forests that the Mongols could not be bothered with (while they went to the Rhine and wintered on the Hungarian plains).

Volga, as the trading route between the "still standing" and the "subjugated" parts of Russia was called "my Dear Mother (of Russia)". Have you not heard any of the most popular songs (other than the anthem when another Olympic medal is clocked)? So it is the name for an entity that, strictly speaking, for centuries was not a political entity.

When Russia entered the imperialist expansion stage (Siberia, and towards the Muslim SE) it was important to create this myth of integrity, as well as keeping the ones not integral to that "mythical" area onboard, so to say: White Russians, Ukrainians, Karelians on the other geographical axes – but still part of it.

That's 600 years of "mother" Russia – rather than the Cold War propaganda.

share|improve this answer
1  
Any sources? About the songs, about the imperialist myth (or slogans or whatever)? –  Anixx Sep 20 '11 at 18:17
    
Dimunatives in Russian are (often) used to express affection and close association- so that is about as far as you can get from the usage in some other languages (if not being used as pejoratives, at least for diminishing importance, standing or ability) - just wanted to add this to relate to the other comments –  restaurateur Sep 20 '11 at 18:17
add comment

protected by RegDwigнt Mar 2 '12 at 18:18

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.