If "Comrade" and "camaraderie" are from Spanish and French, why did the Russians and particularly Soviets (and later the Chinese and South Africans), come to adopt Comrade for usage?

Also, does using camaraderie carry the same socio-political baggage as Comrade might? In contemporary usage, has the term "Comrade" lost any or all socio-political baggage it may once have had?

  • 4
    Small yet important correction, if I may. The Russians did not adopt comrade for usage. We adopted товарищ /tʌˈvarʲiɕː/, which means "friend, mate, companion", and probably comes from a Turkic language. So the real question here is why the English, and particularly The Evil™ Capitalists®, adopted comrade as a translation for товарищ, where they had so many other, better translations readily waiting to be chosen from.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 14:39
  • 3
    ... and the answer to that question is actually provided in the Wikipedia article you linked to: the Russians used товарищ to translate comrade, which at that time was "a form of address in international (especially German) Social Democracy", so when товарищ was translated into English, it made sense to just use the original word rather than friend, mate or companion.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 15:05
  • @RegD This may sound over-the-top stupid American (thanks in no small part to hyped Cold War simplifications), but the word pronounced tovarishch is not actually a borrowing of comrade, but an approximation (that is then translated back to English as comrade?)? Or is the word comrade itself used? And if you explain why the Russians started using [word], I think you should feel free to put it in as an answer (as the wiki article doesn't entirely explain the why, only the happenstance).
    – mfg
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 15:22
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    In brief: 1789, the French Socialists dismiss monsieur in favor of citoyen, and later camarade. 100-odd years later, we have Kamerad in German, camarada in Spanish, etc, with the same political meaning. 1917, the Russians have a Revolution of their own and copy (but do not borrow from) the French: gospodingrazhdanintovarishch. The Spanish decide to settle for compañero. Hitler promotes Kamerad way too much, so now it's Genosse in German. Meanwhile, the English word comrade lives a life of its own, having been borrowed from Middle French camarade in 1590.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 18:52
  • And I am not posting any of that as an answer simply because all of it is obviously off-topic on a site about English. What is on-topic is your second paragraph — does camaraderie carry the same socio-political baggage as comrade? has comrade lost any of the baggage it once had? — but as a non-native speaker, I am not in a position to answer either of those questions.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 18:58

5 Answers 5


I did a quick search of the COCA and found that people are using Comrade in many different ways in modern speech and writing. Most notably, the first page of results seems to split between "Comrade" as a title, which suggests a connotation of membership in some organization, and its use in a military sense; soldiers and their comrades. In the second sense it seems to be used for its original purpose and not with any cold-war baggage.

Bottom line: I'd say this word can be used in certain contexts without any political connotations, but the word still carries those other senses and meanings should you choose to use them. And given that your reader might add political connotations where you don't want them, I'd be careful when using this word.

As an an aside, the Chinese word tóngzhì (同志), which literally means comrade, has taken on a second meaning, which is "homosexual".

  • As an aside to the aside, the literal translation of tóngzhì ‘comrade’ is ‘someone you share a goal with’ (from tóng ‘same’ and zhì ‘goal’)—which, when you think about it, is really a more logical way to express a communist comrade than the word ‘comrade’ itself, which really just means ‘roommate’. [Grr, damn Hanyin ban, can’t type in the actual characters.] Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 21:27

I would imagine that "camarade", being French, sounded highly Revolutionary to English ears, following the bloody events in France in 1789. When the Russians had their own popular revolution and started addressing each other as "tovarisch", the French word would have seemed a convenient and comprehensible analogue to English ears.

This is all supposition, really, I'm by no means an expert in revolutionary history; but I suspect that all uprisings of the people against the aristocracy became conflated in the minds of unrevolutionary types such as the British, and the terminology became conflated too, accordingly.


Disclaimer: I'm a native speaker in the sense of being born & raised (& schooled) in the US, but my first language was actually Hungarian. My parents have a well-justified distaste for All Things Soviet, which the last 20 years have not erased. So my reactions are perhaps not typical.

The origin of "comrade" and the justification (or lack thereof) for its Communist associations is, I think, largely irrelevant. The fact remains, there is such an association. It might be looked upon as "antique" by younger generations, but it has not gone away. Bottom line: I would not suggest using the word "comrade" as a generic synonym for "friend".

Camaraderie, for whatever reason, does not carry any Cold War-era connotations that I know of in English. (I think it might in German.)

  • 2
    Just as an aside, the Hungarian word for "comrade" is elvtárs, which is literally elv "principle, tenet, belief" + társ "partner, mate". Nowadays, its use is strictly sarcastic.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 21:48

Comrade: means a person who's associated with some one (a friend, companion). It comes from some type of Turkic language. However it has been linked to many different languages and we don't really know where the word actually came from but we have some guesses. The Russians didn't adopt the word comrade! however we adopted it.

Examples of the word are: the boy, and two others who are known to be his comrades are wanted for questioning.

I have been educated by my well known teacher Mrs. Christie and I also got this information from other online web sites.


I think that to explain etymology of word 'comrade' by changing the first vowel 'o' to 'a' without notice of so common prefix 'com' is less than ridiculous.

So, let's with blessing from William of Ockham to decompose this word the simplest way: "com-rad-e", where 'com' is very common prefix and 'rad' is the root.

Wikipedia lists following etymology of 'rada':

  1. Old High German rāt (from Proto-Germanic *rēdaz) passed (possibly through Polish) into Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian languages.

  2. Råd in Norwegian/Danish/Swedish and Rat in German, Raati in Finnish and Raad in Estonia/Dutch means "council" or "assembly" but also "advice", as it does in East Slavic (except Russian) and West Slavic, but not in South Slavic languages.

  3. In Swedish the verb råda (to council) is based on the substantive råd. This is similar to Danish; "råd" (noun) and "råde" (verb).

Ergo, comrades are those who counsel each other. On equal terms may, I add.

  • 1
    I agree: ignoring the prefix com- here is less than ridiculous. It is quite sane, in fact, because comrade does not contain that prefix at all. The earliest instances of the word in English have a rather random array of ⟨a⟩, ⟨o⟩, and even ⟨u⟩. The word is very easily traceable throughout history from its basis in derivations from what was in Latin camera ‘chamber’ (> Spanish camarada ‘chamber-mate’), and the earliest English uses of the word are all clearly in the sense ‘chamber-mate’. Glossographia from 1656 even glosses the word as “a tent, chamber, or cabin-fellow”. Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 21:39
  • You might also consider that in Swedish and Danish, where the noun form of the root you’re talking about is råd and the prefix com- is always kom- with an ⟨o⟩, ‘comrade’ is kammerat. With an ⟨a⟩, an ⟨e⟩ between the ⟨m⟩ and the ⟨r⟩, and a final ⟨t⟩ (which is not found in any formations in Scandinavian languages from the PIE root *reh₁- that you refer to). Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 21:43

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