WITH ALL THEIR other problems, now Soviets don't know what to call each other.
They have referred to each other as "comrade" since the 1917 Revolution. Comrade had a friendly, common ring to it, even when Comrade Stalin was having millions of his fellow comrades killed or executed.
But now that they've dumped communism, comrade is out. The problem is that after all those years, habits are hard to break and they don't have new words to replace the old.
Obviously, they could use Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms., but that's so formal. They would become like the English and have to take laxatives. And in the free, open society they hope to build, there should be variety and informality.
And that's where we could help. There isn't another country in the world where people have as many terms for each other.
Just off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of dozen ways I've been addressed at different phases of my life, and in varying social circumstances.
Take "bud" or "buddy."
There's the traditional, "Hey, buddy, can you spare a fella' a few coins?"
But Southerners use "buddy" better than anyone else. You can be a "good buddy" only 5 minutes after meeting someone in the South. And 10 minutes later, you graduate to being a "ol' buddy." And if you are short, you might be labeled "biddy-buddy."
A Southern introduction can go like this: "Hey, ol' buddy, I want you to meet my good buddy. Good buddy, shake hands with my biddy-buddy."
Then there's "mac," which seems to endure in New York. The last time I was there, I was called "mac" several times. "Hey, mac, move it, huh?" "Hey, mac, where you wanna go, make up your mind, huh?" Or "I don't know where that is, mac; why don't you go somewhere else?"
When young, you might be "kid" or "lad" or "sonny" or "junior." Then you move on to "young fella" or "lad." Then it becomes "dad" or "daddy-o" or "pops."
Finally, you reach the point when some kid or lad or young fella calls you "gramps," which is why you should carry a heavy cane to thump his head for the impertinence.
"Bub" used to be popular. I liked "bub," but you don't hear it much anymore, unless you wear bib overalls and hang out with Indiana's jet set.
I once had a boss who called everybody "chum." I thought he was being friendly. But it turned out that he couldn't remember names so he called everyone "chum." Even his own kids. They didn't know what their names were until they started school.
"Pal" is useful for that, too. Whenever I run into someone whose name I don't recall, I give him a slap on the shoulder and say, "how ya' doin', pal." That usually works, but sometimes it isn't appropriate, such as the time a guy responded: "I am not your pal. I haven't been your pal since you wrote a column saying that I was one of the biggest thieves in City Hall and should be in jail." So it's worth the effort to remember names.
I gather from recent movies in which young people shoot each other like grouse, "bro" or "blood" or "homeboy" are popular in some circles. But I'm not sure how well they'd translate into Russian.
If they ever develop an economy, the Russians will begin owning cars. And when that happens, they will learn to jump stop signs, cut each other off, tailgate, creep-block intersections, swing left before turning right and all the other things that raise the blood
pressure of their fellow man.
So they'll need words for that, too. The most popular can't be printed here. Or even used with --es. It refers to part of one's backside.
But high on the motorists' list of informal greetings is "head." (If used with --es, I believe that is permitted in a newspaper, so long as you remember to put the --es in the right place.)
A woman who teaches a pre-school class, made up of children who are driven to school by their mothers, says that even the least verbal of the tots knows "head" after only three or four trips to school. And those whose mothers often drive in heavy traffic have usually picked up several words I can't use with --es.
And speaking of mothers, that is a wonderful, ancient word that has taken on a wide range of modern meanings and uses. In its most elaborate variation, it's disgusting and those who use it should have their tongues torn out. But now otherwise decent people are heard to say: "I can't figure out the instruction manual for this mother," or "I must have hit that mother 250 yards."
But I don't think we should try to teach the Russians that until they have mastered the proper use of "head."
You may have noticed that I have not used any terms for female persons. That's because I can't think of any that are acceptable. There was a time when one might call a female person "doll," "sweetie," "babe," "cutey," "honey," "gal," "darlin'" or one of my all-time favorites, "sweetpatootie."
But if you use any of these words now, the female person will become furious. And if you react to her anger by saying: "Hey, li'l gal, did anyone ever tell you that you're beautiful when you're mad?" as John Wayne said in about 25 movies, you could be dragged before the National Board of Insensitivity Inquiry and ruined forever.
Or even worse, she'll call you a head.