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The Linguistics of Disinfo: How Russia Portrays Kamala Harris

A screenshot of a Russian media report about Kamila Harris with a racist headline, Aug. 12, 2020
A screenshot of a Russian media report about Kamila Harris with a racist headline, Aug. 12, 2020
Channel 1, Russia

Channel 1, Russia

State-owned TV network

“Donald Trump already reacted in his usual manner, calling her even more disgusting [“omerzitel’noi”] than the previous candidate for the position, Elizabeth Warren, who he degradingly called Pocahontas.”


“America’s own Putin,” “Negress Taking Over America,” “Obama in a skirt returning to the White House”, “the most dangerous choice” – these are just a few headlines in the Russian media after Joe Biden announced Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, as his choice for running mate in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

In Russia, the overall reaction to Harris has been negative. But it goes further. Even the most neutral comments by politicians and media commentators about Harris have included some racist and sexist language.

Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, wrote on Telegram that Harris “is nothing special” and that Biden’s choice was motivated by three reasons only: her gender, her skin color and her mixed Black-Hindu heritage.

What stands out is the language the Russian state media use in describing Harris and, in particular, the way English-language commentaries are translated into Russian for the domestic audience.

In its breaking news report on Aug. 12, Russian state-owned TV - Channel 1 described Kamala Harris as a politician who “supported the anti-Russian hysteria about so-called Russian interference in the American elections.”

The anchor reported that U.S. President Donald Trump had “already reacted in his usual manner, calling her even more disgusting [‘omerzitel’noi’] than the previous candidate for the position, Elizabeth Warren, who he degradingly called Pocahontas.”

During an Aug. 11 press briefing, Trump repeatedly called Harris “nasty” and “extraordinarily nasty” and “probably even nastier than Pocahontas.”

However, in translating the word “nasty,” Channel 1 misleadingly used the much more negative Russian word “omerzitel’ny.”

“For ‘nasty’, people usually say ‘protivny’, it’s almost like a bound phrase,” veteran Russia watcher and professional interpreter Catherine Ann Fitzpatrick, who has translated over 50 books from Russian into English and vice versa, told “And ‘omerzitel’ny’ is already ‘disgusting’ or ‘repulsive’ – that much stronger.”

A linguistic dissection

None of the academic dictionaries checked translates “nasty” as “omerzitel’ny.” That includes the Cambridge dictionary, the professional linguistic source Lingue, and the online dictionary Reverso.

Neither does the popular Google Translate.

The only two online translation services that list “omerzitel’ny” as one of the possible translations of “nasty” are Russia’s popular search engine and a Russian version of the website Multitran. The latter is a sort of a linguistic Wikipedia for translators, to which anybody can add their translations of any word.

“Omersitel’ny” seems to be one of the latest additions to Multitran’s Russian translations of “nasty.” It was submitted by a user identified as “Olga P.” A freelance translator using that same profile name offers services via several professional platforms, including the website The person did not respond to an inquiry from about the authorship of the Multitran entry, so we were unable to confirm whether the two user profiles are the same person.

When asked why Channel 1 translators would choose such an inappropriate word for “nasty”, Fitzpatrick said: “I don’t know if this proves intent, but it does seem like they are upping the ante.”

While Russian media outlets all reported Trump’s comments about Harris, only state-owned media seemed to have original reports with the word “nasty” translated as “omerzitel’ny.” That includes the two main state news agencies - RIA Novosti and TASS.

The translations of Trump’s comment about Harris used by RIA Novosti and TASS are identical, as if they were copy-pasted from the same source.

By way of context, the 2015 Hollywood blockbuster “The Hateful 8” was released in Russia under the name “Omerzitel’naya vos’merka.”

Putin, Obama, Little Negress etc.

RIA Novosti’s front page report about Kamala Harris was headlined: “The Washington swamp puts forward its own Putin against Trump.”

The commentary is full of minor inaccuracies. In addition, Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, is described as a “a lawyer of Jewish origin.” The report portrays Harris as “not too decent, not too trustworthy,” with “extravagant views on foreign policy,” and an “almost-doppelganger” of Putin with the ability to “hypnotize Trump, just like the Russian does.”

Writing in the Russian website Business FM, Anton Korobkov, a political studies professor at the University of Tennessee and a member of the Russian International Affairs Council, described Harris as Joe Biden’s “dangerous choice” for vice president whose main attributes are “untrustworthiness” and a “near-insane hunger for power.”

The Russian international Sputnik featured a commentary that described Biden as “scum” and Harris as “Obama in a skirt,” who “will always be on top of grandpa Biden.” A long, mocking reflection on how Harris’ skin color served to her advantage, the commentary referred to the Black Lives Matter movement, concluding that, in today’s America, “those are the only lives that matter.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s most openly pro-Putin newspapers, featured an article headlined: “Biden decided to preserve his advantage over Trump with the help of a leftist negress.”