Semantic trajectory of the word avos' in the Russian literary language of the 18th and the first third of the 19th centuries

2022. № 2 (44), 166-192

Vladimir V. Glebkin
Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration
School 1514
(Moscow, Russia)


Although various aspects of the semantic structure and use of the discursive word avos' and its derivatives have long attracted the attention of linguists, its semantic history and, in particular, the way how avos' became a language-specific word that designates basic properties of “the Russian soul”, remains largely unclear. The article deals with the early period of this history and scrutinizes the emergence of the first interpretations of the word avos'. It demonstrates that Ivan Mikhailovich Dolgorukov’s poem Avos' played an important role in the semantic transformation of the word, in particular influencing Pushkin’s use of it. Basing on a statistical analysis of the Russian National Corpus data, the conclusion is made that “passive” contexts with avos', describing abstention from action in hope that the situation will settle on its own, are much less frequent than “active” contexts, depicting an eagerness to act
without calculating the risks, relying on a favorable outcome of events.