I hate to think that my student meant to write “primitive,” since even in her hardest days Russia could never be called that, except by a student who thought his culture elevated him to the pinnacle of civilization and all others were therefore primitive. And I do my best to teach students to inform themselves, think, and lose the arrogance before they write….
I like the error, though. Did he really mean that the people of Russia are “somewhat” primates? Somewhat human—or somewhat apes? Try to picture the streets of Moscow crowded with ape-like creatures wearing those wonderful fur hats, the taverns of Moscow crowded with vodka-sipping chimpanzees, Golden Gibbons playing the balalaika, spider monkeys tending the steaming samovar. Baboon choirs singing “The Volga Boat-ape.” What a fun country, eh? Well, I’m pretty sure my student didn’t have this in mind.
Maybe he was thinking of the Russian Orthodox Church, the head of which is, I believe, called the Primate. Now that Russians are once again free to practice religion, can we call the country “somewhat primate,” meaning many, but not all, of the open churches are Russian Orthodox Catholic?
Much as I hate to think it, I do believe my student meant “primitive.” Picture a gorilla in an archbishop’s mitre sitting in a hut somewhere out on the steppes and you might be able to get all three ideas into one word.
For my student, albeit without his knowledge, I offer apologies to the people of Russia, whose cultural achievements, intellectual sophistication, and passionate humanity are beyond question.