The Russian language boasts a formidable literary tradition. A handful of Russian words have made their way into English agitprop, apparatchik, commissar, gulag, Kalashnikov, nomenklatura, pogrom, samizdat, vodka, and now kompromat.
But while the Russian language is expressive, it is mostly a borrower, not a lender, of words. The word intelligentsia made its first English appearance in 1918, shortly after the Russian Revolution. It exploded in usage thereafter. What was missing from the West’s conceptual inventory in 1918 that we had to import a foreign word from Revolutionary Russia?