MOSCOW - Russians have endured countless crackdowns on their freedoms, but a legal ban on using their vast vocabulary of swear words has really got them hot under the collar.
This month's law against swearing in films, theatre and the media has propelled the controversial subject to the forefront of public debate and brought together critics and loyalists of President Vladimir Putin.
At the heart of the discourse is Russia's hugely potent lexicon of obscenities known as "mat," which is centred on four taboo words and an infinite number of their variations.
Describing female and male private parts and sexual intercourse, the words sound more offensive than their English-language equivalents, are considered unprintable and usually bleeped on TV.
Supporters say the ban will help protect the purity of the language and family values.
The measure comes amid the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as government calls to protect the Russian language in conflict-torn Ukraine.
But critics say the ban is the latest in a line of clampdowns on freedoms and accused the parliament of hypocrisy since the country's top leadership is believed to resort to curse words in private.
Contemporary novelist Viktor Yerofeyev ridiculed an attempt to impose a "moral monopoly" on words, saying the ban has breathed new life into Russian mat.
"It won! The State Duma has officially recognised it to be a real threat, the adversary, the enemy, the foe of Russian civilisation, a cancerous tumour on Russian culture," he declared in a column for Snob magazine.
"It has reached the unattainable heights of an enemy of the people: like the name of Trotsky in the Soviet Union, it cannot be mentioned publicly." -
'Blow to film industry'
The legislation, wich was signed off by Putin in May, imposes hefty fines on offenders - up to 2,500 rubles ($90) for individuals and up to 50,000 rubles for businesses.
Traders will now be obliged to warn consumers about swear words.
The ban has dealt a painful blow to the movie industry since Russian-made films have in recent years used swear words liberally.
Movies featuring obscenities will now not be issued a distribution licence.
The co-producer of "Leviathan", a profanity-laced art-house film by Andrei Zvyagintsev praised for its critical take on Russia's political system, said the law was inappropriate.
Sergei Melkumov told AFP swear words helped Russians express their emotions.
"That's they way they talk," he said.