How to Tweet Like Boris from The Goldfinch

February 11, 2014 | 11 5 min read

coverGreg Cwik in the Los Angeles Review of Books said that Boris in The Goldfinch is: “quite simply, is the most singularly fun character [Donna] Tartt has created.” I agree, though I don’t need Cwik’s words of affirmation. I knew I found Boris fetching as a few days after finishing the novel, I couldn’t get his voice out of my head.

I muttered like Boris while in a meeting. I wrote a few emails in Boris’s voice to entertain friends. Next thing I knew I was fighting the urge to tweet in the voice of Boris. He is from everywhere and nowhere at once, but somehow Tartt grounded him so thoroughly within the pages that he is threatening to leak out onto the Internet through my fingertips.

The following is my attempt to break down the patterns of Boris’s dialogue. My idea is that I might show you how to tweet like Boris in the hopes that I, then, won’t.


1. Understand where Boris is (not) from

Theo Decker, the main character in The Goldfinch, on first meeting describes Boris’s voice as having a “strong Australian accent, there was also a dark, slurry undercurrent of something else: a whiff of Count Dracula, or maybe it was a KGB agent.”

Boris tells Theo that he lived in Russia, Scotland, Australia, Poland, New Zealand, Texas, Alaska, New Guinea, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Ukraine to name a few. He speaks Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish and was taught to speak English by a barkeep named Judy in Karmeywallag, a town in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Do this:

  • Pepper your tweets with expressions from any of these places, for example: pfft (for ridiculous), eh?, bloody, brilliant, shite, yah, nyah, heaps, and ha!
  • Polish is “maybe” Boris’s first language and his mother was Polish, so use this as your default language or culture in a time of crisis. Comfort foods, for example, include black bread, herring, stuffed cabbage, and pickled eggs.
  • Russian is “best for swearing and cursing.” Suggestion: Nekulturny – Russian for “you are a slob” or “don’t pick your nose in public.”
  • Add in the occasional touch of American teenager: “I’m gonna be sick.”

2. Assume the Boris mindset

Boris knows that everyone around him will behave in wildly inappropriate ways. If they seem to be acting normal, he waits. At some point soon, they become blindingly drunk and try to hit something. Probably him.

Remember that the weather is always against Boris. It singles him out for particular persecution and no one else can possibly understand how bad it can be, “Winter — you don’t what it’s like. Even the air is bad. All grey concrete, and the wind — ”

Soon after they met, the seemingly worldly Boris asks Theo simple questions like, “What is Sophomore?” or “In what province was California located?” Keep in mind that Boris has lived in so many places that he can’t quite remember where he is.

Boris has a moral code that is very clear…to him. He feels assured that every step he takes is justified (or so he will tell you). As he says to Theo, “What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good?”

Do this:

  • Be prepared to shrug and apply a Polish saying to any misbehavior: “…it’s a storm in a glass of water.” Accept all teary apologies without question come the sober light of day.
  • If a person dares to suggest that the sun might come out or that it soon will be summer, remind them of its misery: “Mosquitoes. Stinking mud. Everything smells like mold…I would walk on the river bank and think of drowning myself.”
  • If in doubt, opt for cultural confusion: Specific questions around local customs will help you sound authentic. All candy bars are Nestle bars. All pop is Pepsi.
  • Regardless of what you are doing at the time, brand others as immoral, “Likely you will end up in jail, Potter. Loose morals, slave to the economy. Very bad citizen, you.” It will help you feel better in comparison.

3. Mimic his mannerisms!

Remember that Boris calls Theo “(Harry) Potter” because of his round glasses. Mrs. Spear, the teacher, is “Spirsetskaya.” And Xandra’s dog, Popper, became, “Amyl” and “Nitrate” and “Popchik” and “Snaps” before settling in on a nickname.

Boris overuses exclamation points! They aren’t so much about exclamation, but rather when he is trying to sound convincing (and he actually believes the opposite is true).

As Boris knows many languages, but none of them particularly well, you can swap the order of words in sentences at will.

Also remember that Boris has, “done more drugs by the age of 15 than Pete Doherty…[drinks] beer the way other kids drink Pepsi.”

Do this:

  • Apply nicknames to anyone at any time. They should come from references to your life, rather than theirs, but anything that sounds drug related or vaguely Russian/Eastern European will work. No need to justify your choices.
  • Spend time convincing others of things with an exclamation point, especially when you know to opposite to be true: A new girlfriend is “so brave and wise, such a big heart!” You come across someone that you were looking for, “Was not expecting to run into you!” Or, “What! I was trying to be nice!” And especially, “I did not mean to!”
  • Start sentences with a verb, like “Was just trying to help you,” or “Will make your headache go like magic,” but feel free to scramble further, “loads better than Ukraine. Miami Beach, compared.”
  • Sound smart, but also feel free to not make sense all the time. If you say something dumb, quickly ask someone to light your cigarette or fetch you a beer to cover it up.


To apply the guidelines, I gathered a few actual tweets from writers to show how you might tweet like Boris:

Stephen King

Your eating habits, Czar! Horrible! Favorite restaurant is Waffle House, ha! I think better to drown myself.

Margaret Atwood

Finally making Theo get clay-like dog poop off steps: made Popchik go there when too much sun to walk in #lostvegas with no umbrella!

Neil Gaiman

I show hot @amandapalmer this Nestle bar advert. Made her headache go away like magic. I am genius!

Joyce Carol Oates

Those turkeys! I did see them! Not living a good life and no more pickled eggs. A “Presidential Pardon” is jinx. Slave to economy is why they are not seen.

Colson Whitehead

Who is bigger fool? The nekulturny who says “Novel is Dead,” or the nekulturny who gets knuckles all bloody from punching the mouth of a moron who time wastes about things like “Novel is Dead?”

is a staff writer for The Millions. Her novel The Last Neanderthal is published by Little, Brown and Co., was recently featured in The New York Times, and is a national bestseller in Canada. Her writing has appeared in the Lenny Letter, The New York Times, Salon, and The Globe and Mail. Follow her @clairecameron or read more at


  1. In my head, too, Boris is! Not to be kidding! Much thanks to Donna Tartt, for not letting his lifestyle (SPOILER ALERT) kill him off at the end of the book. He will show up at just the right minute to rescue us…

  2. He kind of reminds me of someone like Joseph Conrad, who began speaking Polish, had a life of adventure around the world, then decided to write in English. An interesting strangeness to his English…

  3. P.S. This is one of the funniest articles I have ever read. If you ever come to Washington DC, take a taxi and have a conversation with the driver, many of them have “Boris” type careers behind them.

    A place to meet the “Borises” of DC when off duty is a bar in Adams Morgan called Madam’s Organ, which is truly a crossroads where you can meet people from almost every place and station of life. Madam’s Organ is also a DC bar in which (unlike almost anywhere else) no one will ask you “What do you do?” They do not care what you do.

    At any other Washington DC watering hole, you will be aurally assaulted by the loud and drunken conversation of a tall, blonde lobbyist named Kirsten, Heather, or Kaitlen. Beware. They are everywhere.

  4. Boris is simply unforgettable; after finishing the novel, I missed him so much I kept going back for sneak peeks and bookmarked the pages where he appears – which means I must have reread most of the novel several times. But does Boris tweet? I think not. Tweets? Pfa – punch-ups in dark alleys, rapid Ukrainian on the mobile phone, OK, OK, but talking is best, da? Thanks for a great post.

  5. Boris may well be my favorite character of all time. This is the best -, the very best article that I have read in a long time. My sides hurt from laughing!!!!! Who knew that Ukranian-slangish could be so much fun????

    Many thanks.

  6. My grandparents were from Odessa, and my grandmother’s English was something all of its own. For Tanksgivink, we had roast turkey, Tartt was spot-on with the structure of Boris’s sentences and the Eastern European gestures. Boris is an unforgettable character!

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