Putin has instilled fear of stepping out of line with talk from his propagandists about the “sixth column.” The regime has long smeared the opposition with textbook accusations of them being Russia’s “fifth column.” But the Orwellian new invention of a “sixth column” refers to those inside the regime opposing expansionism due to their ties to the West.

What does that mean?

  • 1
    This is a great question. Attributive textbook has a very interesting range of meaning, and this example in particular could well be non-obvious to most learners.
    – user230
    Oct 20 '14 at 19:03

Ditto Jasper and CrazyEyes, but let me see if I can state this in a way that makes it more clear.

Suppose you were writing a beginner's textbook on, say, how to build a bookcase. Presumably you would use a simple, straightforward case: a rectangular bookshelf, all square corners, capable of supporting normal weights, etc. When you're writing a textbook, you don't normally use odd-ball examples full of special cases. At least you don't start with those. Like in my "bookcase" example, you probably wouldn't use a bookshelf capable of supporting 6,000 pounds of books, with some of the books 3 meters tall, and some of them triangular and others round. You'd deal with normal sizes and weights.

Thus, when we are discussing something that is the normal, simple case, no unusual or extreme requirements, everything pretty much typical, maybe even over-simplified, we call it a "textbook example". In real life, professionals expect to at least occasionally run into problems that don't fit the standard textbook example. Then they will have to use some creativity and original thinking to solve the problem. Thus, by extension a "textbook example" is one that does not require any creativity: it's the standard case, exactly the way people having been doing this for many years.

So what the writer is saying here is that these accusations are the sort of accusations that you would find in a text -- the normal, standard, by-the-book case. Putin didn't have to be clever or original to come up with these accusation: they're the sort that propagandists have been using for hundreds of years. The idea is that he could almost have taken any textbook on "how to smear your political opponents" off the shelf and copied them out, just filling in the names of the right people or groups where it says "fill in opponent's name here".


"Textbook" can be used as an adjective as well as a noun. It is meant to evoke the definition of something as it would be defined in a textbook (or in school, university, etc). More broadly:

adj. Being a characteristic example of its kind; classic: a textbook case of schizophrenia.

He's saying that the accusations are likely staple or classic examples of Russian (or European, not sure what the context is) politics.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


In the original poster's example, "textbook" is used as an attributive noun (very much like an adjective). The standard case is a "textbook example". Most English language textbooks include examples of how to apply a lesson.

Suppose there is a textbook on how to write propaganda. (The title would probably be more politically correct, like "Public Relations for the Modern Statesman" or "Information Warfare".) It might have a lesson on how to use accusations to discredit dissidents. That lesson might have an example.

The author of the passage is implying that if there were a textbook on how to make accusations, Putin's regime's accusations seem like the sort of example you would expect to read in the textbook.

  • 1
    In this case it's ambiguous whether it's a noun or an adjective, but it might make sense to say, as dictionaries do, that textbook has become an adjective as well. Why? Besides the attributive use (which all nouns have), we can also use textbook predicatively, as when a psychoanalyst says "It's textbook." And it's gradable, too: "It's hard to imagine a more textbook example." As a predicative complement: "Everything seemed textbook."
    – user230
    Oct 20 '14 at 19:47

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