Ночь (часть третья)

March 7th, 2012 — posted by Don

The Russian word for night is ночь, but it doesn't mean quite the same thing as English night. In English, once the sky is dark, you can say that it is night. In Russian night usually doesn't start until midnight. The word crossed my mind today because of a wonderful poem by Александр Блок, which goes like this:

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи ещё хоть четверть века -
Всё будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрёшь - начнёшь опять сначала,
И повторится всё, как встарь,
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.

Heaven knows why, but I found myself wanting to do a new translation. Whenever I do such a thing, I start off with a fairly word-for-word equivalent. Here's that version:

Night, a street, a street lamp, a drugstore,
A dull and meaningless light.
And if you live another quarter century,
Everything will be exactly the same. There is no escape.

You will die; you will start over from the beginning.
And everything will be repeated as before:
The night, the icy ripples on the canal,
The drugstore, the street and the streetlight.

Here's my fast and dirty new translation. I've spent only 30 minutes on it, so any criticism is probably justified.

Night, a street, a drugstore... a street lamp’s
Depressing and meaningless light.
And even if you live much longer,
You won't escape your worthless plight.

You’ll die; you’ll start back from the beginning,
And everything will be repeated just like before:
The night, the icy ripples on the canal,
The streetlight and the dull drugstore.

Разница (часть первая)

March 6th, 2012 — posted by Don

The word for difference in Russian is разница. It declines like this:

SgPl
Nomразницаразницы
Accразницу
Genразницыразниц
Preразницеразницах
Datразницам
Insразницейразницами

The first joke I ever heard in Russia was in 1986, and it involved the word разница. It went like this.

Какая разница между коммунизмом и капитализмом? What's the difference between communism and capitalism?
При капитализме человек эксплуатирует человека, а при коммунизме — наоборот. Under capitalism man exploits man, and under communism it's the other way around.

It's not the most sophisticated joke, but being in Russia at the end of the Soviet period, it amused me quite a bit.

During the Soviet period the government did not permit much humor or mockery on public television because they were simply afraid of it, like most dictatorial regimes that lack the wisdom and strength to endure public criticism. Generally, on the individual human-to-human level, I think that mockery is a sign of a weak self-image on the part of the mocker, and I don't have much respect for it. But when it comes to dealing with governments and public institutions, we should always allow both criticism and mockery. When a government forbids either one, it is trying to prevent its citizens from inducing change. A healthy democracy will survive both criticism and mockery as the free market of ideas slowly brings humanity to better things.

Beat the Snow Maiden!

March 5th, 2012 — posted by Don

I was in an office supply store last summer to buy some paper for my printer. I looked over the various types and told the salesclerk that I wanted a packet of paper. She responded by asking how much I wanted. It took me by surprise. A packet is a packet, right? It turns out that this office supply store was right next to the architectural university, and its most constant clients are students who generally can't afford to buy an entire package of paper, so they buy a hundred or two hundred grams of paper. Heck, the paper had to last me all summer, so I told the clerk I wanted an entire ream, and she shouted to the cashier:

Танечка, выбей Снегурочку! Tanya, beat the Snow Maiden!

I was much amused. If you doubt the accuracy of my initial interpretation, take a look at what I got when I ran the same phrase through Google Translate:

Now this was summer time in Russia, so there was no snow on the ground, thus the thoughtful reader might expect that despite the omniscience of Google, the translation might somehow be lacking. The thoughtful reader would be correct. The brand of paper I was purchasing was named Снегурочка. The verb выбивать/выбить in addition to meaning ‘to beat’ also means ‘to print symbols on a cashier’s recipt.’ In other words, the clerk was saying, “Tanya, print out a receipt with one packet of Snegurochka paper on it.”

The cashier did so. I carried the receipt the two meters from the cashier to the clerk. The clerk took the receipt, made a small tear in it to show that it should not be used again, and then she gave me an entire ream of Snegurochka paper.

Зуб

March 2nd, 2012 — posted by Don

The Russian word for tooth is зуб. If you are talking about the teeth in your mouth, then it declines like this. Notice the stress shifts in the plural.

SgPl
Nomзубзубы
Acc
Genзубазубов
Preзубезубах
Datзубузубам
Insзубомзубами

Here are some simple things to say about teeth.

Я чищу зубы три раза в день. I brush my teeth three times a day.
У меня болит зуб. I have a toothache.
— Что это Игорь носит на шее?
— Зуб акулы.
“What’s that Igor’s wearing on his neck?”
“A shark’s tooth.”
— Сколько зубов у взрослых?
— Тридцать два.
“How many teeth do adults have?”
“Thirty-two.”

If you are talking about teeth on a comb or a gear, then the plural differs:

SgPl
Nomзубзубья
Acc
Genзубазубьев
Preзубезубьях
Datзубузубьям
Insзубомзубьями

I can't say teeth on gears or combs are all that interesting, but at least one can count them:

Посчитай зубья на этой расчёске. Count the teeth on this comb.
Звёздочка — это колесо с зубьями, которые входят в зацепление с цепью. (adapted from this source) A sprocket is a wheel with teeth that mesh with a chain.
— Сколько зубьев на этой звёздочке?
— Шестнадцать.
“How many teeth are on this sprocket?”
“Sixteen.”


Звёздочка. A sprocket.
Source of picture

Вопрос

March 1st, 2012 — posted by Don

Every beginning Russian student knows the word вопрос means ‘question.’ It's a perfectly regular hard first declension noun:

SgPl
Nomвопросвопросы
Acc
Genвопросавопросов
Preвопросевопросах
Datвопросувопросам
Insвопросомвопросами

Sentences with this word are fairly straight-forward:

Это очень интересный вопрос. That's a very interesting question.
Ой, не мучай меня твоими постоянными вопросами!* Oof, stop tormenting me with your ceaseless questions!
Наташа всегда задаёт самые продуманные вопросы. Natasha always poses the most clearly reasoned questions.

The word also has a secondary meaning of ‘issue’:

Учёные теперь серьёзно занимаются вопросами изменения климата. Nowadays scientists are seriously studying climate change issues.
Мой брат стал членом комиссии по военно-промышленным вопросам. My brother has become a member of a committee on military-industrial issues.

* мучать is a slightly more conversational version of мучить.