Beat the Snow Maiden!

March 5th, 2012

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.


March 2nd, 2012

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.


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?”

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


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?”

Звёздочка. A sprocket.
Source of picture


March 1st, 2012

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


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.

Студент, студентка

February 29th, 2012

The Russian words студент and студентка are false cognates... sort of. A false cognate is a word in one language that sounds similar to a word in another language but does not share the same meaning. For instance, the English word ‘embarrassed’ is a false cognate with the Spanish word ‘embarazada’, which actually means pregnant. (The latter brings up all sorts of amusing errors when a gringa says “Estoy embarazada” meaning to say “I am embarrassed” but ends up stating “I am pregnant.” Alas, cross-cultural communication is full of such errors, and most of them are much more subtle than that one.)

Anyhoo, the word for “male college student” declines like this:


and the word for “female college student” declines like this:


A college student is not the same as a high school student, so you can't use these words to talk about kids in grade school or high school. Here are some sample sentences.

— Ты студент?
— Нет, я ещё хожу в школу.
“Are you a college student?”
“No, I'm still in high school.”
— Ты студентка?
— Да, студентка. Учусь в Московском государственном университете.
“Are you a college student?”
“Yes, I am. I attend Moscow State University.”
— Сколько студентов учится в Университете штата Аризона?¹
— Там учится почти семьдесят тысяч студентов.
“How many students attend Arizona State University?”
“Almost seventy thousand students go there.”
Как летит время! Через год моя дочка будет студенткой. How time flies! A year from now my daughter will be a college student.

¹ For many years Arizona State University has been called in Russian Аризонский государственный университет “Arizona Federal University.” This is an old error in translation. The “state” in ASU does not mean the nation state of the USA (государство), but rather the State (штат) of Arizona.


February 28th, 2012

Russian has a whole series of verbs that mean ‘to enter.’ One means to enter by one's one power, another by vehicle, another by water, another by crawling, another by running... Frankly, I expect that if we ever achieve interstellar space travel, it will develop verbs that mean ‘to enter by space’ and ‘to enter by hyperspace.’ For today we will focus on ‘to enter (by one's own power)’ or ‘to walk in to.’ That verb is:

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive входить войти
Past входил
Present вхожу
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду входить
будешь входить
будет входить
будем входить
будете входить
будут входить
Imperative входи(те) войди(те)

Note that the place you enter appears in the accusative case after the preposition в.

Она вошла в комнату. She entered the room.
She walked into the room.
Как только войдёшь в собор, ты увидишь пятиярусный иконостас. As soon as you enter the cathedral, you will see a five-row iconostasis.
Когда я вошёл в Пещеру Семи Ветров, на меня напали вампиры и зомби, и я защищал себя крестом Святого Георгия. When I entered the Cave of the Seven Winds, vampires and zombies attacked me, and I defended myself with the cross of Saint George.