Category: "Professions"

Студент, студентка

February 29th, 2012 — posted by Don

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.


August 29th, 2011 — posted by Don

The generic Russian word for doctor is врач. It is an end-stressed, first declension noun:


Russia has some great doctors. Although they often do not have access to the latest Western equipment, they have profound clinical experience, and I have never regretted sending my students to Russian doctors when they are ailing. Twice this last summer I had to take students to the doctor or hospital, and, to the best my eye can tell, they did exactly the things necessary for the students' conditions. Here are a few sample sentences:

—Сколько врачей здесь работает?
— Здесь работает четыре врача.
“How many doctors work here?”
“Four doctors work here.”
Мы с Мариной только что обсудили нового врача. Он такой красивый! Marina and I were just talking about the new doctor. He is so handsome.
Медсестра подошла к врачу и передала ему документы. The nurse walked up to the doctor and handed him the documents.
— Я хочу быть врачом.
— Ты вообще не умеешь учиться. Лучше становись терапевтом-массажистом.
“I want to be a doctor.”
“You don't have any idea how to study. It would be better for you to become a massage therapist.”

Actually, that last line is potentially misleading. The word терапевт, when used by itself, is often the equivalent of ‘general practitioner,’ so just because someone is called a терапевт does not mean he are not a physician.

One last comment... although the example sentences assumed a male doctor, most doctors in Russia are actually women.


September 21st, 2010 — posted by Bella

Whenever you go on a plane, the person who makes it a safe and pleasant flight is the flight attendant. In Russian you would call her стюардесса. The literal translation is stewardess,but that hasn't been politically correct in the U.S. since the late 70s.

Стюардесса приветсвует пассажиров.

The flight attendant greets the passengers.

Стюардессы спасли всех пассажиров!

The flight attendants saved all the passengers!

As you may have noticed, стюардесса is a feminine term. The proper word for a male flight attendant is, бортпроводник But sometimes you might hear, стюард.

Бортпроводник принесёт нам вино.

The flight attendant will bring us wine.

Пожалуйста, обратитесь к бортпроводнику.

Please ask the flight attendant.

Since I became a stewardess some 6 years ago, a friend of my mother's likes to quote a line from a song by Vladimir Vysotsky's Moscow to Odessa. whenever he sees me:

«А вот прошла вся в синем стюардесса, как принцесса...»
“There goes the blue-clad stewardess, like a princess...”


July 28th, 2010 — posted by Don

On Saturday I was sitting just outside the men's section of the place where I get my hair cut here in Kazan, when a guy walked up and asked «Сколько там мастеров?» A second-year student of Russian would probably have translated the sentence "How many masters are there?" and would then have no idea what it meant. Here's the scoop. The word мастер in Russian often bears the meaning "someone qualified in a particular trade." In other words, he wanted to know how many barbers there were there that day.

The word itself is one of those that have a stressed -а in the nominative plural, and thus is end-stressed through the plural instead of stem-stressed:


There is no commonly used word in English that is quite as general as мастер in this sense, so when translating it, it is best to substitute the common name of the tradesman who practices the trade in question. Thus, if you are sitting outside an establishment that cuts men's hair with the old-fashioned standard cuts, the phrase «Сколько там мастеров?» is best translated "How many barbers are there?" The lovely and willowy Розанна who cuts my hair also does women's hair and can color hair as well. She would probably object to the word barber, and in fact someone with all those skills in the States would be better labeled a "hair stylist," so in this case the best translation may be "How many hair stylists are there?" or "How many stylists are there?"

I was in the dormitory of Moscow State University in 1986. My bathroom sink began to come out of the wall. The floor attendant said «Я вызову мастера». In this case she meant the guy who takes care of the dorm's minor maintenance requests, so her sentence would be best translated as "I'll call the handyman" or "I'll call the maintenance man." (BTW, when he showed up, he simply took a look at the sink, shoved it bank into the wall and smeared some cement over the screw and brace that held it in place. The wall was cinderblock. And the sink was anchored to the cinderblock by a screw... The word мастер struck me as completely ridiculous in that context.)

Thus if you summon a мастер to fix the plumbing, translate мастер as plumber. If you summon a мастер to fix your electrical outlet, translate it "handy man" or "electrician," depending on just how qualified the guy is.


February 17th, 2010 — posted by Don

The word ботаник means botanist. It declines perfectly regularly, assuming of course you know the seven-letter spelling rule:


A ботаник is a person who studies ботаника botany. (Note that the nominative singular ботаника ‘botany’ is written the same way as the accusative/genitive singular of ботаник ‘botanist.’) The definition of ботаник on runs something like this:

Ботаник — человек, имеющий образование в области ботаники или профессионально занимающийся этой наукой. A botanist is a person educated in the field of botany or one who is a professional in that science.

Some botanists have extraordinary lives:

Мой дядя — ботаник, который специализируется по растительности амазонских джунглей. Он ползает по лесам, собирая образцы и стараясь избегать внимания местных людоедов. My uncle is a botanist who specializes in the vegetation of the Amazonian jungles. He crawls around the forests gathering samples and trying to avoid the attention of the local cannibals.

That, however, is not the image associated with the word in Russian pop culture. There a ботаник is someone who is involved in completely uninteresting and testosterone-deficient activities, in other words a geek or a nerd:

— Лен, мне очень понравился твой Саша. Какой он красавец!
— Ты шутишь? Он полнейший ботаник, всё время дома сидит, перелистывая энциклопедию. Как только вернётся Паша, я Сашку наверно брошу.
“Lena, I really liked your boyfriend, Alexandr. He's a real stud!”
“Are you kidding? He's a complete geek. He just stays at home all the time, leafing through the encylopedia. As soon as Pavel gets back, I'm probably going to dump Aleksandr.”