by Don  

In February of 1995 my maternal grandmother died. I flew from Washington to Arizona for her funeral, where we all remembered her kindness and love. It is never a joy to deal with death. The pain of losing those we love cannot be overestimated. But after the funeral we headed north from the town of Oracle, and as we drove we saw a double rainbow in the sky. I had the feeling that somehow despite her death, the double rainbow somehow meant that everything would be okay, that she was somehow okay.

The Russian word for rainbow is радуга. It is a regular second declension noun (assuming you know the seven-letter spelling rule):


Радуга — атмосферное оптическое и метеорологическое явление, наблюдаемое обычно в поле повышенной влажности. (source) A rainbow is an optical atmospheric and meteorological phenomenon observed in high humidity areas.
Когда я смотрю на радугу, я всегда вспоминаю бабушку. Она была такая добрая.* When I look at a rainbow, I always remember my grandmother. She was so very kind.
Саш, смотри! Двойная радуга! Sasha, look! It's a double rainbow!
Говорят, что в каждой радуге есть семь цветов: красный, оранжевый, жёлтый, зелёный, голубой, синий, фиолетовый. Сам я не могу отличить синий цвет от фиолетового. They say that every rainbow has seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Me, I can't tell the difference between indigo and violet.

* If you are a careful student of Russian, you may want to write «Она была такой доброй» using the instrumental case. That is proper, grammatical Russian. In conversational Russian, however, predicative phrases with strong emotional coloration sometimes appear in the nominative case. In this context where one is reminiscing about kindness and death, the strong feelings make the nominative possible.


Comment from: Graeme MacDonald [Visitor]

Hello there,
Thank you for a great site!
I’ve just started learning russian, and this is one of the 2 or 3 sites that I keep coming back to.

04/29/11 @ 06:34
Comment from: Muireann [Visitor]

Hi Don,

Surely that’s ‘радуг’ for genitive plural?

A very touching memory and a useful post.

Don responds: Ah, indeed. The typo has been corrected. Thanks much!

04/28/11 @ 23:46
Comment from: carlsonwf [Visitor]

Is there any post written about these “7 letters spelling rule"?

Don responds:If you look on the right side of the blog from the main page, there is a section titled “Russian Trivia,” under which there is a link to the three Russian spelling rules. There is no separate blog entry discussing the spelling rules. Can’t think of any way to make them amusing. You can also use this direct link.

All the best, Don.

04/28/11 @ 09:32
Comment from: Andrey [Visitor]

You are slightly wrong about the colors of the rainbow. The end of the spectrum is really considered to be “голубой, синий, фиолетовый” in Russian, and in English they are considered to be “blue, indigo and violet", but that doesn’t matter голубой is blue and синий is indigo.
Consider these:


So, there is no actual difference between indigo and violet for both English and Russian native speakers, and I guess that there is no difference between голубой and синий for you, but for Russian native there is a clear difference between голубой and синий, these are completely distinctive colors.

Don responds:When I was writing this entry, I hesitated a bit over the listing of the colors of the rainbow. I eventually decided that even though the colors in Russian and in English don’t precisely match, it was worth sticking with the traditional naming of the sequence in both languages rather than trying to provide a word-for-word correspondence that wouldn’t sound good in either language. In translations you often have to make that kind of judgment call. If I had been writing about the color синий, I might well have called the shot differently.

Regarding синий and голубой, while it’s true that in English we can say that they are both shades of the color blue, at least in relation to the words we use, we can also say that they are completely different colors. If I look at a синяя машина and a голубая машина, I don’t think they are the same color, even though I describe them as dark blue and light blue.

Let’s assume I am rich and have a light blue Porsche that I have allowed the valet to park at an expensive restaurant. After the meal I come out and tell the valet to bring me the light blue Porsche. Instead the inattentive kid brings me a dark blue Porsche. Being rich and rude I immediately scream at him, “You idiot! I told you to bring the light blue one. This one is a completely different color!” In fear the kid responds, “I’m sorry, mister, but I’m color blind.” “Then you should have looked at the license plate number on the receipt. I want to talk to your manager. Now.”

On the other hand, women and men in the US seem to have completely different color vocabularies. I might say to my girlfriend, “That maroon dress Veronica wore last night was very nice.” And she might respond, “Don’t be silly, honey, that wasn’t maroon. It was burgundy.” And I would groan back, “What do you mean? Maroon and burgundy are the same thing!” And she would roll her eyes back in her head and mumble, “Why are men so obtuse? Next you’ll be telling me you can’t tell the difference between taupe and umber!” And I would answer back in complete disbelief, “There’s a color called ‘taupe’? You’ve got to be kidding.” And then I would offer her a glass of white wine in hopes of changing the subject. Of course, if she drinks Burgundy, the evening is a complete loss.

04/28/11 @ 01:36

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