«Класс!» – On the Importance of Calling Things by their Proper Names Posted by josefina on Feb 17, 2010 in language
There are days when «словарь» [the dictionary] is not you best friend. It might still be «друг» [a friend] of yours, «но не самый лучший друг» [but not the very best friend]. Why is that? Because on these particular days the dictionary fails to explain certain words to you. Or explains them in such a way that makes it impossible for you to understand why they’re used in one (or many) sentence in such a (seemingly) strange way. Today our example of this will be the word «класс». If you look up «класс» in an average dictionary you’ll see that it translates as ‘class; classroom; status; section, department; genus, category; kind, type’. So… alright. Have you memorized that? Good, because we’ll keep this translation in mind when trying to understand the following dialogue:
Петя отвечает: «Класс!» [Petya answers: … wait a minute – Class! No, that can’t be right, can it?]
Understanding the word «класс» as ‘class’ will work fine when you’re, for example, reading «произведения Маркса, Энгельса, Ленина, Сталина» [the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin] in Russian because these guys were really talking ‘class’ and nothing else. When they write «классовая борьба» you know this should be translated as ‘class struggle’ or ‘the struggle between classes’. Whenever you come across the adjective «классовый» you know that it belongs to the noun «класс» as in ‘class (Politics)’. As a matter of fact, while reading most «научные работы» [scientific works] that were published in the Soviet Union, you’re bound to simultaneously find out a lot «о классовой борьбе» [about class struggle]. Back in the days of the USSR everything had to be understood in the light of struggle between classes. You’ll also see that Lenin is always quoted «во введении» [in the introduction] – even if it’s a dissertation «по искусствоведению» [on the liberal arts]. But we’re not in the Soviet Union anymore. The word «класс» means something entirely else in Petya’s reaction to Sasha having just bought Zemfira’s latest disc. But what?
To help us figure this out we have another adjective derived from the noun «класс» -«классный» [classy, stylish; first class]. Do try and not confuse «классовый» with «классный». To help you I have this advice: the longer adjective «классовый» is longer because it secretly contains all of those names that I mentioned previously – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin… The shorter «классный» is that way because it makes it more stylish – which is also one of it’s meanings! Smart? Well, maybe it not so much, but at least I’m trying.
So the best way to figure out what Petya means when he says «класс!» is to look it up in a Russian-to-Russian dictionary. His way of using this word sounds like it is as far from Communism as can be, and thus should be nothing else but an example of «разговорный язык» [colloquial speech]. Here’s the explanation I found in Russian:
«Класс: как сказуемое выражает восхищение» [‘Class’ – as predicate expresses delight (admiration, adoration; rapture, ravishment, applause)].
And what other ways can one express delight in Russian? Try reactions like «здорово!» [well done!, good job!; marvelous!, splendid!] or «замечательно!» [great!, exceptional!]. Or why not «классно!» [awesome!]. If this adverb means ‘awesome’, then to use the noun it was derived with an exclamation mark must mean pretty much the same thing, right? You think you got it now? I sure have! (At least I think so… but I’m always happy and thankful to be corrected when completely wrong and far off track!) Here’s another situation to illustrate:
Митя отвечает: «Вчера только прочитал. Класс!» [Mitya answers: I finished reading it just yesterday. Awesomeness!]
Do you agree with this translation? And have you ever heard this word used in this way before? Slang tends to change fast in Russian language – some words come quickly into use and then disappear into the nowhere they seemed to have come from…
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