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I get knocked down, but I get up again… Posted by on Apr 24, 2013

In last week’s post, I mistakenly used the verb сваливать/свалить with the meaning “to physically knock down” — which seemed logical to me because, after all, the root verb валить means “to topple” and the noun валежник refers to “fallen tree branches.” Regular reader Fitzmat corrected me that сваливать/свалить, despite its etymology, is not generally…

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Time for a little spring cleaning (Emphasis on “a little”) Posted by on Apr 19, 2013

Here in the Washington DC area, весна немного опоздала в этом году (spring was a little late this year) — I mean, we were still having a steady spell of ненастье (chilly wet weather) right through the end of March, followed by several unpleasantly знойныe ночи (sultry hot) nights in April. А теперь на дворе…

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Sympathy for the Devil (or: A Look at Bulgakov’s Word Choices) Posted by on Apr 9, 2013

During the recent Easter season, I found myself dipping into certain chapters from Bulgakov’s «Мастер и Маргарита» — after all, the master’s novel-within-a-novel retelling of key events from Страсти Христовы (“The Passion”) is quite central to the story . And, in fact, Bulgakov’s masterpiece was originally conceived as a short sketch in which the Devil…

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Bumper-sticker wisdom in Russian Posted by on Mar 19, 2013

Are you getting tired of telling the driver behind you to Save the Pygmy Hippos? Or maybe you’re thinking that it’s time to scrape off that Re-Elect Carter 1980 bumper-sticker? Well, allow me to offer 10 Russian остроты (“aphorisms; witticisms; quips”) that’d be perfect for a custom-made bumper-sticker. Or a (нагрудный) значок (“pin-on lapel button”)…

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Humor that’s lost-and-found in translation Posted by on Mar 6, 2013

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned “elephant jokes” as an example of humor that translates well because most of the examples don’t depend on language-specific wordplay. So today, let’s consider some puns and quips that are difficult or impossible to translate into English because they hinge on Russian homonyms or on ambiguities of Russian grammar…

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Shouldn’t, oughtn’t, can’t, better not: Negative “modals” in Russian Posted by on Feb 27, 2013

Long before Hollywood pop-culture began flooding from “Pindostan” into the ex-USSR, the distinctively Latin American genre known as telenovelas (теленовеллы or телесериал) had attained cult status in Russia (particularly, but not exclusively, among women). So in this post, let’s picture a scene from an imaginary теленовелла. Our beautiful (but naive) heroine María Simplemente has just…

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Q: What’s huge, gray, and shines like a light-bulb? Posted by on Feb 20, 2013

A: An electric elephant. Or, in Russian: Что это: Огромное, серое, и светит как лампочка? — Электрический слон. The Elephant Joke genre occurs in many different languages — generally, these jokes tend to “travel well” because their humor rarely depends on untranslatable puns, or on pop-culture references that quickly go stale. And one finds them…

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