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Caesars and Pushkins: Proper Names Used to Describe a Person Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Culture

You may be familiar with proper names being used generically for inanimate objects, such as aspirin. However, Russian often takes the name of a famous person to describe someone and to say they share some characteristic of that person. So what does it mean to be called a Pushkin?

1. Multitasker

Julius Caesar (Юлий Цезарь) was, of course, a Roman warrior, ruler, and writer and does not need a long introduction. What may be surprising, though, is that a Цезарь in Russian is also someone who does many things at once. This is because Julius Caesar is famous for his multitasking.

Да я и не Цезарьтри дела одновременно делать; но тут уж не до удобства: надо во что бы то ни стало ухитриться писать, слушать и говорить одновременно. [Nor am I a Caesar to be doing three things at the same time, but I had no choice in the matter: no matter what, I had to write, listen, and talk at the same time.]

Дина Рубина. Окна (2011)

2. Person Responsible (for Anything and Everything)

Alexander Pushkin (Александр Сергеевич Пушкин) is arguably the most celebrated poet/writer in Russia, credited with shaping the Russian language as we know it. However, his name is sometimes brought up as a response to someone saying they don’t know something or didn’t do something. It is an equivalent of “that guy” of sorts — “So who do you expect to do it, that guy?”

В те времена имя Пушкина в мещанских кругах почему-то имело шутливо-презрительное хождение: Пушкин знает, Пушкин за тебя сделает, и так далее. [At that time, laypeople would use Pushkin’s name in a jockingly pejorative fashion — Pushkin must know, Pushkin will do your job for you, and so on.]

Фазиль Искандер. Сандро из Чегема (Книга 2) (1989)

3. Self-Proclaimed Teacher

Anton Makarenko (Антон Семёнович Макаренко) was a Soviet educator, famous for establishing and running self-governing homes/boarding schools for street children. Nowadays, his name is used to ironically refer to someone’s pedagogical or child-rearing experiments.

 Я здесь шестой год, но чтобы меня шпана угостила, о таком и мечтать не мог. Вы прямоМакаренко! [I’ve been here over five years, but I could never dream of getting a treat from these hooligans. You are a true Makarenko!]

Евгений Весник. Дарю, что помню (1997)

4. Reckless Driver

Michael Schumacher (Михаэль Шумахер) is a famous race car driver. His Formula 1 victories are well-known in Russia, so his name has become a way to refer to reckless drivers.

Я не желаю вам оказаться на открытом шоссе, где водители пролетают как Шумахеры не особо оглядываясь на обочины. [I hope you never find yourself on an open highway, where drivers fly by like Schumachers, without looking at the shoulders.]

Гид Красный. Автостоп (2001) // «Молния», 2001.07.10

5. Snitch

Pavlik Morozov (Павлик Морозов) was known in the USSR as a boy who was revenge-killed by his family for turning his father in to the authorities. The story has since been demonstrated to be largely untrue. However, to this day, any person suspected to be a “snitch” or considered to be too eager to report any wrong-doing can be humorously called Pavlik Morozov.

Говорят, Никита Михалков правильно ответил, когда его спросили про папашу: «Я же не Павлик Морозов». [They say, when asked about his Daddy, Nikita Mikhalkov rightly said, “I’m no Pavlik Morozov, after all.”]

Евгений Попов. Подлинная история «Зеленых музыкантов» (1997)

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About the Author:Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.


Comments:

  1. Anna:

    Great post!
    There’s also Шаляпин for a person who sings well (or really poorly 😉 )

    • Maria:

      @Anna Ha, I’ve never heard that one. It makes sense, though.