Russian Language Blog

Defense Against the Dark Arts! Posted by on Nov 6, 2012 in Culture, language, Traditions

[Note: This post was originally written for Хеллуин, but as already mentioned, the arrival of Hurricane Sandy caused some power outages and delays…]

In the Harry Potter books, “Defense against the Dark Arts” is a mandatory class for Hogwarts students, and in the Russian editions, it was straightforwardly translated as “Защита от тёмных искусств.” And even though the danger of Halloween has already passed, “З.О.Т.И.” nevertheless seemed like a vitally important topic for a post — after all, everyone knows that the Mayan calendar ends on 21 December, as realistically portrayed in Roland Emmerich’s 2012. And besides that, Ктулху, пожалуй, проснётся в любую минуту, чтобы высосать у всех мозги (“Cthulhu, perhaps, will wake up any minute to suck out all our brains”).

Thus, to quote the Young Pioneers and the U.S. Coast Guard, Всегда готов!Semper paratus!

So, let’s look at some verbs that relate to the concepts of “defense,” “protection,” “prevention,” and so forth.

The noun щит is “a shield,” and from this derives the already-mentioned защита, as well as the verb защищать(ся)/защитить(ся), “to defend (oneself)” — and note that the perfective conjugates я защищу, ты защитишь…, etc.

There are a number of other important verbs with the same meaning — for example, оберагать/оберечь, whose perfective conjugates:

я оберегу
ты обережёшь
они оберегут

past: он оберёг, она оберегла

The person or thing you’re defending against is usually expressed with от кого/чего:

Вакцинация эффективно оберегает детей от свинки и кори.
Vaccination effectively protects children from mumps and measles.

The unprefixed reflexive verb беречься can be followed by кого/чего (genitive without a preposition) to express “beware of” — for instance, Берегись бегемотов! = “Beware of hippopotamuses!”

By the way, the most general antonym for “defending” would be the verb pair нападать/напасть на кого/что (“to attack someone or something”). The perfective conjugates just like the root verb пасть (“to fall”) — but in case you’ve forgotten, it’s:

я нападу
ты нападёшь
они нападут

past: он напал, она напала…

And the noun form is нападение (“an attack”).

So, what happens if someone (or something) attacks you? Every martial-arts instructor will tell you that the best self-defense is to stay far away from danger in the first place. As the proverb goes in Russian, «Бешеной собаке, семь вёрст не крюк» — “For [avoiding] a rabid dog, seven versts is not [too big] a detour.”

And the second-best plan is always: убежать как можно быстрее и спрятаться (“run away as fast as possible and hide”) — which is all the more important if your attacker is волшебный и бессмертный (“magical and immortal”)!

But if running isn’t an option? In that case, you’d better be prepared to отражать/отразить нападение — “to deflect the attack”. For instance, Борец отразил удар ногой (“the wrestler blocked a kick”). And if this verb-pair seems vaguely familiar, you may already know it with the meaning “to reflect (light)” — as in,

Злая царица не может налюбоваться на своё отражение в зеркале.
The evil queen can’t get enough of looking at her reflection in the mirror.

As we say in English, “An ounce of prevention, etc.” And the verb pair предупреждать/предупредить means “to prevent” when the direct object is some sort of thing (что-нибудь), but when the direct object is a person (кого-нибудь), it means “to warn, to caution”.

Thus, Я предупреждаю вампиров would translate “I’m warning the vampires” — perhaps advising the poor creatures что на нашей улице находится фабрика, где производят колья, святую воду, и чётки (“that on our street, there’s a factory where they manufacture wooden stakes, holy water, and rosaries.”)

So to express the idea of “preventing vampires,” you could say something like:

Обязательно принять предупредительные меры против вампиров!
“It’s essential to take preventative measures against vampires!”

Of course, the sentence above would seldom be heard in Russia, because as students of folklore know, вампиры встречаются чаще всего в западно- и южнославянских краях (“Vampires are mostly encountered in West- or South-Slavic regions”).

But although not traditionally a headquarters for vampires, Россия кишит нечистыми сверхъестествнными существами (“Russia is a-crawlin’ with unclean supernatural beings”) — some of them presenting definite safety hazards. Therefore, Будь(те) начеку! — “Be ever-vigilant!”

Let’s consider a few of Russia’s magical hazards with the verbs we’ve discussed:

Q: Как оберечь ребёнка от гусей-лебедей? (“How do you protect a child from Swan-Geese?”)
A: The enchanted Swan-Geese are widespread pests in Russia, notorious as похитители детей (“kidnappers of children”). In fact, they’re such an omnipresent danger that in 1949, the Soviet government produced this classroom safety documentary, using animation to educate children about the Swan-Goose menace:

Q: Как можно привлекать гусей-лебедей, чтобы уносили дурного ребёнка? (“How can one attract Swan-Geese, in order to get rid of an obnoxious child?”)
A: Никто не знает, да то очень жалко. (“Nobody knows, and that’s a great pity.”)

Q: Как защищаться от бесов, чертей, и подобных нечистых духов? (“How do you protect yourself against demons, devils, and similar unclean spirits?”)
A: There’s a familiar expression: «[избегать/избежать кого/что], как чёрт бежит от ладана» — “[to avoid someone/something], as the devil runs from incense.” Thus, burning patchouli should keep most demons away. (WARNING: May attract hippies.)

Q: А что в случае, если у беса насморк? (“But what if the demon has a head-cold?”)
A: Obviously, in such cases, ладаном не получится (“using incense won’t work”). But one method never fails: нарисовать мелом круг около себя по полу (“draw a circle with chalk around oneself on the floor”). Since chalk is mostly карбонат кальция (CaCO3), we can logically assume that demons have some sort of calcium-allergy — but for whatever reason, чёрт не может пройти через черту, нарисованную мелом (“the devil can’t cross a line drawn with chalk”).

Q: У меня мел закончился. Можно нарисовать защитный круг фломастером? (“I’m out of chalk. Can one draw the protective circle with a magic-marker?”)
A: Конечно нет — that would be silly! But you might try calcium-enriched antacids.

ВНИМАНИЕ: Chalk circles are useless against the demon called «Вий» — he has всевидящие глаза (“all-seeing eyes”) that can penetrate magical barriers. However, it’s known that “Viy” has огромные веки (“huge eyelids”), and у него ресницы свисают почти до земли (“his eyelashes hang down almost to the ground”). Therefore, I would hazard a guess that you might be able to kill the demon using тушь для ресниц (“mascara”), предварительно освящённая православным священником (“that has been consecrated ahead of time by a Russian Orthodox priest”). попытайтесь сами, узнаете! — “try it yourself, you’ll find out!”

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  1. Fizmat:

    Good to see you back Rob. And as always, some corrections and notes:

    “Зачем” means “what for”, while “за чем” is “behind what”. Common mistake even among native speakers (granted, mostly нерадивых школьников).

    “Иммунизация” is not used often. “Вакцинация” и “прививки”/”прививка” are much more common.

    One can also “предупреждать нападение вампиров” which is a shorter way of saying “принять предупредительные меры против нападения вампиров”. Or one can “предупреждать о нападении вампиров”, that is, go around town yelling “vampires are coming, the end is nigh!” and handing out pamphlets.

    Нечистые силы и сверхъестественные существа/явления/события are very closely related, so combining them in one “нечистыми сверхъестествнными существами” is a bit redundant and unauthentic. Всё нечистое – сверхъестественно, но не всё сверхъестественное – от лукавого. At least that’s how I understand it, I’m not an expert.

    “Борец отразил пинок”. I’ve never heard “пинок” used in any sports-related context. Even “пнуть” is usually reserved for soccer. “Удар ногой” sounds more normal in this sentence. Even Chuck Norris has “удар ногой с разворота”, not “пинок с разворота”, and he’s anything but formal.

    “Начеку” doesn’t have a space. Чека is also the pin of a grenade.

    “ОБЯЗАТЕЛЬНО УЖЕ ПОГАСИВ ЕЁ” – it’s probably better to replace “уже” with “заранее”. I don’t know what the rule is, it just sounds way better.

    “привлекать” -> “привлечь” because “унести” is perfective and they need to be согласованы (BTW, I forgot the word for “согласованы”, what is it?). While we at it, “чтобы они унесли” is needed, otherwise “унести” is grammatically associated with the one doing the attracting, not the swan-geese. So either “Как привлечь гусей-лебедей, чтобы они унесли дурного ребёнка” or “Как привлекать гусей-лебедей, чтобы они уносили дурных детей”.

    “да то очень жалко” is very hard to even decipher. Maybe “И очень жаль” would work better here.

    The plural genitive of “Чёрт” is “чертей”. Also “и прочей нечистой силы” might sound “smoother” here.

    “Бес” is usually translated “imp”, not “demon”, at least in the Heroes of Might and Magic series. Maybe it’s not the best source of supernatural naming conventions. But is there a way to translate “devil”, “demon” and “imp” into “дьявол”, “демон”, “чёрт” и “бес” consistently, especially taking into account diminutives like “бесёнок” and “чертенята”?

  2. Rob:

    Thanks very much for the corrections, Fitzmat! Most of them made total sense to me — I was uneasy about привлекать… чтобы унести even when I was typing it.

    удар ногой

    Hmmm, I know that удар ногой is “a kick,” but I was trying to avoid using two instrumental nouns in a row — i.e., отразить удар ногой рукой, “to block a blow with the foot with the hand.” In that case, would it sound okay to simply move “hand” before the verb (рукой отразить удар ногой), since its function is essentially adverbial?

    “удар ногой с разворота”

    Ha, this must be a “back-spinning kick,” right? (Because разворот is a “U-turn” when you’re driving, I think.)

    “да то очень жалко” is very hard to even decipher

    Hmmm… would it sound okay to say here “Никто не знает, что очень жалко”? (English: “No one knows, which is a pity.”) I’m not 100% sure of the rules for when you can use stressed что as a relative pronoun that refers back to an entire clause.

  3. Rob:

    they need to be согласованы (BTW, I forgot the word for “согласованы”, what is it?)

    I guess in this context, you could say either “in agreement” or “in parallel.” Possibly the latter would be better here. (We tend to speak of “agreement” within a clause, but “parallelism” between two clauses.)

    P.S. I was very interested by your comment about бес meaning “imp.” I previously mentioned the novel «Мелкий бес», whose title actually has a double meaning: it refers both to the (very unpleasant) protagonist Peredonov, but also to the hallucinatory “demon” called the недотыкомка, which only Peredonov can see.

    And because this nedotykomka (“thing-which-can’t-be-poked”) is very small and not very powerful, we’d probably call it an “imp” in English — i.e., “imps” are less dangerous than “demons.” I’m curious to know the opinion of other native Russians about the difference between бес and демон, etc.

  4. Rob:

    P.P.S. I’m pretty sure that “на чеку” DOES have a space in a famous old Soviet poster (the НЕ БОЛТАЙ! one), but I’ve corrected it here to remove the space (Vikislovar’ agrees with you that it should be one word).

  5. Fizmat:

    “Отразить удар ногой рукой” does seem a little convoluted. “Спортсмен рукой отразил удар ногой” works grammatically but it rhymes and the free word order suggests poetry, not professional sports. “Спортсмен отразил удар ногой” alone is ambiguous. Maybe it’s one of the instances where having two sentences to get all the information to the reader is necessary. “Спортсмен в синем провёл красивый удар ногой, но грек отразил его рукой”. It still rhymes and sounds too example-y. Dang it. I guess I don’t watch enough sports to emulate commentary.

    “удар ногой с разворота” is the translation of “roundhouse kick” as used in the “Chuck Norris Facts” meme (it’s well known in Russia too). I’m not sure if it’s the correct translation from the technical/martial arts standpoint.

    “Никто не знает, что очень жалко” might have worked, but “никто не знает, что …” is used to say either “nobody knows that …” or “nobody knows what …” so often, it’s hard to scan it correctly here. I think grammatically it’s not a mistake though.

    “Никто не знает, и очень жалко” would work well IMO. But I still prefer “и очень жаль”, even if I don’t know why.

    >“на чеку” DOES have a space in a famous old Soviet poster
    It does, I never noticed that. I wonder why.

  6. Stas:

    Rob, the post is excellent. As usual.

    Let just slightly correct you. Бешеной собаке семь вёрст не круг. has a different meaning. Let’s say I decided to come to you personally to explain what it means. You would definitely ask me why I decided to go so far to do so little. And then I could answer you, “Ты знаещь, Роб, бешеной собаке семь вёрст не круг…

  7. Mcadory:

    I like the sound of it? but I am mac user

  8. Rob McGee:

    Stas: I’m still not sure I completely understand. Do you mean that you would be comparing yourself to a “rabid dog”, and that the saying can be rephrased as something like бешеная собака считает что семь вёрст — не слишком далеко (“A rabid dog thinks that seven versts is not excessively far”)?

    I’m reminded of the Arab saying “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon sun.”