Some Good Bad Russian

Article excerpt

Any beginner knows how to make mistakes in Russian. But to make mistakes on purpose--that takes a true connoisseur. In effect, you are saying, "Don't get me wrong, I know how to speak correctly. But that is just too boring and fastidious for me."

Back in Soviet days, standing in line was everyone's second profession. And, after a few hours in a line, even professionals can get a bit testy, especially if someone seems to be cutting in front of you. One side might argue that he was standing "right behind that devushka," while the other warring party, most typically a robust babushka, would retort, [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (literally, "there was nothing of you standing here").

Needless to say, [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is a supremely incorrect construction--[RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is an intransitive verb and cannot tale an object, like [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The correct impersonal phrase would actually be: [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (You were not here.) or [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (You were not standing here.).

This may sound like higher math. But we did warn you that this sort of thing was a "premium" linguistic product, despite the fact that the product's brand name is misspelled, so to speak. So, if you are able to find a line in Russia these days (pretty difficult, except perhaps at Sheremetevo airport), then you are ready to overwhelm a queue interloper with [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

Another Soviet era idiom employing wrong Russian" is still alive: [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (to get accepted in an institute after passing entry exams). Grammatically, you can [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] yourself. But this cannot be a transitive verb: you can't [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. And yet, you can hear parents of both the old and new nomenklatura say, prior to entry exam periods for institutes and universities: [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] The correct translation of this usage is: "I need to make sure, using all the blat and connections at my disposal, that my son/daughter gets accepted at the institute of his/her choice, regardless of the entry exam results." Likewise, when you hear: [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] you could ask for clarification: [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Did he get accepted on his own, or did he get a push?")

The next mistake-laden idiom is from Odessa: [RUSSIAN LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (literally: he who wines and dines a woman, gets to dance [with] her). The colloquialism's deeper meaning suggests that the man is to expect more favors than the last dance from his dinner partner. …