Lost in Translation

Article excerpt

This May I spotted a curious book in a Moscow bookstore. The softcover yellow volume promised 97 sayings by the Russian president in just 200 pages, covering everything from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (oligarchs) to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (God Almighty), from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (maniacs and spies) to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (drunkards and matershchinniks [those, who overuse Russian mat--extremely rude language]), from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (milkcow) to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Gusinsky's pockets). Intrigued, I put out 78 rubles for [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])--Putinki. Concise Collection of President's Aphorisms (First Term).

President Putin's dictums, just as those of President Bush, have entered everyday speech. Linguists and speech writers argue that most Russians like the way their president speaks and do not mind his occasional use of slang or even inappropriate language.

The president first revealed his taste for a strong word ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), when, at the beginning of his career as state leader, he promised to "wet" terrorists in the "out-house" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), or when he suggested to a critical French journalist that he come to Moscow to get circumcised ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

Unfortunately, politicians' aphorisms are often lost in translation. However, while to an English-speaking Russian Bushisms ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) present mainly a grammatical challenge, putinki offer a different kind of challenge to outsiders. Highly metaphoric and allusive, they often defy translation as a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (untranslateable wordplay).

Last fall, at a press conference in Yalta, after Russia's signing of the Agreement of Common Economic Space with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, Putin was asked if this agreement meant a return to the USSR. His reply was: "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]." ("This is total nonsense, absurdity, soft-boiled boots.") The word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is usually applied to eggs--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is a soft-boiled egg. …