Magazine article Russian Life

Of Pigs and Oranges

Magazine article Russian Life

Of Pigs and Oranges

Article excerpt


"In Years of the Dog [e.g. 2006], you know, there can be dog fights, real rooster fights. But I have yet to see any pig fights. So this will be a quiet year."

Lyubov Sliska, first vice-speaker of the State Duma (Itogi)

This year, we are told, is the Year of the Pig. Given that pigs are not the most honored beasts over here, we Russians have been wondering what exactly this year may have in store for us. After all, we want to make sure 2007 [TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE] ("does not spell trouble").

The idiom [TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE] (literally, "to lay a pig") means to cook up big trouble for someone. It may derive from village life, when one fellow lets his pig into his neighbor's garden. Swine are notorious spoilers, reveling in turning up the soil and uprooting trees and bushes. Thus the proverb, [TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE] ("a wolf is not a shepherd, a pig is not a gardener").


Another etymological explanation derives the notion of pig-laying from the troop formation of Alexander Nevsky's army, which thwarted the 13th-century German invasion. This formation was said to be swinish ([TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE]). Yet, interestingly enough, in German "to have a swine" (Er hat schwein) means "to be lucky" and Germans often give one another marzipan pigs on New Year's as a token of good luck. It gives new meaning to our saying [TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE] ("what's good for a Russian is lethal for a German")!

In Russia, just as in America, the pig is mainly associated with dirty, stinking, disreputable behavior. If you need to find an especially disgusting image to describe a drunkard, say [TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE] ("he got drunk to the point of swine's yelp"). If a kid spills some sauce on his immaculate shirt, an angry babushka might utter: [TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE] ("a pig will find mud anywhere"). For such an occasion, parents born in the 1930s-1940s may prefer to quote the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky: [TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE] ("a son will grow into a pig if he is already a piglet").

One of the most famous swinish literary citations is from Nikolai Gogol's Inspector General. …

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