A Few 'False Friends.' (the Russian Language)

By Ivanov, Mikhail | Russian Life, January 1996 | Go to article overview

A Few 'False Friends.' (the Russian Language)


Ivanov, Mikhail, Russian Life


[Russian Text Omitted]. A word is not a sparrow, once it's out you can't catch it.

A Russian proverb.

Anyone who has tried to learn a difficult language like Russian understands the relief in finding words that sound just like their native equivalent. When you hear such international words as 'metro' or 'taxi' enough times, you can even start to feel that elusive mastery quickening within you.

Unfortunately, time shows this list of 'free words' to be shorter than it first seems. What's more, some of these 'familiar' words, can easily be misused, causing embarrassment. In the theory of translation, such snares are called "false friends of the translator."

As any Russian teacher will tell you, this is a very topical issue. Speaking of which, how would you say in Russian "It's a topical issue"? The best way is to say [Russian Text Omitted]. [Russian Text Omitted] means topical, newsy or urgent, and not 'actually' (whose Russian equivalent is [Russian Text Omitted] (factually) or [Russian Text Omitted] (in actual fact)).

If someone tells you that your tie doesn't look [Russian Text Omitted] they're not referring to its composition. What your Russian critic means is that your tie isn't presentable. The English 'solid' has little in common with the Russian [Russian Text Omitted]. The appropriate equivalents would be [Russian Text Omitted] (strong) or [Russian Text Omitted] (hard).

Speaking of ties, if you're shopping in Russia for a 'real silk' one, don't look for the easiest Russian equivalent, [Russian Text Omitted]. It should translate as 100% [Russian Text Omitted] or [Russian Text Omitted] (natural silk). Unfortunately, the chances of finding such a tie in Moscow at an affordable price are just not [Russian Text Omitted] ('realistic' not 'real' - another false friend).

If someone does insult your tie, you might reciprocate and tell him that he is not quite [Russian Text Omitted]. This is not to say that this person is not 'intelligent.' [Russian Text Omitted] in Russian means decent, discreet, learned and well-mannered. …

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