How to Pass the New Russian Language Test
The St.Petersburg Times May 19, 2014
РћС€РёР±РѕС‡РєР°: mistake, minor or major.
I’ve detected a slight buzz of panic among Russia’s expat community. It seems that a Russian work visa or residence permit will only be issued to those of us who can pass a test on Russian language, culture, history, and even legislation. РљРѕС€РјР°СЂ! (What a nightmare!)
To help you cram (Р·СѓР±СЂРёС‚СЊ), here is a sample multiple-choice (С‚РµСЃС‚) question: Р§С‚Рѕ С‚Р°РєРѕРµ РєРѕСЃСЏРє? (What is РєРѕСЃСЏРє?) a) a door jamb; b) a group of birds or fish; c) something crooked; d) a mistake; e) none of the above; f) all of the above. If you guessed “f” — РЎР°РґРёСЃСЊ! РџСЏС‚С‘СЂРєР°! (Sit down. You get an A). You will pass your exam with flying colors.
РљРѕСЃСЏРє is a funny word. In it you hear РєРѕСЃРѕ (crookedly), and yet it refers to something that must be straight: РћРЅ Р±РµСЃРїРѕРјРѕС‰РЅРѕ РїСЂРёРІР°Р»РёР»СЃСЏ СЃРїРёРЅРѕР№ Рє РґРІРµСЂРЅРѕРјСѓ РєРѕСЃСЏРєСѓ (He helplessly fell against the door jamb). Or something that would seem to have nothing to do with straight or crooked: РџРѕСЃРµС‚РёС‚РµР»Рё С€Р»Рё РІ С‚РµР°С‚СЂ РєРѕСЃСЏРєРѕРј (People swarmed into the theater). Or something that is either up in the air or down in the sea: Р›РµС‚Р°Р» РЅР°Рґ РЅР°РјРё РєСЂРёРєР»РёРІС‹Р№ РєРѕСЃСЏРє Р¶СѓСЂР°РІР»РµР№ (A noisy flock of cranes flew over us). Р’С‹С€РµР» РєРѕСЃСЏРє Р»РµС‰РµР№ Рё РїР»Р°РІРЅРѕ РґРІРёРЅСѓР»СЃСЏ РІ СЃС‚РѕСЂРѕРЅСѓ Р±РµСЂРµРіР° (A school of bream appeared and smoothly swam toward the bank). And the slang usage is equally rich. РљРѕСЃСЏРє might mean a joint (as in marijuana) or a face (as in ugly mug), but since none of my friends are gangsters, I can’t confirm it. I can, however, testify that РєРѕСЃСЏРє means a goof or gaffe, because I hear, read and use it that way all the time. РћР№! Р—Р°Р±С‹Р»Р° РїСЂРµРґСѓРїСЂРµРґРёС‚СЊ, С‡С‚Рѕ РїСЂРёРґСѓ СЃРµРіРѕРґРЅСЏ РїРѕР·Р¶Рµ. РњРѕР№ РєРѕСЃСЏРє (Oops! I forgot to warn you that I’d be late today. My bad).
Russian has other words for goofs. РћС€РёР±РєР° (mistake) is the most neutral. Its diminutive, РѕС€РёР±РѕС‡РєР°, might mean a minor error: РќРёРєРѕРіРѕ РЅРµ С€РѕРєРёСЂСѓРµС‚ СЃС‚РёР»РёСЃС‚РёС‡РµСЃРєР°СЏ РѕС€РёР±РѕС‡РєР° (No one is shocked by a little stylistic error). Or it might mean a great, walloping, horrible mistake that you are trying to downplay. This is a classic linguistic ploy of teenagers: РџР°РїР°, РѕС€РёР±РѕС‡РєР° РІС‹С€Р»Р°. РЇ РґСѓРјР°Р», С‡С‚Рѕ РЅР°Р¶РёРјР°Р» РЅР° С‚РѕСЂРјРѕР·Р°, Р° РѕРєР°Р·С‹РІР°РµС‚СЃСЏ, С‡С‚Рѕ РЅР°Р¶Р°Р» РЅР° РіР°Р·. Р’ РґРµСЂРµРІРѕ РІСЂРµР·Р°Р»СЃСЏ. (Dad, I made a little boo-boo. I thought I was hitting the brakes, but it turns out I was pressing the gas pedal. I rammed a tree). Another word easily recognizable to English speakers is Р»СЏРїСЃСѓСЃ (lapse). It is even more comprehensible to anyone who studied Latin in school, since it is a transliteration of lapsis and is used in much the same way — most often to describe a typo or slip in speaking or printing.
РџРѕС‡РµСЂРє Р°РІС‚РѕСЂР° Р±С‹Р» РЅРµСЂР°Р·Р±РѕСЂС‡РёРІС‹Р№, Рё РЅРµРєРѕС‚РѕСЂС‹Рµ Р»СЏРїСЃСѓСЃС‹ РїРѕРїР°Р»Рё РІ РїРµСЂРІС‹Рµ РїСѓР±Р»РёРєР°С†РёРё (The handwriting of the author was illegible, so several mistakes made their way into the first publication). Р›СЏРїСЃСѓСЃ has a short-form goof, Р»СЏРї, which is slangier and a bit more universal. Р’ РїСЂРёРЅС†РёРїРµ, С„РёР»СЊРј РјРѕР¶РЅРѕ Р±С‹Р»Рѕ Р±С‹ СЃС‡РёС‚Р°С‚СЊ СѓРґР°С‡РЅС‹Рј, РµСЃР»Рё Р±С‹ РЅРµ РЅРµСЃРєРѕР»СЊРєРѕ Р»СЏРїРѕРІ (Overall, you could say the film was successful except for a few blunders).
If you prefer guns to dead languages, you might like the word РїСЂРѕРјР°С… (miss, slip-up) to describe your goofs. Р—Р°Р±С‹Р» РєСѓРїРёС‚СЊ РїРѕРґР°СЂРєРё Рё РєРёРЅСѓР»СЃСЏ РёСЃРїСЂР°РІР»СЏС‚СЊ СЃРІРѕР№ РїСЂРѕРјР°С… (I forgot to buy gifts, so I rushed to fix my blunder). And if you come empty-handed, just say: РњРѕР№ РєРѕСЃСЏРє.
Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is the author of “The Russian Word’s Worth” (Glas), a collection of her columns.