Articles by Michele A. Berdy
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13 June 13
With all this talk of divorce in the air, it seems that I've written a lot about the language of love but not much about the language of love's end. Breaking up may be hard to do but describing it in Russian isn't.
06 June 13
Колено is a strange little word. It has a huge range of meanings: knee, elbow, bend, generation, dance figure and stunt. And its conjugation sometimes depends on the meaning, and sometimes on the speaker.
31 May 13
A couple days ago I saw a great ad for a new, independent, online news show: "Телевидение лучше делать на коленке, чем на коленях" (Literally: It's better to make television on your knee than on your knees). I thought: Cool word play!
24 May 13
Way back in Russian 101, first we mastered the personal pronouns like мы (we), он (he) and они (they) and got through the shock of two forms of "you" (вы and ты).
17 May 13
One of my weak spots in Russian is the use of prefixes. Just the other day, I wanted to say that my nose was stuffed up (нос заложен), and instead said нос наложен, which sounds like my nose was either pasted on or under arrest. This was highly entertaining to my Russian friends and solidified my reputation as a very strange, semi-literate, modern version of Nikolai Gogol.
19 April 13
Like bears waking from their long winter hibernation, native and temporary Muscovites are sleepily crawling out of parkas and fur hats into the light of spring — just in time for National Funny Russian Word Day.
11 April 13
I have a great fondness, tempered with exasperation, for Russian verbs with a half dozen different, completely contradictory meanings.
Take морить and its perfective mates заморить and уморить.
04 April 13
Way back in Russian 101, I was enchanted by the words теперь (now) and сейчас (now). How clever of Russians, I thought, to clarify so simply the distinction between right-this-moment now (сейчас) and nowadays-at-present now (теперь).
29 March 13
This spring weather is wild. There's no greater joy than bundling up in four layers of fleece and wading through knee-deep snow at the very end of March. The dogs are happy — nothing like a half meter of fresh snow to cheer a canine's heart — but the human beings are not.
22 March 13
Чмо isn't a word I use much. I could never get a handle on its meaning, and I could never figure out how to decline it. But then I discovered two wonderful things: чмо is what linguists call асемантичное ругательство — a derogatory word for a person that doesn't have a fixed meaning — and it doesn't decline at all.
15 March 13
I've had a particular interest in the Russian code language for bribe-taking ever since I was asked for a bribe — or more precisely, откат (kickback) — and missed the cue.
01 March 13
As you wander through the aisles of your local grocery store, you might notice a curious phenomenon: a growing nostalgia for советская кухня (Soviet cooking).
22 February 13
In Russian there are two main words to describe people and objects that are lush, luxurious or splendid.
15 February 13
We're heading into the Russian luv season.
08 February 13
The other day, a Russian friend and I got into a lively discussion about the latest law passed in the State Duma.
01 February 13
I think we can all agree that Russians can get pretty passionate about things — perhaps even more so than other nationalities, although I'm not sure how to go about researching that. There is no nuts-o-meter that would allow cross-cultural comparisons.
25 January 13
I read with great interest your proposed ban on американизмы (Americanisms) in Russian, and all I can say is: Good luck with that.
18 January 13
With all the momentous events that have occurred over the past few weeks, it's possible you may have missed the most important news story of the millennium. After 300 years, the Russian army decided to get rid of портянки (foot wraps).
28 December 12
It's beginning to look a lot like New Year's!
Everywhere you go.
Ёлочки on the squares,
Glitter in frigid air,
Bright игрушки all aglow …
21 December 12
Every year since 2007, a jury of Russian linguists, philosophers, writers and educators gathers together and votes for слова года (words of the year). These are words and phrases that were either coined this year or soared in frequency of use and that encapsulate the year's zeitgeist.
14 December 12
Writer A.S. Byatt once said translators are her best readers. They find every little mistake or typo that even the most meticulous copy editors miss. This isn't because we translators are trying to find mistakes. It's just because we work so closely with the text that we notice problems that editors and even authors can glance over.
30 November 12
One of my more grim memories of early Russian language learning is sitting in my college dorm room, a textbook in my lap, eyes shut and repeating verb declensions over and over again: я пишу, ты пишешь, он пишет… (I write, you write, he writes…) The point was to sear those forms into my brain so that eventually, one day, just maybe I could say я (I) and automatically follow the word with the properly declined verb.
23 November 12
If you hang around kids or dogs in Russia, or happen to have some of your own, very early on you're going to hear the word бяка, which means something that is filthy, gross or yucky.
16 November 12
Over 100 years ago, Mark Twain wrote a very funny piece called "English As She is Taught," which chronicles American schoolchildren's hilarious misapprehensions about the world, science and literature.
09 November 12
The U.S. election cycle is finally over, and I can put away my crib sheets on the Electoral College and retire my standard explanation for the chaotic, confusing and contradictory state policies for registering voters and accepting absentee ballots: Страна называется Соединённые Штаты Америки. Это как Европа, где каждый штат – суверенное государство (The country is called the United States of America. It's like Europe, where every state is a sovereign government.)
01 November 12
Why do you think Russians are getting into Halloween? It's because a) Halloween goes back to ancient Celtic rituals and everyone knows that Celts and Slavs are related; b) it's part of the protest movement against the Russian Orthodox Church and state; c) it's a good excuse to dress up in cool costumes and party.
26 October 12
One unexpected consequence of having a dog is that you instantly become the go-to person for anyone looking for an address in your neighborhood.
19 October 12
Once upon a time, everyone living in what is now Russia had to pay a bunch of taxes, first to the grand prince and later to the state. These taxes were collectively called подать (tax, assessment; stress on the first syllable).
11 October 12
It's a road! It's a path! No, it's super word: путь!
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05 October 12
On their resumes, translators and interpreters list their education, experience and particular areas of expertise. I think it would also be useful to list areas of incompetence — subjects the translator knows nothing about, wouldn't know how to research and moreover, couldn't care less about. For me, that's weaponry.