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Articles by Michele A. Berdy

Every Creeping Thing of the Earth

Here's a new bit of folk etymology going around: Way back in some undefined olden days of Russia, executions were performed in the winter by tying someone to a pole and pouring water over him until he was covered with a thick layer of ice and froze to death.

When the Cure is Worse Than the Disease

There you are in the office, sniffing, sneezing, blowing your nose and coughing. Your nose is red, your eyes are dripping and you can barely talk.

Figuring Out Russian Riddles

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a newspaper article that led, eventually, to an astonishing discovery. It was like finding out that the Russian alphabet had a letter I'd never heard of.

We're Talking a Big Difference

Рознь (discord, division) is my Russian Word of the Week. Not because it's a word with happy associations.

Hanging Around on Facebook

There is nothing quite so humiliating for an adult as stumbling badly in a foreign language.

A Cookbook to Rehabilitate Soviet Cuisine

If you think of the Soviet period in Russia as a culinary desert, a new book in English by the country's most prominent food historians, Olga and Pavel Syutkin, may change your mind.

Nothing Worth Knowing Can Be Taught

One of my favorite pastimes — well, other than eating, drinking and talking — is to find the key words of Russian culture — those special words that capture the essence of the culture, values, or habits of the country.

All the Russian Words You Need to Whine About Work

The other day I was reading an article about Russian words and expressions for working. The author pointed out that almost all the words and expressions for working hard in Russian have to do with physical labor.

The Artistic Triumph of Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexievich, the Belorussian author who just won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, might be the greatest writer people don't want to read.

Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

If there is one thing I love about the Russian language, it's word formation — that magical process whereby you take a root word, add a prefix, and suddenly you aren't talking about doing the laundry (стирать), you're talking about getting a stain out (отстирывать).

Getting a Slice of the Pie

Выгодно is a simple word in Russian. Everyone knows what it means — profitable, either literally or figuratively. Right?

What's in a Name?

In my mailbag I found a question about Russian surnames — a simple query about the prevalence of "directional" last names, like West and North in English.

Letting Them Have It in Russian

Russian, like all other languages, has its share of obscenities and naughty expressions.

Russian Language Gets 'Import Substitution'

Just when you think you've seen it all, you come across a video of a Russian schoolteacher telling her students that there was a great civilization in Russia 3,000 years ago called Святая Русь (Holy Rus) inhabited by godlike men called богатыри (bogatyrs, mythic warriors and heroes).

Moscow City Day: Party All Weekend Long

This year Moscow is celebrating its 868th anniversary with an extravaganza of over 500 events, including 300 concerts, almost 250 tours and excursions, activities in 100 city parks, and another hundred or so workshops, pageants and other things to do, buy, eat, watch, listen to, or dance to.

Dealing With the Tough Stuff

A couple of weeks ago I saw a query on a translators' forum, and it has been buzzing around my head ever since. It pops into my head in the shower, or when I'm sitting in traffic, or when I'm trying to go to sleep.

Last Blast of Summer: Festival Weekend

If you were planning on hitting the mall this weekend to buy your kids new school shoes and notebooks — don't. The crowds will be horrendous. Instead, keep the kids in sandals and sample one or more of the city's weekend festivals.

Let's Get Spiritual

This week in Russia the WTF-o-meter has been going off the charts. First, Yevgenia Vasilyeva, sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling millions from the state budget, was released on parole after spending less than a month in jail, presumably because she just couldn't get a good mani-pedi in the joint.

Fruit, Jam and a Rite of Initiation for Foreigners in Russia

Visitors to Moscow this week could be forgiven for thinking they'd arrived not in a city, but into a large, outdoor food storage facility.

An Exhibition of Sculptures That Should Be Seen

The show at the Manezh exhibition space that opened on Friday may go down in art history as the subject of an attack, but it should be remembered as the first time in nearly 60 years that the works of three legendary Soviet artists were shown together.

Attack on Exhibit Sparks Fears New Law Has Empowered Russian Marginals

As Russian lawmakers and Orthodox Church voiced dismay over an attack by activists, many observers said the state was to blame for giving people license to attack anything they say offends their religion.

The Sanctions Shambles

If you've been following the news here in Russia, you know that the word of the week is санкция (sanction), which means "something bad done to Russia."

Propaganda Lessons From an Old – a Very Old – Master

How can you convince men to go to off and fight a war in another country? What arguments will be most persuasive? What tricks of rhetoric will get them to sign up? If these questions sound very modern, think again.

Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow

Now here's something you don't read every day: Пьяный заяц с пистолетом напал на контролёра в московском метро. (A drunk jackrabbit armed with a gun attacked a ticket inspector in the Moscow metro.)

Cutting a Window to the World at the Southern Tip of Russia

At the end of July a new museum of Peter the Great was opened in a place not usually associated with the first Russian emperor: Derbent, Dagestan.

So You Thought Russian Had Six Cases? Think Again

One of the great shocks of Russian 101 — along with the first acquaintance with verbal aspect — was learning about cases (падежи).

All the Russian Words You Need to Sit Down

If you, like me, have come to realize that you lead сидячий образ жизни (sedentary lifestyle) — now blamed for every ailment known to humankind — it may come as something of a relief to learn that there are lots of ways to sit in Russian that do not cause premature death.

Mind Reader

A while back an interesting new Russian phrase caught my eye: сканировать мысли (to scan thoughts). After some research, I discovered that there are three separate usages floating around.

Go On, Treat Yourself

Several residents of the somewhat narrow circle of language geeks that I inhabit sent me an article about the reappearance of Russian words that are "markers" of poverty.

The Very Idea!

Очень (very) is one of those handy little words you learn in Russian 101 and then use every day. Add it to any verb to jack up the intensity and emotion.