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. Last Updated: 10/24/2014
Articles by Michele A. Berdy

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The Wisdom of Alexander Lukashenko

Back in the old days, my idea of linguistic fun was tuning in to an interview with former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, whose earnest malapropisms were hilarious, charming and often apt.

You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!

The Russian language has lovely ways of expressing tenderness and warmth — think of all those luscious diminutives — but it is equally strong at the other end of the emotional scale.

The Russian-Language Generation Gap

Scene: dinner time in the Moscow apartment shared by an expat and the expat’s Russian significant other. Both have just walked in the door and are very hungry.

The Hard Life of a Translator

Ah, Friday! You can finally get some sleep tonight after the wild midweek celebration at the office. You all partied with your staff on Tuesday, right?

Keep Your Chin Up, Russian Students!

If I were really paranoid instead of just moderately deranged with a slight persecution complex, I'd say that the Russian language was out to get me.

You've Got to Get the Hang of Russia

It's been a while since I've indulged in my obsession with stance verbs — verbs like стоять (to stand), лежать (to lie) and сидеть (to sit) that are used in what seem like whimsical ways to describe an immobile something or someone. There's yet another way to be immobile in Russian: висеть (to hang).

The Zombies Are Coming

Here at The Moscow Times language desk we aim to keep our readers informed about the most up-to-date Russian language trends. So imagine our dismay when we realized we hadn't written about зомбирование (zombification), which is surely one of the top words of 2014.

Fighting Words

Although I adore most things about the Russian language, there is a group of verbs I detest. Чмарить, угнетать, обижать, издеваться and притеснять all mean to persecute, bully, make fun of, oppress, torture or defile.

A Pedestrian Nook in the Heart of Moscow

Over a decade ago, the Luxembourg-based firm Moscow Construction & Development acquired a choice parcel of land in the center of Moscow.

Putin Beware: Negotiations Are a Minefield

Years ago when I was working on a big communications project and people asked me what the hardest part of my job was, I would say: Согласование!

Beware the Pointy Things in Moscow

It's time for another language pop quiz: What do ships, badges and jokes have in common? Any takers? No? Is everyone on vacation?

Head for the Woods, Muscovites

Ah, August. August is the usually the scary month in Russia, the month when Bad Things Happen, the month of mourning, the month when political history is remade by tanks or peat fires. But this year, things have been so scary and so awful for so long, what difference could one month make?

Food Sanctions, Really?

I've always thought of the word ведь as the verbal equivalent of a fist hitting the table, a word you use to emphasize your message and pound it home. As an intensifier it's a great little word to spit out in phrases like: Ведь я тебе говорила! (I told you so!)

Russia's 'Maskirovka' Keeps Us Guessing

Because I'm a news junkie, I read more about the Ukraine crisis than anyone who values their sanity. And because I read so much about Ukraine and am so interested in language, right now my main sources of new words are military terminology and obscenities.

Talking Smack About Ukrainians and Russians

Here at The Moscow Times language desk, I've been trawling the interwebs, looking for new Russian words and phrases. My latest haul comes largely from the comments sections of online media where folks "discuss" the Ukrainian and Russian conflict by flinging insults at each other. I got interested in the insults.

Don't Quote Me in Russian on That

I have never made peace with Russian знаки препинания (punctuation marks). I persist in putting in запятые (commas) where they don't belong, dither over where the period goes with кавычки (quotes) and have resorted to the childish principle: When in doubt, use тире (dash).

Let's Just Speak English

Scene: an office in Moscow, some time in the future when the law banning use of foreign words in Russian has finally passed. An expat manager is preparing a speech to the city Duma with the help of a Russian coworker. It is not going well.

Russian Speakers of the World, Unite!

As someone deeply concerned with the protection of human rights — mine in particular — I have of course been very interested in the whole notion of русскоязычный человек (a Russian-speaking person) and Russia's eagerness to take such a person — possibly me — under her governmental wing.

How to Backtalk Russian Style

For years I have been on a personal crusade to nail down the meaning of all Russian's "little words" — all those monosyllabic words like да (yes, and), что (what, that), как (how), так (so), ну (well) that each have 40 meanings and combine with other little words to give another dozen meanings. Lately I've been working on зато (but, however, on the other hand).

Putin's Funny Slang Doesn't Do Much For His Tough-Guy Image

Not much makes me laugh these days, but President Vladimir Putin's use of the word уконтрапупить did.

Cutting to the Chase

Want to visit the barber? Need to ready your pooch for a dog show? Did badly on a math test? Or want to let your uncouth neighbor know that you do not want to socialize?

Connections Are Everything

Back in the old days of Soviet rule, everyone needed one thing to survive: блат. This word, so satisfying to say — try it! — meant pull, an "in," connections.

Promoting Propaganda

День Победы (Victory Day) used to be my favorite Russian holiday. I would always tear up when I saw the veterans, some still slender in their old uniforms, covered from neck to waist in medals and ribbons, marching proudly across Red Square.

How To Pass the New Russian Language Test

I've detected a slight buzz of panic among Moscow'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. Кошмар! (What a nightmare!)

Why Russians Love the Number 3

If numbers can be said to have personalities, три (three) is deeply conflicted. It is highly spiritual but sometimes very naughty. It is a very small amount of something, unless it is more than you can imagine. It is average and in between, but at the same time it is exalted and magical.

Private Schools on the Rise as Parents Look for International Prospects

Private education is a relatively new phenomenon in Russia. As the Soviet period drew to an end, more and more foreigners arrived to do business in Moscow at the same time that a few dedicated Russian pedagogues and parents wanted a different kind of education for their children.

A Real Pain in the Butt

It is Friday and you have to get seven signatures on 14 documents from three ministries situated at opposite ends of the city — all by the end of the day.

Thugs, Rednecks, Nationalists: Understanding Russia's Gopnik Culture

Insulting slang words seem to go in and out of fashion — or maybe I go in and out of periods of noticing them. Lately it seems that the word гопник and its various derivatives are the new popular pejorative. I thought I knew what гопник meant but did some research to clarify, just in case.

A Real Coming Out

Выступать/выступить is a verb pair that translators like to kvetch about. The basic meaning is to come out in some way, either literally or figuratively. All in all, these are not the hardest words to translate. The only problem is that sometimes your brain seizes up, and you find yourself writing the worst sort of translationese imaginable.

Lost in Lovely Looks

As spring slides into Moscow and the parks will soon go from boring black-and-white to blazing Technicolor, it is a good time to look at how Russians look at things.
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