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Chewing the Fat

?–???€???‹?? ??????????: the juiciest chunk, a plum, a choice piece, a big fat wedge of the pie

You know things are getting pretty weird in Russian politics when you find yourself agreeing with Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Or maybe it’s a sign that it’s time to take a break from Russia. In my case, it’s probably simpler to explain. When you live next door to the construction project from hell —now in Year Three — and entertain yourself by ticking off the laws being broken day and night, you can’t help but cheer criticism of the capital city’s governance.

During a speech last week before the State Duma, Zhirinovsky accused Mayor Yury Luzhkov of many crimes, including giving “???°???‹?µ ?¶???€???‹?µ ??????????” (prime real estate; literally “the fattest chunks”) to his alleged foreign masters (?…???·???µ???° ?·?° ?€???±?µ?¶????). Prime Minister Vladimir Putin responded with arch ambiguity. “?? ?‡?µ???? ?±?‹ ???‚?? ?›???¶?????? ?…???‚?µ?» ???‚???°?‚?? ???°???‹?µ ?¶???€???‹?µ ??????????? … ?’?‹ ???µ?±?µ ???€?µ?????‚?°???»???µ?‚?µ ?›???¶???????°, ?????‚???€?‹?? ???‚???°?‘?‚ ???°???‹?µ ?¶???€???‹?µ ??????????? ?”?????°??, ?‡?‚?? ?’?»?°?????????€ ?’???»???„???????‡ ?·?°?±?»???¶???°?µ?‚????.” (Why on earth would Luzhkov want to give away the choicest parcels of land? … Can you imagine Luzhkov giving away the choicest parcels? I think Vladimir Volfovich is mistaken.” Judging by the laughter in the chamber, a lot of deputies understood the implication: The honorable Mayor Luzhkov doesn’t give prime real estate to anyone; he keeps it for himself.

These ?¶???€???‹?µ ?????????? can give the translator a hard time. ?–???€???‹?? can refer to something fatty, like ?¶???€?????µ ???????? (fatty meat); or something greasy, like ?¶???€???‹?µ ?????»?????‹ (greasy hair); or, less commonly, something filled with good things, like ?¶???€???°?? ?·?µ???»?? (rich land); or something thick, like ?¶???€???‹?? ???€???„?‚ (boldface). I asked native Russian speakers which meaning of ?¶???€???‹?? predominated in the phrase ?¶???€???‹?? ??????????. They all stammered that it was more or less all of the above — a big, fat, juicy, succulent, choice, prized, profitable, rich and desirable chunk of something.

This means that you usually need to be more specific when translating this phrase into English. ?????° ???±???·?°?‚?µ?»?????? ???°?»???¶???‚ ???????? ?»?°?????? ???° ?¶???€???‹?? ?????????? ???°???»?µ?????‚???° (She’s sure to put her paws on a big chunk of the inheritance). ???°???‹?µ ?¶???€???‹?µ ?????????? ???????????°?€???‚???µ???????? ?????±???‚???µ?????????‚?? ?±?‹?»?? ???‚???°???‹ ?·?° ?±?µ???†?µ?????? (The choicest state properties were handed over at bargain basement prices).

Another little piece of Russian is similar to ?¶???€???‹?? ??????????. ?›?°???????‹?? ?????????‡?µ?? is usually smaller — note the diminutive ending — and sweeter. ?›?°?????????‚???? is a tasty delicacy. Unadorned and in the plural, it means sweets or candies. But since “delicious” is in the eye of the beholder, in pet food stores you can find ?»?°?????????‚???° ???»?? ?????±?°?? (dog treats), which are definitely not sweet and decidedly not tasty to humans. ?›?°?????????‚???? is related to the verb ?»?°???°?‚?? (to slurp or lap up something) and has the sense of something you drool over.

Sometimes this is easy to translate. ???°???‹?? ?»?°???????‹?? ?????????‡?µ?? — ?????????°?? (The grandchildren are given the tastiest morsel). But writers use the phrase figuratively to refer to anything seductively attractive, sometimes regardless of size. Here it’s hard for the translator to distinguish between fat chunks and exquisite tidbits. ?—?µ???»?? ?? ?????€?????µ ?§?µ?…?????µ — ???°???‹?? ?»?°???????‹?? ?????????‡?µ?? ?????????????????????? (Property in the city of Chekhov is the most sought-after land near Moscow). ?­?‚???‚ ?????€???????‹?? ?????? ?? ?†?µ???‚?€?µ ?????€?????° — ?»?°???????‹?? ?????????‡?µ?? ???»?? ???????µ???‚???€???? (This huge building in the city center has investors drooling).

So if you see a ?????????? or ?????????‡?µ??, try to get a piece of the action.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.

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