Великий и могучий

I made a post that I regret making. A man was interviewed about prison conditions in DNR controlled Eastern Ukraine, and rather than talk about what he said, I decided to talk about which swear words he used. That was shitty of me. It’s below the fold if you want to read the post for yourself, but please don’t.

Russian writer I.S. Turgenev wrote the words to one of the greatest Russian romance songs, then wrote novels for a while, and towards the end of his life, started writing prose poems. One of his prose poems was about the Russian language, and contains this statement.

Во дни сомнений, во дни тягостных раздумий о судьбах моей родины,- ты один мне поддержка и опора, о великий, могучий, правдивый и свободный русский язык!

Which in English would be:

In days of doubt, in days of painful contemplation of the fate of my homeland, you alone are my support, o great, powerful, truthful and free Russian language.

I also feel that the Russian language is Russia’s most redeeming feature. To the extent that I “feel Russian” and to the extent that I have pride in my Russian heritage, it is almost entirely about the Russian language. I certainly have nothing but hatred for the Russian imperial project, whether in Georgia, where Russia is slowly encroaching on more and more territory, in Eastern Ukraine, where prisoners become prisoners of war, or elsewhere.

But Russian humour being what it is, the Turgenev quote is usually invoked ironically to make a joke about Russian swearing and its incredible versatility. And this post is not going to be any different. Take a look at the Vice news story about prisoners in Eastern Ukraine above. It is a translation of the same story in Russian, here, from Mediazona. Mediazona censors swearing (“non-standard lexicon” in Russian euphemism), and the prisoner they interviewed used some. So they replaced the swearwords with synonyms. Here is the list of synonyms used in the Russian story:

все равно
непонятной штуковиной
интенсивно работали
вести обстрел
без разницы
в состоянии шока
черта с два

Or, in English:

don’t care
got fed up with
he hit
weird thingamajig
worked hard
to beat
fire artillery
no difference
in a state of shock
no place

I am no expert in Russian swearing, but as far as I can tell, these synonyms all come from variations on two words, and they are all direct synonyms. Many of them would make sense out of context (e.g. похуй always means “don’t care” and хуярить always means “to beat”). Compare this with the English translation. There are also variations on two swear words, but their expressive ability is nowhere close. Here are my attempts at finding synonyms for all the swear words:

bad situation
at all

And these do not make sense out of context (e.g. “fuck” means “care” only in the phrase “don’t give a fuck”). There you have it, the great and powerful Russian language.

This entry was posted in language, translation. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Великий и могучий

  1. VJ says:

    Oh indeed! A dastardly and repugnant folk, I do say. Quite curious from the anthropological/linguistic standpoint though… Fuck you.

    • zolltan says:

      *Edit* in retrospect, it was pretty shitty of me to see a report on a guy that was basically tortured and then concentrate on the language he used, rather than on that. Good point.

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