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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How to Dig

I just now got my hands on the July issue of the ATA Chronicle and very much enjoyed Jost Zetzsche's article on ways to get more out of your Google searches by limiting the kinds of results you want to see. Now my head is full of an article I want to write on how translators can more effectively plot our searches before we even get to the stage of deciding whether or not to search or

A lot of how I approach my searches is based on intuition, but I'm going to pay more attention to my searches and mine the brains of a few friends - if I come up with something good I'll share.

Monday, August 24, 2009


A question on today reminded me about all the nuances of the word натуральный (na-tour-ALL-nee, "natural") in Russian. It can mean roughly the same thing as "natural" in English, but it can also mean homemade or homegrown. And it can mean plain, like if you serve baked fish without a sauce or eat yogurt without fruit or honey added.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hooliganism, Part II

I think I've mentioned before that I love finding answers. I can't quite put my finger on why the word хулиганство has stuck with me for several months now, but it's had my imagination all fired up. How did the word get borrowed into Russian?

Reading offers some answers: Joan Neuberger's Hooliganism: Crime, Culture and Power in St. Petersburg, 1900-1914 gave me a name - Isaac Shklovskii, a journalist who wrote a column on life in England for the paper Russkoe bogatstvo. He wrote about the word hooligan in a colum in 1898, which happens to be the year the OED records as the first use of the word in print in English.

You can find some of Shklovskii's articles online by searching for his penname (Dioneo), but I couldn't tell from the ones I read what kind of sense of humor the man had. I mean, hooligan would have appealed to his Russian ear in a purely phonetic sense, wouldn't it?

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I've been digging in horse terms a lot lately. Here are some interesting ones I've found:

Шпрингартен is a jumping chute
Берейтор is spelled "bereiter" in English (-er instead of -or) and means a horse trainer who specializes in training young horses
Левада is a paddock (or corral)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Schlumberger to the Rescue

I'm not an oil&gas translator, but, like everyone who translates Russian, I run into sticky oilfield terms on occasion and find the illustrated glossary maintained by Schlumberger to be an invaluable resource.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Our hot water is off for the next two weeks (a scheduled summer occurence, if you can believe it), so the other day I bought a big metal таз (taz, "basin") to fill with hot water for bathing.
My son was very approving - "I like that унитаз (oo-nee-TAZ, "toilet bowl") you bought!"

After I set him straight about the big difference between taz and unitaz, I started digging around to find out where the word came from. My usual first source (who conveniently sits across the table from me at breakfast) suggested that унитаз is short for универсальный таз (all-purpose basin). I knew - no, I had to believe - that he was wrong.

And he was!

I soon uncovered a very entertaining article on the invention of the flush toilet. The article is attributed to Twyford Bathrooms, but it isn't posted on the company's site. Twyford's site does, however, confirm that Thomas Twyford invented the "unitas" in 1883. The prefix uni- was chosen because it was the first one-piece toilet. What about -tas? I guess that was a prudent euphemism. The OED has entries for the word "tass" (meaning a cup or small goblet) dating back to the 15th century.

As the artice concludes, "The Unitas was shipped into Russia and the name UNITAS became the Russian word for WC!"

And how convenient that the trade name dovetailed so nicely with a Russian word that made the shape (if not the purpose) of the new product very clear! That's all I have to say about унитаз.

Таз, by the way, came into Russian and lots of other languages from Persian via Turkish. The OED says that the immediate ancestor of tass in English is, of course, tasse in French, but it also ultimately traces the word back to Arabic and Persian, where it meant cup or goblet.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


We bought a sunflower head at the market today - now we'll have to dry it and then pull the seeds out and toast them.

While we were picking through the box choosing the head we wanted, a tiny old woman told my son "Смотри, у тебя решето почти полное" ("See, your seed head is almost all full"). I've always known the word решето to mean colander or strainer. Now I'm thinking it can mean anything with a grid- or mesh-like structure. Neat, huh?

Sunflower seeds and oil are such a huge part of Russian cuisine that I was surprised to learn that Helianthus annuus was actually brought to Europe from the Americas.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Architecture Glossary

Плужников В.И. "Термины Российского Архитектурного Наследия" Москва, "Исскуство" 1995

Pluzhnikov V.I. "Vocabulary of Russia's Architectural Heritage" Moscow, Isskustvo, 1995

I bought this book ages ago - well, ten years ago actually, but it feels like ages. I've only used it a few times to look things up for a translation, but it's fascinating reading and has illustrations for some of the entries. Here's a taste:

ОБЫДЕННАЯ ЦЕРКОВЬ - A church built in one day in gratitude for a military victory or in order to prevent or put an end to some calamity.

ЗАБОРОЛ - A wooden platform above the walls of a fortress from where one could throw logs at the enemy or pour boiling water or hot pitch on him.

ЕЗ (ЭЗ) - Piles or net stretched across the entire bed of a river to stop fish from moving upstream.

At the back of the glossary is a detailed chapter on how to decode the old Russian system of writing dates with letters instead of numbers, which you can sometimes see on very old buildings or works of art.