Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Comrade Wolf knows

I'm probably the last person to hear about this, since I don't follow politics, but in his state-of-the-nation address on May 10 Russia's President Putin said: "But this means that we also need to build our home and make it strong and well protected. We see, after all, what is going on in the world. The wolf knows who to eat, as the saying goes. It knows who to eat and is not about to listen to anyone, it seems." Or, in the original Russian:

Но это значит, что и мы с вами должны строить свой дом, свой собственный дом – крепким, надежным, потому что мы же видим, что в мире происходит. Но мы же это видим! Как говориться, «товарищ волк знает, кого кушать». Кушает – и никого не слушает. И слушать, судя по всему, не собирается .

I had never heard this particular Russian saying before; it reminds me of my favorite one, The cat knows whose meat he ate. I tried looking up the wolf saying in my book of Russian proverbs, but without success. As usual, the web provided many answers, and many versions, of this old Soviet anecdote. Here are two:

В глубокую яму провалился козленок. Потом в эту яму провалился мужик. Потом в нее провалился волк и защелкал зубами.
- Бэээ, мэээ... - жалобно заблеял козленок.
- Что "бэ", что "мэ"? - сказал мужик. - Товарищ волк знает, кого кушать!

В яме очутились козленок, мужик и волк. И когда серый защелкал зубами, приближаясь к козленку, тот испуганно заблеял, а мужик в праведном гневе воскликнул: "Что "бэ", что "мэ"? Товарищ волк знает, кого кушать!".

Loosely translated: A baby goat and a man fell into a deep pit. Then a wolf fell in and started clicking his teeth. The goat bleated in terror: "Baah, baah". "What are you bleating about?" said the man. "Comrade Wolf knows who to eat!"

In some versions the man is named Rabinovich (i.e. he's Jewish), or there's a fox instead of a man, or the frightened animal is a sheep. I was going to translate мужик as "peasant", but that word sounds condescending these days, although in early Soviet times it was considered a sort of badge of proletarian honor.

But what does Vladimir Vladimirovich mean by invoking this saying? There is much speculation on that... But be careful when reading political blogs: Волков бояться - в лес не ходить.

Posted at 12:05 PDT  Link | Tags: , ,

Sunday, May 21, 2006


I just finished reading Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse (finally - this moving thing has totally cut into LaGeek's reading and surfing time), billed as the Da Vinci Code for women. It's longer than The Da Vinci Code, and has a lot more historical info, about the Cathars and the French invasion of the Languedoc region in 1209 under the pretext of a crusade. I'm glad I waited til after finishing the book to look up the gory details... Anyway, the writing is better than TDVC, although the author uses too many adjectives, but she earns bonus points by including words and phrases in the langue d'Oc, an Occitan dialect spoken in that area. This descendant of Latin was an important and widely spoken language in the Middle Ages. According to the Wikipedia:

The name Occitan comes from òc, the medieval Occitan word for yes, as opposed to oïl as used in the Oïl languages spoken in the territory now covered by northern France, parts of Belgium and the Channel Islands which was the ancestor of oui as used in French.

The medieval Italian poet Dante was the first to have used the term of "lingua d'oco." In his De vulgari eloquentia he wrote in Latin: "nam alii oc, alii si, alii vero dicunt oil" ("some say oc, others say si, others say oïl"), thereby classifying the Romance languages into three groups based on each language's use of "yes.": oïl languages (in northern France); oc languages (in southern France) and si languages (in Italy and Iberia). ...

The word òc came from Vulgar Latin hoc ("that"), while oïl originated from Latin hoc ille ("that (is) it"). Other Romance languages derive their word for yes from the Latin sic, "thus", such as the Spanish sí, Italian sì, Catalan si, or Portuguese sim.

Langue d'òc, or Occitan, looks tantalizingly familiar, somewhat like French, somewhat like Spanish, and is closely related to Catalan. Here are some examples from the book:

Pas a pas, se va luènh.
Si es atal es atal.
Ten perdu, jhamai se recobro.
See Omniglot for sample text, or Dàvid Uhlár's Easy Occitan pages for details on grammar and verb conjugations. Bona nuèit!

Posted at 21:21 PDT  Link | Tags: ,