Monday, October 23, 2006

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Putin!

“Russian is a very complicated language, sometimes it is very sensitive from the point of view of phrasing. I don’t think that the proper translation is able to reflect the meaning of the joke." That was the excuse offered by a Kremlin spokesman after Russian President Putin's latest witticism made news headlines last week. During the visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Russia, Putin joked: "Give my regards to your president! He's turned out to be a very powerful guy! Raped 10 women! I never expected it from him! He surprised us all! We all envy him!" Naturally enquiring minds want to know his exact words, and here they are, from NEWSru:

Привет передайте своему президенту! Оказался очень мощный мужик! Десять женщин изнасиловал! Я никогда не ожидал от него! Он нас всех удивил! Мы все ему завидуем!

Olmert replied that they shouldn't envy him ("сейчас лучше не завидовать"). The president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, is facing criminal charges for sexual harassment.

Mistakes were made by the other side, too:

Оговорки могут случаться даже у премьер-министров, и все-таки Эхуд Ольмерт не ожидал, что его оговорка в одну букву вызовет такое замешательство. Выступая в синагоге в Марьиной Роще в Москве, Ольмерт решил выразить благодарность президенту России, однако в фамилию президента вкралась лишняя буква "л". Ольмерт назвал Путина "Плутиным".

My translation:

Slips of the tongue can happen even to prime ministers, and Ehud Olmert didn't know that his one-letter mistake would cause so much trouble. Appearing at a synagogue in Marina Roshcha in Moscow, Olmert decided to express gratitude to President Putin, however an extra "l" slipped into the president's last name. Olmert called Putin "Plutin".

The Russian word плут means "rogue, swindler". I found this chucklesome list of synonyms in MultiTran:

плут сущ.
общ. rogue; trickster; cheat; blackleg; gyp; jockey; juggler; knave; leg; picaroon; rascal (особ. о ребёнке); Autolycus; four-flusher; ganef; twicer; dodger; gagger; scamp; sharper; shifter; picaresque; swindler; angler; beggar
австрал., сл. dud; ratbag
амер. artist
разг. crook; diddler; slyboots
сл. shaver; gonef; goniff; shark; sharpie
устар. varlet; gull
шутл. scaramouch

MultiTran also offered the example phrase занятный старый плут, "chucklesome old scoundrel". Doesn't that make Putin sound like a nice guy who was just kidding around?

Posted at 08:00 PDT  Link | Tags:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

When Words Collide

Watch out, Wisconsin, you're at "the epicenter of a linguistic collision". The Low-Back Merger and the Northern Cities Shift are bearing down on each other, and linguists are listening closely to see what happens when they collide in Eau Claire. Thomas Purnell and Joseph Salmons of the University of Wisconsin-Madison have started the Wisconsin Englishes Project to study this phenomenon, so if you hear anybody say "beg" for "bag" or "cat" for "cot", let them know right away, hey?

The Wisconsin Englishes webpage has some fun podcasts. The latest one, "...Or No?" is an interview with stand-up comedian Rob Brackenridge, who does a mean Wskahnsin accent (he's from Appleton, where they say "hey" at the end of sentences). Brackenridge explains the difference between the Minnesota accent ("yah, shoor"), that came from Swedish settlers, and the Wisconsin one ("Oh, yah"), from the Germans and Dutch, and warns visitors away from the Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival: "Tuh be, or no? Oh yah that's the question."

I've been listening, too, on my fall vacation here. The only Wisconsin accent I've heard is "melk" for "milk", and it was kinda hard to detect (unlike the pin/pen merger in Texas). I asked 2 people, one old and one young, to read the words bag, caught, cot, cat, Dawn, Don, Dan and they all sounded standard to me. But then IANAL, and I haven't had any cheesy-bake walleye or Leinie's at all.

Posted at 10:59 CDT  Link | Tags:

Monday, October 9, 2006

An Ostentatious Tirade of Esoteric Euphemisms

After perusing an article about a new publication called 100 Words to Make You Sound Smart I've decided to start using as many words from the list as possible so I'll sound really smart. I will finagle a litany of glib non sequiturs, tryst with lurid rhetoric, emit a cacophony of capricious kitsch, revel in cloying accolades, and finally, like Galadriel with the One Ring, "all shall love me and despair!"

In the interest of injecting even more of the expressions from the list into this post, I provide some scintillating book titles for you precocious authors out there:

Self-help and advice:

  • The Paradox of Perfunctory Propriety
  • The Ennui of the Nouveau Riche - Faux Pas or Fait Accompli?
  • Boondoggles and Junkets - Antidotes to Angst

Biography and Memoirs:

  • Tête-a-tête with a Hedonist
  • My Spartan Svengali
  • The Insidious Charisma of a Narcissist


  • The Disheveled Dilettante
  • A Harbinger of Heresy
  • The Peevish Philistine
  • White Elephant

Did you notice that French words sound especially smart? They waft a bit of élan, a touch of je ne sais quoi over one's prose. And of course Latin is a bona fide insignia of intelligence. So feel free to revel in these words with bravado, but remember: carte blanche is an insidious nirvana, and panacea is a misnomer.

Posted at 10:40 PDT  Link | Tags:

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Pressure to perform

Bad geek! I was caught napping when the hits started rolling in, after not posting anything in weeks. Как мне не стыдно? The Visual Thesaurus website put a link to LG in their Blog du Jour section. Time to rustle up some geekery, n'est-ce pas?

Visual Thesaurus is a software tool that promises to help you learn better English. I typed in my favorite word and clicked on TRY IT NOW to see what it would come up with. geek: "a carnival performer who does disgusting acts", "an entertainer who performs a dramatic or musical work for an audience", or "a person with an unusual or odd personality". Hey, I represent that! Synonyms include oddball, eccentric person, eccentric, (in tiny print) flake; performer, performing artist.

The fun part of VT is watching the linked words float about. You can grab them with the cursor and set them bobbing like balloons on strings. It's sort of like surfing the web, clicking on one word after another for entertainment. I found it distracting from my goal of finding synonyms, though. If I need to jar loose some extra words I usually use Sherlock, which gets its results from Sherlock gave me a couple dozen synonyms for "geek", most of them slang: zombie, wombat, whacko, weirdo, three-dollar bill, screwball, rare bird, queer duck, original, oddity, oddball, odd person, nutcake, nut, nonconformist, maverick, looney tunes, loner, kook, hippie, heretic, goof ball, gonzo, geek, fruitcake, freak, fly ball, customer, creep, crackpot, coot, character, case, beatnik.

I also looked up "geek" on a related site, The results I got there were more satisfying, especially #4:

  1. Main Entry: eccentric
    Definition: bizarre person
    Synonyms: beatnik, case, character, freak, geek, gonzo, kook, loner, maverick, nut, oddball
  2. Main Entry: freak
    Definition: weirdo
    Synonyms: aberration, anomaly, chimera, geek, miscreation, monster, mutant, oddity, weirdo
  3. Main Entry: pervert
    Definition: weirdo
    Synonyms: debauchee, degenerate, deviant, freak, geek, queer, weirdo, yahoo
  4. Main Entry: pundit
    Definition: authority
    Synonyms: auger, bookworm, brain, cereb, cognoscenti, egghead, expert, grind, grub, guru, intellectual, maven, savant, scholar, solon, thinker

Even though I don't need their product, I enjoyed some of the articles on the Visual Thesaurus website. And of course I'm totally grateful [thankful, pleased, obliged, indebted, gratified, beholden] for their link to my site, which forced me to get going [get cracking, bestir oneself, get moving, get rolling] with geekery again.

Posted at 09:50 PDT  Link | Tags: