A Collapse, by Any Other Name ...

План спасения: bailout, literally "rescue plan"

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What's in a name? Judging by the somewhat frenzied naming and renaming of the plan to save the U.S. economy -- a great deal. First it was dubbed the bailout plan. But that conjured up two undesirable images: handing over large amounts of money to get criminals out of jail, and using a tin cup to bail out water as the great ship of the economy sank. Not good.

It was then called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, acronym TARP, which was supposed to suggest a sturdy but flexible shield to shelter people from basically good things (assets) that were merely going through tough times (they're just troubled, poor things). For me, it suggested sleeping in the woods after I'd lost my house and savings, with nothing to protect me from the elements but a scrap of rubberized cloth. Not good.

Now it's called the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act -- serious, yet comforting. It's just economic stabilization. EESA is EASY.

The Russian press hasn't had time to process these nuances of American acronym-speak. In general, the Russian translations are both more neutral and transparent. The bailout is called план Полсона (Paulson plan), план спасения (rescue plan), закон по стабилизации американской финансовой системы (law to stabilize the U.S. financial system), or антикризисный план спасения финансового сектора (anti-crisis plan to rescue the financial sector). TARP has been translated as программа освобождения от проблемных активов (literally "the program to get free from problematic assets") or, more to the point, программа выкупа проблемных активов (the program to buy up problematic assets). I vote for выкуп (buy up). After all, the "relief" in TARP -- subliminal message to U.S. taxpayers: Think "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, Oh, what a relief it is!" -- is to be achieved by spending big bucks on possibly worthless paper. That's some heartburn.

Russian commentators and translators also largely bypassed two other image-laden English phrases. The Russian press stripped "toxic debt" down to плохие долги (bad debts). And in one article, the "sweeteners" added to the bill in Round 2 were dealt with this way: законопроект "потяжелел" на 150 млрд долларов дополнительных налоговых льгот (literally "the bill was weighed down with $150 billion dollars of additional tax benefits.") Here I wish the author had used a common Russian expression: подсластить пилюлю (to sweeten the pill). Because, as we all know, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, especially when the medicine costs $700 billion.

Russia's leaders have avoided these image-producing and anxiety-inducing words by simply not mentioning their own meltdown on television. The picture is different in the print media. If neutrality reigned in describing the U.S. plan, expressiveness ruled for the global meltdown. Reading the news has been like scanning a thesaurus entry for "fall."

At first market indexes were just declining: Индекс снизился. (The market index went down.) Then they were getting lower: Фондовые индексы опустились ниже психологически важных отметок. (Market indexes sunk below psychologically important levels.) Then they were falling, and fast: Индекс падал ещё стремительнее. (The index plummeted even more rapidly). Then they fell: Индекс упал более чем на 15%. (The index fell more than 15 percent.)

Then it was a race to see which country's market could hit the bottom faster: Российские площадки лидируют в этой гонке вниз. (The Russian stock exchanges lead in this race downward.)

Then the U.S. market was teetering: Уолл-стрит оказалась на грани краха. (Wall Street was on the brink of ruin.) Then: Рынок обвалился. (The market crashed.) Индекс рухнул. (The index collapsed.) Индексы крупнейших бирж обрушились. (The main market indexes caved in.)

Oh, got it. That's just "plop, plop, fizz, fizz."

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