Mumbling in Ingush? It's Time to Get Out

"Khotelos' kak luchshe, a poluchilos' kak vsegda." -- "We wanted things to be as good as possible, but they turned out as they always do."

Friends, I don't know which policy mishap Viktor Chernomyrdin was referring to when he said this, but it seems Russia has reached a plateau of sorts when the prime minister can explain away screw-ups in terms of pop fatalism. In other words, the zero-information-Slogan-as-Speech practiced by the communists has been replaced by the zero-information-Shrug-as-Speech practiced by the former communists.

Clearly, it's time to get out.

But not before going over some of the results of writing this column. I've learned that Russian is a language so rich that 40 percent of it doesn't fit in dictionaries. I've learned bits of Ingush, Komi and Kyrgyz. I've learned konts-lager (concentration camp) jive and Khasbulatov-speak.

I can approximate President Boris Yeltsin's rendering of the Russian words for "Constitutional" (kuehnssistsonnuh) and "government" (praitle-stuh), both of which he pronounces with about as much accuracy as I can predict his next move.

I can simulate a teenage Moscow lass fending off the hapless advances of a middle-aged drunk: Cheh teh nah-dah. Cheh tyh preh-stal, tuh. Kaaahzyol, k-koi-tuh, shtow-li? ("Whadda you want? Whadda you bugging me about? You some kind of a jerk, or what?").

All young linguists learn that the Navajo have no word for snow, while Eskimos have over a dozen, because they have some many kinds of snow. In English, we have three ways to send someone to hell, while the Russians have 30. I still wonder why.

I listened to Vyacheslav Kostikov and learned that Congress can be a bomb, and a bomb can be a technical device as twisted and complex as trying to pronounce vzryvchatka. It can evoke the dark, secret forces implicit in adskaya mashina (infernal machine). Or it can just be a bomba that we understand without having to open our pocket Oxfords.

Words like propusk, remont, GAI and countless others have crept into my English usage, yielding sad nods of confirmation from the comfortably anachronistic anti-Soviet folk at home who decided I "went over to the Commies" long ago.

I have long since shrugged off their reaction, because, as you all know, we stopped belonging to them the first time we heard "Shtraff," "Dip-korpus," "Militsioner" and "Ooh-Peh-Deh-Kah," and understood, while our visiting Uncle Carmine and Aunt Minnie rolled back their eyes uncomprehendingly.

And I understood what came next, when a friend told me the other day: Khotelos' kak luchshe, a poluchilos' ...

This is David Filipov's final appearance as Word's Worth columnist.