How Shall I Compare Thee? -- To a Kitten?

Happy Valentine's Day. 'Tis the season for love, even in Russia, where Dyen Svyatogo Valentina may not officially exist but is at least starting to be recognized. There are a few heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for sale out there, not to mention plenty of red roses.

What better place, after all, to celebrate Valentine's Day than in Moscow?

Put differently, where else in the world would you need such a pick-me-up to relieve you from the frozen wasteland of muck you see all around you?

So whether you have a bolshaya lyubov' (a great love) or not, now is the time to warm up to your lyubimy or lyubimaya (beloved) and get your mind off the endless winter outside.

When you present that bouquet or those bonbons, say ya tebya lyublyu (I love you) or ya tebya obozhayu (I adore you) or the over-the-top and increasingly cliche ya bez tebya zhit' ne mogu (I can't live without you).

That said, it doesn't seem like anyone has time these days for love and passion. I conducted an informal survey of my Russian friends to find some original ways of saying "I love you," but no one could help me.

That does not mean the language of love has disappeared, however. The affection remains. How many times a day do you hear men and women call one another solnyshko (little sun) or mily (tender one)? And don't forget zolotse (golden one), malenkii or malenkaya (little one -- yes even to an adult beloved), dorogoi (dear) or the old-fashioned and effusive dusha moya (my soul) or prelest' moya (my delight).

Just as in English you could address a dear one as "my pet" or "kitten," Russian also makes use of animal endearments. How about lapo-chka (little paw), kiska or kotik (little kitten), rybka (little fish) or even ptichka (little bird)?

You may want to have these diminutives at your fingertips. But don't throw them around carelessly. Love, after all, is a risky business -- and you never know who you may fall for. Of course, you may not be able to help yourself. As the Russians say: Lyubov' zla -- polyubish i kozla (Love is blind, or, literally, love is evil -- you can even fall in love with a goat).

Once you're smitten, it's all over. After all, lyubov' ne kartoshka -- ne vybrosish v okoshko (Love is not a potato -- you can't throw it out the window).

The best love is the love that endures: Staraya lyubov' ne rzhaveyet (True love never gathers rust). If you can't think of anyone who fits the bill, don't despair. Just remember: Ot nenavisti k lyubvi -- odin shag (It's only one step from hate to love).