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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: Learning the Language With Laughable Gaffes




It is my firm belief that those of us who do not speak Russian from birth, but must learn it the hard way, should face each new day with a recharged sense of humor. Yes, today you may just make a complete fool of yourself. And what of it? Lose your ability to laugh at your own mistakes and you will never get beyond the genitive plural case.


That said, I would like to thank the anonymous sources who provided me with the fodder for this column. I would also like to spend the next few hundred words making fun of their mistakes. May we learn something from the errors of these generous souls.


Not that I believe any of us are above them. We all, I am sure, have inexplicable hang-ups about certain words. To this day I occasionally mix up the words for hydrofoil (raketa) and tablecloth (skatert'), and they do not sound anything alike.


If you've agreed to meet friends at the 11:15 tablecloth to Bukhta Radosti (Pleasure Bay) as often as I have, you are in no position to laugh at one foreign gentleman who had an unfortunate run-in with a grape. Upon returning to the Moscow State University dorm room he shared with his wife, the gentleman in question told his wife that he had stopped by the stolovaya, or cafeteria, on his way home. Chto tam dayut? (literally, what are they giving?) asked his wife. Nothing much, her mate replied. Tol'ko vinogrady. Only grapes. Vinogrady! His wife's eyes lit up. Ya obozhayu vinogrady! (I adore grapes!). "Kupi nam kilogram - net, dva," (Buy us a kilo - no, two), his wife replied.


It turns out that their neighbor was also a big fan of grapes, and asked him to bring her 3 kilos of her own. Eager to oblige, the foreign gentleman set out for the stolovaya, only to return with 5 kilos of vinegret, or beet salad. At least he had the color right.


Nor should I feel superior to another student of Russian - a young man who took a fancy to a lovely Russian woman he met during his studies. Having enticed the object of his desire for a walk in the park, our hero felt the urge to kiss her. Spotting a romantic nook, he turned to his date and asked her: Mozhno tebya strelyat' pod etim derevom?, or, Can I shoot you under that tree? His date was taken aback at first, but was fortunately astute enough to figure out that her gentleman caller was looking for the verb tselovat' (to kiss), not strelyat'.


When I say fortunately, I mean that she did not go screaming for the police. She did, however, erupt into laughter, thus killing the mood for kissing.