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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: Baby's Arrival Broadens Everyday Vocabulary




There is nothing like having a baby to broaden your linguistic horizons.


Really. My Russian language skills had plateaued long before I brought my baby back to Moscow. And in spite of my on-again, off-again efforts to move to the next level - taking out a tome of Pushkin, say, or joining the word of the day club - nothing seemed to work. Nothing, that is, until my daily contact with my daughter's nannies.


Now my Russian vocabulary is building at a pace I could only dream of back when I was reading Alexander Blok and Dostoevsky in college. Admittedly, the kinds of words I am acquiring are not exactly those you would find on the pages of Russia's greatest poets. Nonetheless, words such as booger and bib - not to mention countless expressions for drifting off to sleep - come in handy when dealing with a 4-month-old.


<i>Bystro! Peredaite mne slyunyavchik,</i> my nanny called out to me the other day. (Quick, hand me a drool cloth!) A slyunyavchik? What's a slyunyavchik? I asked. But before the <i>slyuni,</i> or slobber, had a chance to drench the front of my daughter's sweater, I had acquired a new word.


Indeed, life with nanny is a whole new game of fill-in-the-blanks. Take, for example, the time she so delicately pointed out the <i>kozulya</i> that was preventing my daughter from breathing properly.


<i>Eta kozyashka mozhet yei meshat' dyshat',</i> she said, using the diminutive form of <i>kozulya - kozyashka</i> - to refer to the hard snippet of snot hanging from my little girl's nose. (That little booger might disturb her breathing.)


I notice, by the way, that my nanny always opts for the innocent kozyashka, as opposed to the more offensive <i>soplya,</i> or post nasal drip. Is snot a more offensive term than booger, I wondered? In search of an answer, I turned to my dictionary. Lo and behold, the entry below soplya is soplyak - a pejorative term for a sniveling, spineless creature. It's just as well she prefers kozyashka.


And then there are all the words that properly pigeon-hole each child according to his or her eating habits. A child who is breast fed, for example, is literally a <i>grudnoi rebyonok</i> (or breast child), while the mother who feeds him is called a <i>kormyashchaya mama,<i> or a feeding mother. This is an important distinction to know for those occasions when people ask: <i>Ty yeyo kormish,<i> or do you feed her? If you are feeding your children everything except breast milk, then the answer is no - and that makes your child not a grudnoi rebyonok, but an <i>iskusstvenitsa,<i> from the word <i>iskusstvenny,<i> or artificial.


Those mothers who do not want their children to be <i>iskusstvenitsy,<i> but who do not have the ability or inclination to be kormyashchiye mamy might seek the services of a molochnaya mama. Quite literally, this means a milk mother, but the words in Russian are much more melodic - not to mention more honorable - than their English equivalent. After all, wouldn't you rather be called a molochnaya mama than a wet nurse?