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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: Lining Up the Myriad Meanings of 'Ochered'




The Russian word ***ochered'*** (line, queue), or the most widespread notion associated with it, dates back to the Soviet period, when there was a shortage of goods, and people were often seen lining up for some ***defitsitniye tovary*** (scarce commodities). At that time, we used the verb ***pokupat'*** (to buy) very seldom, involuntarily replacing it with the verb ***dostat'*** (to acquire), which implies making some effort or at least spending some time to buy a needed thing.


My first transatlantic linguistic experience with ochered' in this context took place, strange as it may seem, in New York, which I visited as a translator accompanying a delegation of Soviet functionaries. Once the business part of the program was over, we all rushed to the nearest department store to do some shopping. And there, to my great surprise, I saw an American ochered'" at the cashier, some four or five people patiently waiting their turn to pay for the articles they were buying. Actually, they were standing in a sort of semi-circle, rather than in a line. So I came up to them and asked the question any Russian would ask in a similar situation, "Excuse me, who's last in line?" (***Izvinite, kto posledny?***) Some of them smiled graciously, apparently at my awkward attempt to find out where the end of the line was.


Ochered' has a number of other meanings. It can denote a burst of machine-gun or submachine-gun fire (for example, ***On strelyal ocheredyami*** f he fired in bursts) or a waiting list (for example, ***Yego postavili v ochered'***, he's been put on the waiting list). It is also part of the parenthetical phrase ***v pervuyu ochered'*** (in the first place, or primarily) introduced in a sentence for an orderly relationship between individual words.


Yet the principal meaning of ochered', is "turn." The Russian ***vne ocheredi*** translates literally as "out of turn" and ***v svoyu ochered'*** as "in one's turn." ***delat' chto-libo po ocheredi*** (to do something one after the other) is "to take turns." Even the set phraseological expression "the ball is in your court" can be rendered into Russian only in a descriptive manner as ***teper' vasha ochered' deistvovat'*** (now it's your turn to take action).


The adjectives derived from the noun ochered' are translated differently depending on a particular context. For instance, ***ocherednoye zasedaniye*** is translated as a "regular meeting" or a "regular session," and ***ocherednoi vznos*** f any of several parts into which a debt is divided when payment is made at intervals f as an "installment."


Sometimes, the adjective ***ocherednoi*** has the meaning of "one more" or "yet another" and is translated accordingly (as in ***Yemu dali ocherednoye zadaniye*** f "he was given another task" or ***ocherednaya yego vykhodka***, "yet another whim of his!"). ***Ocherednaya portsiya spirtnogo,*** a drink of liquor served at one time to each person in a group is simply a "round." So the English phrase "the next round is on me" corresponds in Russian to ***moya ochered' platit'***.


<i>Georgy Meyerovsky works as a professional English-Russian translator.</i>