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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Press 1 if You're Not Too Lazy to Listen Carefully

It was a typical day at work. The sun was shining. My computer was working. Everything was bustling and harmonic in my corner of the room. And then, it happened. A minor linguistic misinterpretation shattered our peaceful nook.

The fault was mine, I must admit. There we were, talking about how we were going to instruct our muscle-bound muzhiki to rearrange the furniture, when they suggested that they come back at 7 p.m. to fulfill our furniture-moving desires. None too eager to stay so late at the office, I negotiated for an earlier time.

"Ty linyayesh," asked a grinning Olya — our star office manager and keeper of the peace.

Only I heard ty lenish'sya, from the verb lenit'sya, meaning "to be lazy."

And so I was offended, and made some sort of bland reply like, nichego podobnogo, or "nothing of the sort," and she walked away.

Kakaya ya lentyaika, I said, rhetorically. "I'm not lazy." But it's a good thing I was speaking out loud, because my colleague, who overheard, was able to get to the root of our misunderstanding.

She didn't say lenit'sya, she said linyat', which means toukhodit', or leave.

Had I correctly heard what she had said, I still might not have taken it the right way. Unaware of the verb's more colloquial meaning, I always understood linyat'to mean "to shed or molt." Either way, I was offended.

And for nothing, because it was Olya who had, only hours earlier, given me a gem of a word to add to my vocabulary.

There she was, working the phones, dialing again and again trying to find someone who could give her a straight answer to her relatively simple question. You know the routine: You call one bureaucrat only to find that you need to call another and another. If you have the curiosity to see this procedure through to its conclusion, you usually end up with the phone number of the first person you called.

I watched as Olya made her fifth call, and that is when the word popped out.

"Menya futbolyat," she appealed to the devushka on the other end of the line.

It is impossible to translate this expression into English with the same economy of words. The closest I can come is: "I am being kicked around like a soccer ball." That is nine words. Nine words in place of two simple Russian words that simply take the noun, soccer ball, and turn it into a verb, futbolit'.

Imagine the possibilities of a verb like futbolit'. You can toss it about in any number of circumstances, from getting a new visa to trying to register your car. As people continue to occasionally pick up the phone in Russia — as opposed to those delightful computer-automated voices that have taken over the West, instructing us to, for example, press 1 if we are having a heart attack, 2 if someone is holding a gun to our head — then futbolit' will certainly come in handy.