Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Some Research Gets to The Bottom of Things

Not long ago, a friend of mine with exotic vacation plans was sent to Moscow's Center for Tropical Medicine — the only place in town capable of providing a vaccine for zholtaya likhoradka, or yellow fever.

Having been ushered into an examination room by a formidable matron with very big hair, she was told that she would receive the shot in her lopatka.

Now, this yellow-fever-vaccine seeker was not certain what part of her body to bare. Where, exactly, is the lopatka, she thought, thinking of the shovel, or lopatka, she keeps in the back of her car to dig herself out of snowdrifts.

What body part looks most like a shovel, she logically deduced, and decided to bare her buttocks while the doctor prepared the injection.

But she guessed wrong. The unsuspecting matron turned around and was so startled to see an exposed behind that she dropped the syringe on the floor, shrieking, Ne v zadnitsu! V lopatku! (Not in the backside, but in the lopatka!

Those of you who may be planning travel to some yellow-fever infested destination may find it useful to know that lopatka not only means shovel, but also shoulder blade.

Let's face it. Body parts can be so confusing. When I was taking a Russian-language yoga class, I was never certain which part of my anatomy was supposed to be reaching for the ceiling, and which part was supposed to be burrowing into the floor. I would frequently mix up the soles of my feet, or stupni, with my ladoni, or the palms of my hand, much to the consternation of my rather militaristic trainer.

And these are just the official body parts. You know — the ones you can find in the dictionary. It should come as no surprise to anyone that there are an infinite number of slang terms — some less than complimentary — denoting various parts of the body.

Nor should anyone be surprised that many of these slang words refer, in fact, to the zadnitsa, or — my particular favorite — the popa. Thumbing through a newly acquired tome of Russian slang, I found several examples of this even before getting to the end of the A section.

Take, for example, abazhur, which means lampshade, unless you happen to be referring to someone's derriere. Abazhur, inexplicably, can also mean head, so perhaps it would be less ambiguous to opt for some of the other words that refer exclusively to the popa.In this case antifeis (taken from the English "against the face"), ambrazura and angar might do nicely.

Alternatively, you can move on to the Bs to find bagazhnik, literally meaning trunk, or bamper, which refers to another car part, the bumper. One with a more generously proportioned backside might even find people referring to this part of his or her anatomy as a balkon, or balcony.

And this covers just the first two letters of the alphabet. Just think how many versions I'll find by the time I get up to the Zhs?