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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

What to Say to a Bride Who Trips on the Aisle

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Have you ever noticed when you, or someone around you, is about to slip and fall down that a concerned babushka witnessing the imminent fall helpfully yells out "Tikho"?

I never really understood the point of such advice when all hopes of regaining balance are dashed and the pavement is getting closer. Is she implying that I should fall tikho, or quietly, or is she wishing me a peaceful landing? Or is she afraid I will make too much noise when I do land? It is the kind of warning you expect to hear in a library, not a city street.

So I was delighted recently to discover a colloquial expression that, at least in my opinion, appeared to poke some fun at the practice of yelling tikho to plummeting pedestrians. Derzhic' za vozdukh, or hold on to thin air, seems to appropriately capture the futile nature of such advice. You might as well be saying: Face it, you're going down.

Had I known this expression when I was skiing with two American friends in the Caucasus, it might have come in handy. When my friend and instructor for the day, a much more experienced skier, decided to head off for the more difficult slopes, she came back down on a tractor. Fortunately, her leg was not broken. But her knee did swell up to the size of an arbuz, or watermelon.

Not to worry, said the Georgian staff who rushed to attend the fallen damsel. Do svad'by zazhivet.

These words of comfort raised a few questions. We interpreted them to mean that she would live until her wedding, or svad'ba. But this is not exactly correct Russian. If they were using the verb dozhit' (to live until), weren't they conjugating it wrong? Wouldn't they say do svad'by dozhivet?

Taking their very thick Georgian accents into account, we assumed that this is what they meant. Although, it was cold comfort indeed. Sure, she would live until her wedding, but they were not willing to make any predictions beyond that happy day. She could conk out the minute she got that ring on her finger.

It was not until several weeks later, when I was passing a greeting-card stand in the metro, that I realized how cruelly we had underestimated the language skills of our Georgian hosts. Indeed, it turns out that their command of the colloquial was much greater than ours. The card that caught my eye showed a creature of indeterminate sex and age with a lot of cuts and bruises and it read:

Do svad'by zazhivet, meaning, all would heal in time for the wedding. Indeed, our Georgian friends were not using the verb "to live" at all, but zazhivit', or to heal (zazhivlyat' being the imperfective form). And they were referring not to her, but to her skiing-induced wound.

So maybe getting married won't be a life-threatening experience for her after all.