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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talking, Thinking -- What Next?

Ballotirovatsya v deputaty: to run for parliament.

Present-day legislative branch (zakonodatelnaya vlast) terminology is a somewhat uneasy mixture of old Russian standards and new Western imports.

The whole parliament (Rossiisky parlament) is a bicameral system (bikameralism) made up of an upper and lower house (verknyaya i nizhnyaya palaty). By association with the American system, in the upper chamber the representatives are now commonly called senators (senatory); in the lower house, they are either called deputies (deputaty) or sometimes parliamentarians (parlamentarii). When you hear words like spiker (the speaker), veto (veto) and brifing (briefing), you might well feel like you're on Capitol Hill dubbed into Russian.

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However, there is another set of words that hearken back to pre-revolutionary Russia. The entire legislative branch is called the Federal Assembly (Federalnoye Sobraniye); the upper house is the Sovyet Federatsii (Federation Council) and the lower house is the State Duma (Gosudarstvennaya Duma). Duma is a nice old Russian word derived from dumat (to think). It refers to any assembly of highly placed officials (chiny) who meet to discuss problems and resolve issues.

So Russian dumtsy (colloquial Russian for Duma members) are supposed to be the state's thinkers. Their Western counterparts are "talkers" -- parliament comes from the old French parlement, from parler, to speak.

This is closer to another old Russian word for law- and decision-making assemblies: veche. This precursor to democratic legislatures was an assembly of noblemen in Novgorod who gathered to decide issues of the kingdom. Etymologists aren't certain, but they hypothesize that the word is derived from veshchat -- to speak, tell, announce, teach or explain. Or it might come from the word zavet, a commandment.

So the first Russian democrats were talkers, the second wave, thinkers. Perhaps the third wave will be doers?

In the meantime, running for office in Russia also poses challenges for the linguistically disadvantaged. You can say on izbirayetsya (he is running for office) or on ballotiruyetsya v parlament, na post prezidenta (he is running for parliament, for the post of president). So far, so good. But what do you make of the grammatical form on ballotiruyetsya v prezidenty, v deputaty? Call the Grammar Emergency Squad! We're talking about one president, an animate object (well, in most cases) -- so what's it doing in the nominative plural? Hey, don't get me wrong. I'm happy to get rid of case endings, but I keep waiting for my Russian teacher to rap my knuckles with a ruler.

Losing an election is also a grammatical no-brainer (yozhiku ponyatno): Ya ne byl izbran (I didn't get elected); Ya ne nabral dostatochnogo kolichestva golosov; (I didn't get enough votes); Ya proigral (I lost); Ya ne proshyol (I didn't get in).

Winning is also pretty simple in the past tense -- ya vygral or ya pobedil. But let's say you're a cocky candidate, and you are flat out sure you and your party mates are going to win.

On pobedit! Oni pobedyat! My pobedim! Vy pobedite! Ya pobe- Ya pobe- Ya pobedu? Ya pobezhdu? Ya pobezhu? None of those forms are right. For reasons lost in the mists of time, you just can't say it in the first person singular. The proper way in Russian to express your future victory is: Na vyborakh ya oderzhu pobedu (I will be victorious in the elections).

Which is more than I can say about my success with the conundrum of Russian grammar.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.