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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Frustration Is Linguistically So Frustrating

One of the great puzzles of the Russian language is why there is no word for one of the most widespread emotions: frustration. You know what it's like: you're racing to an important business meeting, you're almost there, you turn the corner ... and drive into the Mother of All Traffic Jams. You sit there, pounding in frustration on your cellphone, which has just at that moment used up your prepayment and refuses to let you make any calls. Argh. Or you bring all the hundreds of documents needed for your mortgage application (documents that took months to gather, pulled out of safe deposit boxes, pried out of obscure registry offices in towns you lived in 25 years ago) and discover that the laws just changed that morning and you need another set of obscure documents.

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Dosada (vexation), razdrazhenie (annoyance, irritation), chuvstvo becciliya (feeling powerless), otchayanie (despair), razocharovanie (disappointment), chuvstvo bezyckhodnosti (feeling that there's no way out) even frustratsiya (when describing a psychological state) -- all these can be used to express various shadings of frustration, but the lack of the exact cognate in Russian is, well, just so frustrating.

If language reflects the world its users live in, why isn't frustration a native Russian concept? Here's my theory: Frustration in the Western sense of irritation over relatively petty and minor annoyances doesn't exist here. In Russia, the Land of the Larger Than Life, everything from the weather to the president's drinking habits are extreme. Even traffic jams don't slow you down for a few minutes or even a few hours, but (as they did last winter) stop traffic for 12 hours straight. There is no such thing as a minor annoyance. There are only disasters, catastrophes, and setbacks that would try the patience of a saint. There are daily incidents large and small that enrage you, infuriate you, drive you totally around the bend. And lo and behold, Russians have a wealth of expressions to describe these states of mind.

"Ya podgotovila vsye dokumenty, no okazalos, chto vveli novye pravila i tyepyer mne nuzhny sovsem drugiye dokumenty. Eto prosto menya besit." (I pulled together all the documents, and it turns out that they introduced new rules and now I need entirely different documents -- this is just so infuriating!)

"Kak tolko moya ochered k okoshku v banke podoshla, oni obyavili pereryv na polchasa. Eto prosto vyvelo menya iz sebya." (As soon as it was my turn at the bank teller's window, they called a break for a half hour -- it drove me out of my mind!) "On kupil i postavil tri datchika sistemy okhlakhdeniya na Zhigulyakh. i vsyo do odnogo byli brakovannye. On penilsya ot gnyeva." (He bought three sensors for the cooling system on his Zhuguli and installed them, and every single one of them was defective. He was so furious he was foaming at the mouth).

And then you finally hit your limit. Menya doveli (They pushed me over the edge). Dostali (I've had it up to here with them). Dokonali (They finally got to me). Krysha poyekhala (I flipped my lid). Ya tronulsya. (I lost it). Ya stebanulsya. (I went wacko.)

In American slang today, you say, "he went postal." This is because a suspiciously high percentage of the "disgruntled employees" who one fine day took an automatic and killed everyone in sight were former U.S. postal workers.

This doesn't reflect Russian reality at all. In Russian reality, when you've waited in line two hours to mail your parcel of books home (at the one post office in town that provides this service, located on the outskirts of the city, with hours from 11 to 4 on workdays), and it's finally your turn -- the postal clerk slams the window shut on your fingers and intones "Obyedenny pereryv" (Lunch break). You're the one who will go on a rampage, ripping up your collection of dictionaries and flinging them through the front windows. The postal workers will just sit there and stare at you as they munch their sandwiches. "Klinichesky sluchai." (She's certifiable.) And they're right. Zhara dokonala.

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