. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Bear Runs

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???????? ???????: The runs, the trots, Montezuma's revenge (literally, "the bear's disease").

One of these days I'm going to apply for a grant to write a dissertation on "Cross-Cultural Equivalents and Divergences in Bathroom Behavior and Terminology," since the subject seems relatively unplumbed (pun intended) and as fertile as a pile of compost. Once you finally figure out what to call the bathroom and excuse yourself politely (or not so politely), you still need to know how to describe what you did there (other than read, that is). Here Russian provides a wealth of colorful expressions.

But to start with the basics, if you're discussing your bodily functions with a doctor, urine is ????; urinating is ?????????????? ("releasing urine"); and to urinate is ????????. The most common word used among friends is ??????, stress on first syllable. Much to the delight of our Russian friends, we foreigners usually mix this word up with the verb "to write," ?????? (the stress on the second syllable). So you say, ? ??-???? ??????, which sounds like an ungrammatical version of, "I peed on the letter." You usually make that mistake just once and learn fast.

Relatively polite are the expressions ???????? ????? ????? or ??????? ??-?????????? (closest to the English expression we use with children: to do a "Number One"). Then there is the onomatopoetic ?????? (to piss) or the metaphorical ?????? ("to pour out," similar to the English "to take a leak"). Lower down the scale of propriety are dozens of colorful expressions (most used by men) like: ??????? ?????? ("bend the giraffe"), ????? ????????? ("drain off the condensation"), ??????? ?????? ("let out a stream") or ???????? ???????? ? ???????? ???? ("lower the pressure in the reserve tank"). One informant told me his driver says: ???? ??????? ??????? -- which sounds like "It's time to grease the front axle," before he turns his back to the road and makes an impromptu pit stop.

????????? means "to wet oneself," and can be used to describe a reaction to fear or what happens when you laugh too hard: ? ??? ????????, ??? ????????? (I laughed so hard I wet my pants). It is also the verb you use when kids don't make it to the bathroom in time. It may be useful to know that Russian speakers and English speakers use the exact same syllables to describe bodily functions of tots: ??-?? (pee-pee) and ??-?? (ca-ca).

When it comes to "Number Two" (???????? ??????? ?????, ??????? ??-????????), doctors have more nouns than verbs in Russian. Usually your doctor will ask: ???? ???? (Did you have a bowel movement?) -- and then initiate a fascinating discussion of the quality. They also might ask you about ????????? (defecation) and then note in your chart that your "evacuation is normal" (??????????????? ?????????? ? ?????). When describing what cats, dogs and other creatures do in corners or under your bed, you use the verbs ?????? (to make a mess) or ?????? (to poop). When you're in the locker room, you can use the expressions ???????? ???????/???? ("get rid of the ballast/waste," to take a dump), ??????? ?????? ("drop a stone," dump a load) or the repulsively picturesque ???????? ??????? ("to deposit a larva").

And then there's diarrhea: ?????. It's hard to imagine you'd have occasion to discuss this in polite company, but if you need to, you can say: ???? ???????? (I had the trots); or, more descriptively to your doctor: ? ????? ??????? (I had the runs). In Russian this is called ???????? ??????? ("the bear's disease"), apparently because bears eat a particular tree (buckthorn) bark that acts as a laxative in order to empty their systems before winter hibernation.

Or maybe because afterwards it seems like there was a grizzly in your john.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator.