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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Easy and Not So Easy Stages

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????? ?? ?????: to be transferred under guard to a prison

It's 3 p.m. Somehow in the next three hours you have to finish a Powerpoint presentation, calm down an antsy client, edit a miserably translated report, go over the accounts with the bookkeeper, reply to five red-flagged urgent e-mails from the home office and slip out of the office to pay for your cell phone before calls from your significant other are blocked along with your love life. Your heart rate and blood pressure catapulted out of the stratosphere around noon. ???????????? ?? ????? (You're multi-tasking like mad -- literally "tearing yourself to pieces," doing too many things at once.) Then panic turns into paralysis. What to do? Well, after uttering a good round of expletives, you should say sensibly: ????? ??????, ? ???? ??????. (What the eye fears, the hands do.) In other words: Stop panicking, stop whining, stop thinking -- just do it.

English is filled with proverbs and sayings extolling the virtue of dividing work up into little bits and tackling them one by one, such as: Yard by yard, life is hard; inch by inch, life's a cinch. Russian shares a few of them. ????? ?? ????? ? ?????? ??????. (Constant dripping wears away stone; little strokes fell mighty oaks). Or: ???? ?????, ?????? ??????. (Slow and steady wins the race.)

There are also ways of saying "bit by bit," such as ??? ?? ????? (step by step): ???? ?? ?????? ?????? ???????? ?????????????, ??, ??? ?? ?????, ?? ??? ??????? ?? ???? ???. (At first glance the tasks seemed impossible, but step by step, we did it all in just one year.) Or you can steal from the proverb and say ????? ?? ?????? (drop by drop): ???????? ????????? ?? ?????, ?? ??????????, ????? ?? ??????, ??? ??????????. (The changes didn't occur all at once, but gradually, little by little, everything changed.)

If these expressions don't fit your management style, you can simply say: ???? ??? ?????? ?? ??????? (We should do all our work in stages, literally "in order") or ??????? ???????? ???????????????. (Let's do the work in consecutive stages).

Or you could simply divide up your work. ??????? ???????? ?????? ?? ????????? ??????. (Let's divide up the work into several blocks.) ??????? ????????? ?????? ????????. (Let's do the task in stages.)

But watch your grammar: ???????? is not the same thing as ?? ?????, which you may have been hearing in the news lately. This is one of the Russian language's nasty little traps for unsuspecting foreign speakers. ???????????? ????? ?? ????? means Khodorkovsky has been transferred under guard to a new prison. Huh? Hang on: This actually makes sense for us English speakers. The words ???? and stage both come from the French, and one of the meanings of both words is a resting place on a long trip. In America this was the place where stage coaches (remember them?) stopped to harness fresh horses. In Russian it's the place where convicts stopped to spend the night (no horses for them; in the old days they went on foot to Siberia). So ????? ?? ????? meant "to walk by stages" -- only in leg irons with armed guards.

Today, prisoners are transferred by vehicles and sometimes without stopovers, but the old expression remains. There is a verb, too: ???????????. ????? ?? ????????? ? ?????-?????? ??????? ? ??????????? ????? ??????. (Soon they will be transferred under guard to some prison in the European part of Russia.) And another noun, ???????????? (the process of being transferred): ?? ??????, ??? ?????? ?? ????????????. (We'll find out how the transfer went.)

So if you want to suggest that your co-workers do a job in consecutive stages, do not, under any circumstances, say: ???????, ??????, ?????? ?? ?????!

The language police will exile you to Siberia.

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