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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

What Gives?

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?????? ?? ?????: to slap someone on the wrist, to punish

Russian and English are so rarely in sync that when you come across similar usage you want to kiss the dictionary. Take ??????/???? (to give), for example: There are blessedly few problems, but of course there are a few traps for the unwary.

????? ?????? ?????, ??????, ?????, ?????? ? ????. (You can give advice, bribes, a beating or a loan.) It's also smooth sailing with a phrase like ?? ???? ????? ??????????? (He gives English lessons) or ? ???? ??? 500 ?????? ?? ???? (I paid him 500 rubles for the cupboard). ??? ???? ??? ???? ??????? is reversed a bit in English, but still on the same wave length: He got three years probation.

??? ????? is a bit more problematic. If said today, it means, "What are they giving out?" In a film about the Soviet period when someone asks it of a person lining up in front of a store, it means, "What's for sale?" Remember ??????? (deficit goods)? If there was something for sale, it was like a gift from the gods; who cared if you had to pay for it?

In other cases, ???? can be rendered by "let": ??? ??? ???????! (Let him speak!) ??? ???? ??? ??????, ??? ??????? ???? ?? ??????. (They let me know they'd hire me.)

Then there's ???? as "to hit," nicely like the English "to give it to someone." ????? ?? ???? ???? ??????????, ? ??? ??? ? ?????. (When he started to insult me, I gave him one right in the smacker.) Behind the beer hall you can also hear ?????? ??? ? ???/?????? ????/?? ????? (to hit him in the nose, right between the eyes, on the noggin, literally "on his horns"). ?????? ?? ?????? (literally "to hit someone on the brains") and ?????? ?? ????? (literally "to slap someone on the wrist") mean "to punish": ??? ???? ???? ??? ?? ??????. (His wife really gave it to him.) And ? ???? ???! said in a threatening tone, means "You're gonna get it!"

There are more useful forms of giving: ???????? ???? ??? ?? ????. (I had to grease his palm -- that is, give a bribe.) Or the slangy ?? ???? ??????. (We paid extra.)

The all-purpose ????? is one of the first words foreigners learn in Russian. We all know that ????? + infinitive or future perfective means "Let's ... " ????? ??????/???????? ?????. (Let's read a book.) Or that ????? ???????! means "get to work!" Or that ????? alone can be used as a sign of consent: ?????? ????? ? ????? -- ?????. (Want to go to the movies? -- Sure.) Or that it can even be used to mean "goodbye," perhaps once in the sense of "be on your way": ?? ????????! -- ?????! (Bye! -- See you!)

But we foreigners overuse ????? and sound like wild and crazy guys trying to be cool. I suspect the mistake is excessive use of the repeat form: ?????-?????! is a rough way of saying, "Get a move on it!"

Be careful when ?????? is said of a woman; it means "to put out." ?????? ????? ????, ??? ?????????, ?????? ?? ?? ??????. (Sometimes it's easier to put out than to explain why you can't.)

Users beware: This is terribly crude -- not to mention sexist -- and should not be bandied about to impress your in-laws with your progress in idiomatic Russian. It's a kind of short form for ??????????, "to give oneself" in the sense of "take me, I'm yours!" I'm not sure that anyone "puts out" or "surrenders themselves" anymore, but should the need arise, it's always nice to know how to describe what one is doing.

And besides, it's a reminder that it's more blessed to give than to receive.

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