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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When Hope Doesn't Spring Eternal

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??????? ??????: to keep one's fingers crossed

H?????? ??????? ????????? -- hope springs eternal (literally "hope dies last") is a common expression in Russian, and seems at first glance to be rather uplifting. But after awhile you catch on that it's used when things are not hopeful at all -- in fact, when they're truly hopeless.

Russian and English have some similar expressions for hopes cherished and hopes dashed. There's ????????? (to hope) or ?????? ??????? (to cherish hopes), or ???????????? (to count on something). You can say ?? ???? ??? ???????! (You're my only hope!). Or you can use a somewhat dated expression to convey even more intense hope: ? ??????? ?? ????, ??? ?? ???????? ????! (I'm banking on you, literally "as if you were a mountain of stone.")

But I can only find one expression in Russian that conveys hopeful expectation, and it's not very common: ??????? ?????? (literally "to keep one's fists clenched"). This seems to be the Russian equivalent of keeping your fingers crossed: ?????? ? ???? ?????? ???????. ????? ???? ???? ?????? ???????! (He's got a crucial exam tomorrow. Let's keep our fingers crossed.)

On the other hand, there are lots of ways in Russian to describe hopes dashed. ??? ?? ???????? ???????, ??? ?? ???????? ???????. (There isn't a ghost of a chance that we'll finish on time.) ?? ???????? ????????????? ????? ?? ???? ?????????, ? ???? ????????? ??????? ??????. (Our appeal was turned down, and our last hope was shattered.) ??? ?? ???????? -- ? ???????? ???????. (My cat isn't coming back -- I've given up all hope.)

Judging by expressions, Russians worry that hope may lead to unhealthy woolgathering. A nice little folk saying is: ????????? ? ????? -- ??????????? ?????. (Hoping and waiting will addle your brain.) ??? ?? ???????? ????? ??????. ??? ?????? ????? ? ???? ? ???? ??????. (She isn't trying to find a job. She's just sitting around hoping something will fall in her lap, literally "sitting by the sea waiting for the weather to change.") ?? ?????? ?? ??????, ????? ?????? ? ???????. (He doesn't do anything -- he's always got his head in the clouds.) Or the even more lyrical: ??? ??????????, ??? ??? ????????? ??????, ? ??????? -- ???? ???????? ???? ?? ????????? ??????! (I thought the hard times were behind me and I'd reach the land of milk and honey, literally, "rivers of milk and shores of jelly.") It's a nice little fantasy, but it's not going to pay the rent.

When things are truly dire, you have one option left: ? ????, ??? ??????? ?? ???????. ? ?????? ???????? ?? ?????????. (I know a lawyer can't help. I'm just grasping at straws.) At this point, you may be advised to "open your pockets wider," which means: don't count on it. ?? ??????? ???????? ??????????? ????? ?????? ????! (You think you're going to inherit something? You don't have a prayer!) Or you might also be told: ???????????! which translates nicely as: Dream on!

The philosophical notion that hope is part of the human condition seems to come to Russian from ancient Greek and Roman authors. ???? ??????? ?????, ?? ?????? ????????? (while there is life, there's hope) comes from Seneca. ???? ????, ??????? (while I breathe, I hope) is a direct translation of Ovid's "Dum spiro, spero."

But homegrown Russian expressions about hope are few and far between, and rather skeptical. ??????? ?????, ? ??? ????. (Hope for the best, but expect the worst.)

So former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was only rephrasing an old saying when he said, "???????? ??? ?????, ? ?????????? ??? ??????." (We wanted the best, you know the rest.)

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