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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talking About People From Over There

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????????? ?????: foreigners, visitors from beyond the seas

The very first time an ancient Slav looked out of his wooden hut and saw someone -- or a group of someones -- dressed differently and speaking a language he didn't understand, he needed to invent a new word. How else could he describe these newcomers to the gang at the local watering hole? Over the centuries, Russians have used a variety of words to describe foreigners and foreign lands.

Now, now, children; play nice. Most of these neutral words use either the prefix ???- (other) or ??- (beyond). A good old adjective is ????????? (literally, from beyond the seas), which today is used either to conjure up images of fairy tale or fantastical lands -- associated in the Russian imagination with Nikolai Roerich's lovely canvas "????????? ?????" ("Visitors from Beyond the Seas") -- or to describe neutrally a country's overseas territories. You know you are being hyped when a restaurant offers you ????????? ?????????? (gourmet foods from lands beyond the seas) -- and you know you ought to check your cash supply before ordering. On the other hand, ????????? ???????? ??????? are simply the French Overseas Territories.

Sometimes journalists and PR folks play around with these associations and you can find humorous combinations, such as a firm that advertises itself as ????????? ?????: ????? ? ?????????? (Visitors From Beyond the Seas: Auditing and Consulting). Sometimes I like to joke around with this myself. When people ask me, ?? ?? ????? ?? ??????????? (Are you a visitor from one of the Baltic states?) I tell them, ???, ? -- ????????? ?????. (No, I'm a visitor from beyond the seas.)

Other ??- words have been made from ????? and ??????? (both meaning border or boundary) to produce ????????? and ????????? and the adjectives ?????????? and ???????????. As adjectives they are usually translated as "foreign" and as nouns -- "abroad." Since the break up of the Soviet Union, the concept of "abroad" has been further defined as "??????? ? ??????? ?????????," which translators have taken to rendering as "the near and far abroad." To which I respond: Say what? "The" abroad? Even my spell checker is having a heart attack.

??????? ????????? simply means the former Soviet republics. So sayeth the Moscow State University Department of Geography, and that's gospel for me. ??????? ????????? is every place else. So ???? ????????????? ? ??????? ? ??????? ????????? is quite simply "our representatives in the former Soviet republics and other foreign countries." Yes, I know this is a few more words, but come on, folks, it's at least English and comprehensible, two highly desirable qualities in a translation.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let's move on to the ???- foreigners. The old word ???????? (literally, someone of another clan) was the word used in Tsarist times to describe ethnic minorities, especially from the East. Today this word can be used neutrally to describe non-Russians, but I have found it used pejoratively on web sites you don't want to read and I don't want to quote. I've mentally marked it as a word I should use with great care.

Another word for a foreigner is ??????? (literally, someone who has come from): ? ?????? ?????? ???? ??????? ?? ????????. (A man from Kyrgyzstan was killed in the center of Moscow.) It can be used to describe any kind of professional or personal origin: ?? ??????????, ??????? ?? ????? ???????? ???????????. (He's a Christian from a family of Arab immigrants.)

???????? (literally, someone from another land) is archaic and has been replaced by ?????????? (literally, someone from another country). Kids call foreign countries ?? ?????? (literally "beyond the hillock") -- something like the American reference to Europe as "on the other side of the pond." In their slang, people and things foreign are ??????????.

Which I guess makes me a hillbilly.

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