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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Every Kitchen Needs a Thingamajig

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Kitchen gadgets: ???????? ??????????????, ??????

It's said that Joseph Brodsky once called America "?????? ?????? ??????" (the Land of Dentists) for those wide, 1,000-watt smiles that we are always flashing. I don't disagree, but I'd also say it's the Land of Gadgets. We Americans seem to have a genius for devising, manufacturing and marketing special gadgets for every task. The last time I was home I found a "CD opener" -- a clever little knife that helps you cut through all the plastic, tape and security devices that make opening a new disc harder than breaking into Fort Knox.

So what's a gadget in Russian? Alas, there is no easy translation. You can call them ??????????? ?????????????? (appliances) or ??????????? ??????? (technical innovations) to emphasize their innovative qualities. Or you can just call them ?????? -- a wonderful, all-encompassing word that refers to all kinds of thingamajigs.

Kitchen utensils and gadgets are confusing in a Russian-English kitchen. You show up at a friend's house to help with party preparations, put on an apron (??????) and then either stare stupidly when she asks you to hand her the ???????, or start 15 sentences with the ridiculous phrase: ??? ????? ?????? ??? ... (I need a thingamajig for ... ). But life in a communal kitchen goes more smoothly when you know that ??????? is a colander.

Many of the words for kitchen utensils in Russian seem to be miniature versions of farm tools. A spatula or turner is ?????????, a mini ?????? (shovel or spade). ?????? or ??????? (whisk, beater) is a small ????? (broom). A cutting board is properly called ??????????? ?????, but usually just ????? or ??????? (a piece of wood). ???????? ??????? is a food processor -- a kitchen version of the multi-tasking farm combine.

Other utensil names are nouns derived from verbs: a meat pounder or potato masher (the kind that is like a pestle and the kind with holes in it) is ????????, from the verb ?????? (to pound). A steamer is ????????? -- from the words for steam (???) and boil (??????); juicer -- ?????????????, from ??? (juice) and ???????? (to squeeze).

????? is a grater, from the verb ??????. The thing that opens a bottle is ?????????? and ??????????, from the word ????????? (open). But beware: The thing that opens wine bottles is the Germanic ?????? (corkscrew or bottle opener). New kitchen gadgets often get homemade names. A garlic press is called ???????????? in one family I know, but ?????????????? in another -- both derived from ?????? (garlic) and ?????? (press).

Sometimes a new tool is described as a modification of an old one. The thing that opens cans and old-fashioned jars (both a jar and can are ????? in Russian) is ?????????? ??? ("can knife"), which refers to both the older prying and cutting type and the newer kind with a handle that turns. ??? ??? ?????? ?????? (knife for peeling vegetables) is now more commonly called ??????????? (vegetable peeler) or ??????????????? (potato peeler).

Marketing whizzes ignored the versatility of Russian word formation with modern kitchen appliances. ?????? (mixer), ?????? (toaster) and ??????? (blender) have entered the home and language, although one older friend of mine calls a blender ???????, from the word ?????? (to stir).

But this is all standard stuff. Most kitchen gadgets are weirder. After all, a good gadget is an odd thing: You lived happily without it for years, but now that you have it, you can't imagine a day without it. A prime example is the salad spinner. Now that you have one, how do you ask your Russian significant other to get it out of the cabinet? How about calling it ??????? ??? ?????? (a salad dryer)? Or pretend your messy kitchen is a sterile laboratory and call it ??????????? ?????????? (a "basket centrifuge")? Or use the same word formation principle of ????????????? and call it ???????????

Or just stick with ?????? ??? ????? ? ????? ?????? (the thingamajig for washing and drying lettuce)?

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