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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It's One Great Pancake

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????: a pancake; an expletive; a symbol of health, warmth, well-being and rebirth

?????! I like everything about bliny, the traditional Russian pancakes that are eaten during the week of ????????? (the week of before Lent, called Butter or Pancake Week). I like making them, eating them and making other people eat them by the dozen. In or out of the kitchen, ???? is the key word in some of my favorite folk expressions. And, to top it all off, ???? is my expletive of choice during times of great stress, anger or frustration. All in all, it's one great little pancake.

???? is a cradle-to-grave pancake. For the record -- a terrible bilingual pun, since the round and flat ???? was once a slang term for a record album -- ????? were ritually served to women right after birth, eaten at weddings, and are traditionally consumed at graveside immediately after a funeral. In Siberia, two days after the wedding night the bride was traditionally served a ???? with a hole in it, through which wine was poured. This rather obvious symbolic act was called ???? ?????????? (to cut a hole through a pancake).

Poets and anthropologists speculate that ???? is symbolic of the sun and rebirth. One poet wrote: ???? -- ?????? ??????, ??????? ????, ??????? ???????, ?????? ?????? ? ???????? ?????. (Bliny are the symbol of the sun, beautiful days, good harvests, happy marriages and healthy children.)

Today ???? appears metaphorically in the political arena, usually in the expression ?????? ???? ?????. This literally means "the first pancake was all balled up," but figuratively expresses the philosophical acceptance that things rarely go well right from the start. At a recent meeting of G8 finance ministers, Russia's representative summed up the results: "??? ?????? ????, ???????, ???????? ?? ?????????, ?? ????? ?????, ? ???? ?????????, ?????? ?????????? ??????." (Contrary to the folk saying, this first pancake of a meeting didn't come out messy -- it was a truly nicely fried pancake.) In other words: Wow -- we didn't expect it to go this well!

Other handy ???? expressions refer to the speed and ease with which a cook prepares them. ?? ??????? ???????? ?????????? ??????! ?? ??? ??, ??? ?????. (He wrote an astonishing number of poems -- he churned them out like hotcakes.) ?????? ????? -- ??? ?? ???? ??????! (Writing poems is not like flipping a batch of pancakes!)

If you want to describe someone's fawning behavior, you can say, ?????? ???????? ? ??? ?????! (literally "he's slipping into your mouth like a buttered pancake"). Or if someone rushes over to tell you the latest gossip, which is already old news, you can say: ??? ?? ????, ?? ????????! (literally "it's the same old pancake, only buttered"). This can sometimes mean "the same old thing in a new form." ??, ????? ??? ?????. ??? ?? ????, ?? ????????! (Yes, I've read his poetry. It's old hat.)

????? also lend themselves to metaphorical usage. In the criminal world ????? are counterfeit bills; in the computer world ????? can mean CD discs, although this expression is rather dated.

Best of all, ???? is a good word to use when you want to say something quite obscene (that starts with the same two letters), but are too well-bred to do so. ????! ? ?????? ?????! (Darn! I forgot my keys!) Or you can use it as a general intensifier and stick in a sentence as many times as you want. ??, ????, ?????, ??? ??, ????, ???????! (Did you bloody get what he bloody said?!)

When you are particularly frustrated or furious, you can stretch out the word until it sounds something like ????????????! I have yet to do research on this, but it seems that the length of the word correlates with the level of ire.

So you see: a pancake is a pancake, except when it's a ????.

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