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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Some Short and Sweet Sounds

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??!: Wow! Whew!

Romantic-minded readers have always sighed over the scene in Chekhov's play "The Three Sisters," when the lovers Masha and Vershinin understand each other so well that they no longer need words to communicate. Vershinin sings out "????-???-???!" (Tra-la-la!); Masha replies, "???-??-??!" (La-la-la!); and both magically know they've just set up a rendezvous under the oak tree at midnight.

Even more extraordinary -- if not to say preposterous -- is the exchange between the erstwhile star-crossed lovers, Kitty and Levin in Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, when they finally find a common language (????? ????) consisting of seemingly random letters. Levin writes: ?, ?, ?, ?: ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?? which means: "????? ?? ??? ????????: ????? ?? ????? ????, ??????? ?? ???, ???????, ??? ??????" (when you answered me: it cannot be, did that mean 'never' or 'then'?) After a two-second pause, Kitty writes: ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, which means "????? ? ?? ????? ????? ????????" (then I couldn't reply otherwise). Levin instantly deciphers it, they smile, and a few pages later are happily married.

Oh, right, Leo. Like I believe it.

The only positive element in all this is the glimmer of hope that you can forget about verb forms and case endings, and converse with your Russian-speaking significant other in Morse code and nonsense syllables.

Should you choose this path, here is a small dictionary to help you interpret some of the sounds your beloved may utter in various circumstances.

??! or ??-??! This is shouted happily to mean: That's it! You've got it! Note that the more ??'s your beloved utters, the more emphatic it is. ?? ?? ?????? ?? ??????, ???? ?????? ??????????? ? ???? ?????. (We won't get to the station on time if we stop by my mother's to say good-bye). ??-??-??! ? ?? ???? ???????, ??? ??? ???????! (Exactly! I told you we didn't have time.)

????-????. The sound one makes gargling or drowning. If you hear your beloved utter this while swimming in the sea, start making the universal sign of distress to the lifeguards.

??. The sound of one's heart skipping a beat, either in horror or delight. ? ????????? ?????? ????, ??????? ? ???? ???????? ??? ??????, ??? ?????? ??: ?? ????? ????? ??? ????????. (I saw off my husband and walked over to the window to wave good-bye to him, when my heart stopped: My lover was standing in the courtyard.)

??! Said as an explosive sigh of relief or exhaustion, as when falling onto the couch after a hard day. ??! ??? ? ?????! (Whew! I'm exhausted!)

??! Can express exhausted effort, relief or stunned admiration. If uttered with a smile, this is a good sound to hear when you dress to impress: ?? ??! ??? ? ?????! (Wow! Look at you! Talk about stylish and snazzy!) If uttered after carrying 15 20-kilo bags of top soil to the garden, it means your beloved has had it. ??! ????? ??? ????! (Whew! Pour me a beer!)

Note: These days the astonished ??! is often replaced by the Russian version of Wow! (???!)

??! A multi-purpose interjection. Can express regret, relief, disapproval, exhaustion, or contemplation. Pay close attention to context, facial expression, and body language. Your significant other shakes his head and frowns: ??! ??? ? ? ????? ?????????! (Jeez! What am I going to do with you?) Your significant other stares dreamily at the stars and pours another round for the gang out at the dacha: ??, ?????? ?????! (Man, are we having a great time or what?)

Mix and match. After great effort or great discomfort, your significant other may utter a variety of grunting sounds: ??, ??, ??, ??! (Whew, ouch, yikes, argh!) The greater the number of sounds, the greater the plea for pity.

Required response: Pour a cold beer and utter a syllable of your own: ??! (Here you go.)

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