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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Apple for Every Occasion

?????? ???????: the apple of discord, a bone of contention

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It's autumn in Moscow and I've got apples on the brain. The apple harvest was enormous this year, and everywhere I go, people give me apples. I've got apples in the refrigerator, apples on the table, and apples on the porch. I've made applesauce, apple pie and baked apples. I've eaten so many apples a day doctors will stay away from me for the next year. ??????! (Enough already!)

People seem to associate the word apple, or ??????, with one kind of apple that they grew up eating, and that one sort was imprinted on the brain as the quintessence of apple. For me, an apple is a Macintosh, and nothing else is quite the same (although for Mac lovers, the sort in Russia called ????? ?????????? -- Glory to the Victor -- is pretty close). For Russians, it's the tart ?????????. One emigre blogger in the United States asks plaintively, ?????? ?? ????????? ? ??????? ???? (Why aren't there antonovka apples in America?)

?????? in Russian is not only a fruit, it is also anything relatively small and round. ??????? ?????? (literally, "eye apple") is what we call the eyeball. ????????? ?????? (literally, "apple of rule") is not the emperor's favorite snack, but it is the globe he holds along with the scepter. ?????? ?? ????? is the globe at the top of a flag pole or other spire. ?????? ?????? (literally, "apple of the target") is a bull's eye. This can be used literally or figuratively: ?? ??????? ?? ?????? ? ????? ? ????? ???????. (He gave her a ring that was the perfect present.)

There are other kinds of non-apple apples. ??????? ?????? is Adam's apple, the slight protuberance in a man's neck. Legend has it that Adam choked on a piece of the apple Eve gave him and that piece of apple is still stuck there. And then there is ???????? ?????? (ground apple), also called ??????? (the devil's) or ????????? (Sodom's). This is what Russians once called one of their national foods -- the potato. Apparently, when it was brought from South America to Europe and then to Russia, Slavs were sickened by eating it raw and cursed it as a devilish and heathen food.

The apple has made its way into a number of Russian expressions. The most common is ??????? ?? ?????? ???????? ?????? (literally, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," which can be translated as "like father, like son," or "like mother, like daughter.") This is the sort of annoying expression you come out with when your best friend is astonished to discover that her husband, son of a hard-drinking louse, turns out to be a hard-drinking louse himself. Less common is the expression ????? ?? ????? ?? ?????? (literally, "apples don't grow on pine trees.") This is not a description of a pineapple, but rather an assertion that something is impossible.

When you and several hundred or thousand other people are packed like sardines in some place, you can say ?????? ????? ?????? (literally, "an apple has no place to fall.") ???? ????? ?????, ??? ?????? ????? ??????. (It was so crowded that I could hardly breathe.)

In politics -- workplace, gender, and state -- you often hear about ?????? ??????? (the apple of discord). This is the golden apple Paris presented to Aphrodite when asked to choose the most beautiful goddess. Aphrodite promised him the love of the beautiful Helen and got the apple; Paris got the girl. In Russian, the expression is used to describe any disagreement that cannot be resolved. ??????? ???????????? ? ?????? ???????. (The Artic is becoming a point of contention.)

This is very bad news indeed. After all, the apple of discord eventually led to the Trojan War.

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