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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talking About the Age of Obsolescence

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??????? ?????????????? ????????: a woman of a certain (or uncertain) age

??????????? ???????? -- ???? ??????? (technical progress is a great thing). But there is one problem: It's going so fast it makes me feel old. Way back when -- that is, about 20 years ago -- you had a decade or so to enjoy your VHS tapes before DVDs took over, and your computer broke before you needed to upgrade it. Now, all of this happens in the blink of an eye, and before you've even worked the bugs out of that snazzy printer you bought, your computer guy tells you sadly: ??? ??????? ???????? ??????? (Your printer is obsolete).

Cruel, cruel world.

The basic verb for getting old in Russian is ???????, but you need to pay attention to prefixes. ??????????/???????? is the verb pair you use for an inanimate object that is becoming obsolete. But ???????? can also be used to describe anything that is out of date: ? ??? ?????????? ??????????. ???? ????? ??? ????? ?????? ?? ??????????. (Your information is out of date. Our company hasn't been involved in production for years.)

For human beings, you can use the unadorned ???????: ?? ??????? (He's getting on in years.) After you see someone for the first time in several years, you might exclaim: ??? ?? ????????! (He's really aged.) You might also use the verb ???????????: ?? ??? ????? ??????? ???? ?? ?????? ??????????. (He aged tremendously in the year after his wife died.)

If someone has gotten so old or decrepit he seems to have lost the will to live, you could use the verb ?????: ????? ???????? ?? ??????? ????. (After the tragedy he just seemed to fall apart.)

In Russian you can politely refer to an older person as ???????: ??????? ????? ?????? ????????? ? ????? ???????? ?????. (It's hard for elderly people to adapt to the new living conditions.) ?????? is plain old "old." ???? ???????? ???????! ?? ?? ?????? ???????! (You have to help your grandfather. He's an old man.) You often hear old people referred to as ??????/???????? (old man) and ???????/???????? (old woman), but these can also be terms of affection for your much younger peers: ??????, ??????, ????? ?????? ? ??????. (Come on old man, let's go to the bathhouse.)

On those dark days when you are feeling your age or older, your Russian friends -- kind, loyal, devoted and cheerful liars that they are -- will protest: ?? -- ??????? ?? ?? ?? ????? ???! You -- old? You're still in the bloom of youth!) Or: ?? ? ???????? ???! (You're at the peak of your powers!) Or the delightful: ?? ? ????? ????! (You're in your prime, literally "you're right in the juice").

These middle-aged folks can be neutrally called ???? ??????? ???. Middle-aged women are sometimes called ??????? ?????????????? ???????? (literally "women of a Balzacian age"). This refers to the age of the older women Balzac wrote about fondly.

A less fond designation is ??????? ?? ?????? ????????? (women past their first youth). A most un-fond designation is the jocular ??????? ?? ?????? ???????? (literally "women past their first freshness"). This comes from the Soviet designation of ???????? ?????? ???????? ("food in the second category of freshness") and unfortunately might be translated as "women past their sell-by date."

So what is this euphemistic "certain age?" Here it gets tricky. Russian blogs insist that Balzac's women "of a certain age" were 25 to 30, but when I conducted an informal poll of Russians to find out what ????????????? ??????? meant to them, I got a range of 35 to 45.

But one blogger begs to disagree. He clarifies the question this way: ????? ?? ?????? ?????????, ??? ??? ???????? ? ?????... (Women past their first youth -- going on 30 and older ...)

A 28-year-old woman -- past her first youth? Cruel, cruel world.

Michele Berdy is a Moscow-based interpreter and translator.