Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Some Handy Ammunition

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

?????: cheat sheet, sensation, babe, bomb...

It seems like every time you open the newspapers these days you read about bombs going off. Depending on the tone of the periodical, you might read: ???????? ?????????? ????????? ??????? ? ????. (The explosive device went off in the evening in the cafe). Or you might read a more informal description: ????? ?????????? ? ???? ???????. (The bomb exploded in the train station.)

But in Russian, as in English, bombs are used figuratively too. Global warming articles are filled with figurative bombs: ??? ??????? ????? "????????????? ?????." (We can expect the climatic bomb to explode.)

There are also lots of bombs going off in politics. ???????????? ????? (political bombs) are sensations that change the status quo for better or for worse. ???? "??????" ????? ????????? ?????????? ??????, ??? ?????? ?? ???????????? ???????? ???????? ?? ??? ????????, ??????? ?? ????????????. (President Putin's announcement that Russia won't ratify the Kyoto conventions on the given terms was a real sensation.)

Another frequently encountered figurative bomb is ????? ???????????? ???????? (a time bomb, literally "a bomb of delayed action"). ?????????????? ???????? ??????? ????????? ????? ??? ????????? ?????? ???????????? ????????. (The long-term side effects of the drug were like a time bomb for the patients.)

Bombs get tricky in culture, where in English it is not good for something to bomb, in Russian it can be very good indeed. ??? ????? ?????? ??????? ????? ??????, ??????? ??????? ???-??????. (His new album promises to be a sensation that will change pop music.)

In these cases translators may be able to flip the bombs, as it were. One film critic had a list of ????? ???? (literally, the bomb of the year) followed by ???? ???? (literally, the fizzle of the year). In English we'd reverse it and call the categories "the year's best" and "the year's bombs."

People can be ?????, too. Most of the time these bombs are women and the speakers are men. These explosive women are tricky. ??? ???? -- ????? can mean "his wife is a real fatty" or "his wife is a real knock out." Older folks use the former more than younger folks. My youthful informants tell me that ??? -- ????? can refer to a woman who is striking in any way, positive or negative: She might be a real handful, really sexy or really beautiful. When in doubt, clarify. Asking ? ????? ??????? (in what sense?) will prepare you for a pistol, a porker or a pin-up.

In the last instance, the answer to your question may be a calque from the English: ??? -- ????-?????. (She's a sex bomb.)

In schools, ????? or ???????? are also cheat sheets: pages of test answers that get pulled out of pockets and body cavities during exams.

And then there's the verb ??????? (to bomb). In slang, this can mean earning money by working as a gypsy cab driver. ???? ?? ?????? ? ?????????, ? ??????? ?? ?????? ?? ??????. (During the day he studied at the institute, and in the evenings he drove around town in a gypsy cab.)

About 10 years ago you could hear ??????? as slang for ripping someone off: ?? ?????? ?????? ??????? ????????? ? ???. (At the markets the guys ripped off the southern traders.) But this slang seems to have faded from usage, at least among the under-30 set in Moscow. ??????? ????? (to work in a foreign company) also seems to be the linguistic equivalent of the Edsel, but you may still find it in the literature and periodicals of the 1990s.

??????? can also mean "to flood someone with something." ??? ?????? ??? ??? ???????, ?? ???? ??????? ?? ????????. (As soon as she dumped him, he started to call her day and night.)

Now if the world could just stick to sex-bombs and love bombs ...

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