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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Double Vision

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??????? ????????: double standard

Are translators natural-born obsessives who were drawn to the field because it provided boundless scope for our nitpicking, or did we start out as normal people whom translation turned into nitpickers and obsessives? When we get a hold of some word or group of words, we're like terriers with a bone. We just won't leave it alone until it has been licked clean, pulverized into bone meal, and used to fertilize the garden.

Which is to say that I'm still stuck in the terrible twos. Or rather all the doubles and duals that are conveyed by ???????, ???????????? and ???????.

Of the three, ??????? is the most straightforward. As an adjective or adverb (??????), it refers to anything that is dual or ambivalent: ????? ????? ??????????? ??????. (The film could be interpreted in two ways.)

???????????? refers to something that has two aspects, usually contradictory. You can talk about your ???????????? ??????? (mixed; literally "dual" feelings), or a country's ???????????? ???????? (two-faced policy), or someone's ???????????? ???????? (dual nature). Often the duality is unsavory or uncomfortable. This is not surprising, considering that "????? ?? ???????!" (You're just a regular guy; literally, "so simple") in Russian is still one of the greatest compliments. Duality in human beings is complicated and complexity is usually not good in the Russian language.

And finally there's ???????, which has quadruple meanings. It can mean twice as much of something: ??????? ????? ??????? ???????? -- ???? ? ?? ??????. (Women bear a double burden -- at home and at work.) Or it can mean "having two parts": ?????? ??????? ???? ????? ??????? ??? ???????. (You can hear the sound of construction through the double-framed windows.)

Sometimes these concepts are expressed differently in English. ??????? ??????? is a hyphenated or double-barreled last name. ??????? ??? is what we call a "false bottom": what bad guys hide drugs under in a suitcase -- not what people use to plump up their behinds. This is often used figuratively to mean someone untrustworthy: ??????? ? ??????? ???? is someone who is two-faced or hiding his true nature.

??????? can also refer to something that has two parts or comes in twos, like ??????? ??????????? (dual citizenship), ??????? ????? (a double meaning) or ??????? ?????? (a dual task).

There are a number of phrases where duality is sinister. ? ??? ?? ???????. ?? ?????? ????? ??????? ????. (I don't trust him. He's always playing a double game.)

The apotheosis of evil duality is ??????? ???????? (double standard), especially in the world of politics. If I were Queen of the Universe, instead of just a nitpicking translator, I'd ban this tiresome phrase from all political discourse. ??????? ???????? is just human nature. A nagging wife observes the couple next door and says: ?????? ??? ?? ???? ??? ????????? ???? ?????? ???? ??????. (Why is she on his case? A wife should be gentle). A statesman whose country is supporting three breakaway territories while vociferously objecting to the independence of a fourth would say: ??? ????? ???????? ???????? ????????? -- ??? ?? ???????????? ????????????? ??? ????! (They have double standards -- they don't support independence for everyone!)

??, ??. (Well, of course.) They're human beings. That's what they do. That's what you do. That's what we all do.

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