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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sorting It All Out

???????????: to sort out, handle, be competent, make sense of, judge

In my mental list of "Russian words I wish we had in English," ????????? and ??????????? would be in the top 10. It's not that the words are complicated or untranslatable. It's just that they cover such a nice range of meanings concisely and compactly.

The basic meaning of the verb pair ?????????/????????? is to take something apart: ?? ????????? ??????, ?? ???????? ?? ?????. (We took apart the engine, but we didn't find the problem.) Or: ??? ????? ????????? ???. (They started to take down the house.) But with a bit of linguistic alchemy, you get: ? ???????? ?? ??? ????????? ??? ????? ? ????? ???????. (All the Harry Potter books were sold out in an hour; literally, "taken off in various directions.")

In the figurative sense, the verb pair means to examine thoroughly or to understand. ? ?? ???? ????????? ??? ??????. (I can't make out his handwriting.)

This sense of thorough study is reversed in the negative phrase ?? ????????, which is used with a verb to indicate some kind of indiscriminate action. ?? ??????? ???-?? ??? ?, ?? ????????, ??? ????, ? ??? ????, ????? ???????? ?????. (He grabbed someone's sword and began to swing it without distinguishing between friend and foe.) ? ?????????? ? ????????, ?? ???????? ??????. (I got scared and ran off without looking where I was going.)

Sometimes this process of being taken apart can be applied to people. ??? ????????? ?? ?????????? ???? ?????? ????????? ???????????! (What happened at the staff meeting? I'm just burning with curiosity; literally, "curiosity is tearing me apart.")

The reflexive verb pair ???????????/????-??????? is most commonly used to mean making sense of something or sorting something out. For example, when you are trying to figure out the mess in bookkeeping, your boss can walk in and ask, ???????????? (Have your sorted it all out?) When you give a one-word retort -- ??????? (Are you kidding?) -- your boss might use this as an occasion to show you his superior abilities. "???? ????????! ? ??? ?????????! (Leave it! I'll handle it myself!) But when you point out that the bookkeeping mess is the fault of the chief accountant, whose personal and professional qualities leave something to be desired (????????? ?????? ???????), he might say: ? ? ??? ??? ?????????! (I'll be the judge of that!)

??????????? can also be used to refer to a level of competence or understanding. When the boss implies that you should make sense of the cooked books, you can say: ? ?? ????????? ? ? ???? ???????? ?? ??????????. (I'm not a bookkeeper and I don't know anything about this stuff.) And then add: -- ???? ?????????? ???????????, ????? ???????? ??????????. (You have to get to the bottom of this; we can't go on working like this.)

One of the nouns from this verb, ????????, can mean the literal taking apart of something, such as ???????? ????? (dismantling of cars). But today you often come across the word with the adjective ???????????? (commercial) or ???????????? (criminal). Here "getting to the bottom" of an issue usually involves broken knee caps or exploding cars. Depending on the level and nature of the violence, you might say the bad guys were having a turf war or a shootout. --?????????? ????????? ?????? ???????????? ??? ???????????? ????????. (The detectives rule out a commercial or criminal turf war.)

To figure out exactly what happened and who was to blame, the good guys will open a ???????????????, a dense word that is usually translated as "investigation," but has the sense of getting all the answers. If the good guys are lucky, their investigation will lead to ???????? ??????????????? (court hearing).

And then everything will have been taken apart, examined, handled, sorted out, understood and judged.

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