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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fine-Tuning Your Russian and Your Car

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?????????: to break down, conk out, die

Whenever something goes wrong with my car, my mechanic yells at me: ?? ?? ?????????? ?? ???????! (You don't maintain your car properly!) I do try to take care of it. It's just that things always break the week before my scheduled tune-up.

If you want to avoid this, you should regularly ask for ??????????? ?????? (technical inspection). This is also the term used for the legally required annual or biannual auto inspection. You might tell your mechanic: ??????????, ??????????, ????? ? ????????? ??? ???????. (Check the oil and add or change it if necessary.) Or you might want all the fluids checked: ?????????? ??? ????????. (Check all the auto fluids.) These ???????? include ????????? (brake fluid), ??????????? (coolant), ????????? (windshield washer fluid) and what is commonly called ???????? ????????? (transmission fluid).

If you go off to buy coolant yourself, the salesperson will ask you: ????? ??? ????????? (Tosol or anti-freeze?) ????? is the brand name of a kind of coolant used mostly with Russian cars; ???????? is either the generic word for any coolant or (more commonly) a different kind of coolant used mainly in foreign cars. Take it from me -- you really don't want to use the wrong coolant.

The tune-up is obviously the right time to discuss any problems (?????????????) with your car. To do this, you might pull out your ??????????? ?? ???????????? ?????????? (owner's manual) and learn the names of car parts. And then you will discover that there is the "right" name for something, and there is the name used by every Russian-speaking mechanic on the planet. The lights that come on to indicate low levels of fluids are properly called ?????????????; they are universally called simply ????????. Long words get cut down to size: ????????? (engine) is often ??????, and ????????? (muffler) can be the jaunty ??????. In the manual, the choke is called ???????? ????????? ????????? ???????? ??????????? (literally, the "knob to open the air vent to the carburetor"). But the first time I proudly rattled this off, I was treated to the sight of my mechanic rolling on the ground with laughter. In colloquial Russian, it's called ??????, as in the phrase: ? ?????? ??????, ? ?????? ??? ????? ?? ????????? (I pulled out the choke, but the car still won't start).

In my long experience as a Russian car owner, the most useful verb to know is ?????????. From the word ??????? (junk), the verb used to mean "to speak nonsense," but now more commonly it means "to work badly" or "work on and off." This is the handy-dandy verb you use when the car is acting up -- when something isn't working quite right, but nothing is totally wrong. ??????? ???????? -- ?? ? ???-??????? ?????????, ?? ?????? ?? ?????????. (The starter is on the blink. Either it starts as soon as you turn the key -- literally, "at a half turn of the key" -- or it won't start at all.)

Your mechanic, on the other hand, will regret that you learned this handy word, since this kind of almost-problem is the dickens to find. Like a doctor trying to narrow down the symptoms to make a diagnosis, he'll ask you a series of questions. ??????? (Does it knock?) ?????????? (Does the car jerk or shake?) ????? ??????? (Does it pull to the right?)

Sometimes after a day of poking around, he'll tell you: ?????? ????????????? ?? ?????. (I didn't find anything seriously wrong; literally, "anything criminal.") And he'll tell you: ????????. (Let's wait.) Unfortunately, what you'll be waiting for is another slangy verb that car owners need to know: ?????????. This word is used to describe some critical car part that has broken completely. ??????? ????????. (Your starter is dead.)

And then you reply with one simple word --???????? (How much?)

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