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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bursting With Pride

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Гордыня: Pride

In the list of семь смертных грехов (the seven deadly sins), everyone knows that гордыня (pride) is the worst. It's what brought Lucifer tumbling down from the heavens and turned him into ruler of the netherworld. And here on Earth, it's what nearly kept Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy from making the match of their lives.

In Russian culture, where смирение (humility) is the prime virtue, it is no wonder that its opposite -- pride -- is the prime vice. There are two kinds of pride in Russian -- гордыня and гордость -- which partially overlap in meaning. Гордыня is Pride with a capital P. Someone who suffers from гордыня believes that he is special in some way -- either better or worse than everyone else. For example, when a writer puffed up with his own brilliance complains about a bad review of his latest novel, his impatient friends might upbraid him: Это всё твоя гордыня! In English, we'd tend to accent the affront to his pride and say: Your pride is wounded!

At the other end of the pride spectrum, you might refer to гордыня бедняка (the pride of a poor person). This is when someone wears his poverty like a hair shirt and medal, expecting either special treatment or special approbation.

Pride is insidious. When you look at a Russian list of signs of гордыня, it's a bit like looking at a checklist of your daily habits. Славы, чести и похвалы всяким образом искать (Looking in every way for fame, honor and praise). Check. Дела выше сил своих начинать (Taking on work that is above your powers). Check. Себя без стыда возвышать (Shamelessly promoting yourself). Check. Других презирать (Putting others down). Check.

Time for a tea break with a large slice of humble pie.

Гордость can be equally bad. One of the meanings is having a high opinion of oneself, an excessive and unwarranted sense of superiority. Sometimes it's forgivable: Не обращай на него внимания. Это лишь гордость юнца. (Don't pay any attention to him. It's just the arrogance of youth, literally "the pride of a young person.") But sometimes it's barely tolerable: Его гордость не знает границ! (His pride knows no limits!) And if your girl friend describes a man she met at a party as весь гордый такой (literally, "entirely so proud"), you might flash back to the high school football star strutting around the gym like a peacock. In Jane Austen's day, this was called being "proud." In my day, we called it being "stuck up," as in: Он гордый, не стал с нами обедать (He's so stuck up he wouldn't have lunch with us).

Fortunately, there are less obnoxious forms of pride. You can take pleasure in achievement without risking your soul, although if you wish to be very polite in Russian, it's good to qualify your crowing. Вчера я вымыла всю кухню. Честно говоря, горжусь с собой. (Yesterday I washed down the whole kitchen. To be honest, I'm proud of myself.) And, of course, it's just fine to be proud of someone else. Я горжусь нашей страной и нашими людьми (I'm proud of our country and people). Я впервые за долгое время почувствовал гордость за страну, в которой живу (For the first time in a long time, I felt pride in the country I live in).

And in Russian, like in English, гордость can be the thing you are proud of: Новый памятник -- гордость нашего города (The new monument is the pride of our city).

But keep in mind: Водяной пузырь недолго стоит. Не надувайся, лопнешь. (A bubble on the water doesn't last for long. Don't get puffed up -- you'll pop.)

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