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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Digging Yourself Out of the May Holidays

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Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь!: Proletariat of the world, unite!

Ah, spring in Moscow. In just 24 hours the temperature soars from 5 degrees Celsius to 24 C. Muscovites spend their evenings on stepladders, pulling summer clothes out of the антресоль (under-the-ceiling storage bin); trees go from bare to bud to leaf in a real-time version of time-lapse photography; and everyone is thrilled that the майские праздники (May holidays) will be sunny and warm for once.

Or not. In the spring, what goes up often comes down. So for all we know, we'll be watching the parades in parkas.

Gone are the days when May 1 was the official celebration of the working class with its own noun Первомай (first-of-May) and adjective первомайский. Before the 1917 Revolution, the word маёвка meant an illicit rally of workers who gathered in the countryside to express worker solidarity -- supposedly with uplifting speeches, but probably with uplifted glasses. After the Revolution, маёвка referred to a parade or demonstration of workers, who carried paper flowers and banners declaring Мир! Труд! Май! (Peace! Labor! May!) or any May Day festivities.

Today, Праздник Весны и Труда (Holiday of Spring and Labor) is getting back some of its working-class attitude. Trade unions have updated their banners to read Работа! Зарплата! Достойная жизнь! (Work! Wages! A Decent Life!) If things keep going the way they are, next year we'll all be marching and shouting: Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь! Вам нечего терять, кроме своего обесцененного пенсионного фонда! (Proletariat of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your worthless retirement fund!)

Meanwhile, in good weather many Russians and expats are likely to be forced into hard labor doing spring cleanup at the dacha. If you are sentenced to this work -- or, if in a moment of spring madness, you volunteer -- it may be useful to review some of the likely lingo.

A key verb for spring gardening is копать (to dig), which gets modified by prefixes to describe nuances of action and degrees of back-breaking effort. Откопать is to dig something up, as in: Дорогой, сначала откопай кусты для пересадки (Honey, first dig up the bushes so they can be transplanted). It can also be used figuratively, as in: Дорогой, я откопала интересную книгу про садоводство (Honey, I dug up an interesting book on gardening).

Выкопать most commonly means to dig a hole, as in: Дорогой, надо выкопать яму для кустов (Honey, you need to dig a hole for the bushes).

Обкопать is to dig a hole or turn up the earth around something, as in: Дорогой, обкопай кусты и внеси удобрение (Honey, dig a trench around the bushes and put in fertilizer).

Вскопать is to dig up an area of something, usually for the first time. Дорогой, вскопай новые грядки (Honey, dig out new flower beds).

Перекопать is the verb for turning over the earth in an existing flower bed, as in: Дорогой, перекопай все грядки перед домом (Honey, turn over the soil in all the flower beds in front of the house). It can also mean to redo the digging, as in: Дорогой, перекопай грядки. Ты же половину сорняков оставил! (Honey, dig up the flower beds again. You left half the weeds!)

At this point it's time to form your own digging verb: Всё, дорогая! Я закопался. (Sweetie, that's it! I'm dug out.)

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