Word's Worth: Fancy That
Published: August 21, 2013 (Issue # 1774)
Photo: For SPT
In my ongoing effort to get a handle on all those little Russian words — you know, like òàê (so), êàê (how), ÷òî (what) and äà (yes, and) — and their confusing combinations, this week I’m stuck on âîò.
I like to say âîò. On “â” you inhale a rich dollop of “o” and then end with a gratifying click of the teeth on “ò.” What a tasty little word.
Âîò can mean “here” or “look” or “listen up.” It can be used as an intensifier, like in the phrase âîò ÷òî ÿ ñêàæó (here’s what I’ve got to say about that).
And then, because this is Russian we’re talking about, it can be combined with other little words to produce a wide variety of meanings, like âîò êàê (so that’s the way it is!) or âîò ýòî äà (that’s really something).
Or it can be uttered all by its lonesome to mean “and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.” Âîò.
In the course of my âîò research, I’ve gotten rather wistful about English. A hundred years ago, we might have translated âîò expressions with interesting phrases and regionalisms like “that’s a fine kettle of fish,” “my stars and garters” or “I declare.”
Or we might have even used the word “lo,” which is pretty close to âîò. It’s derived from a word that meant “look” and was used to express wonder and amazement.
But these days, we can’t render “âîò!” as “lo and behold.” And wonder or amazement generally gets expressed with “wow!” or an expletive in English today. Âîò è âñ¸ (That’s the way it is).
Take âîò òåáå ðàç (also âîò òå ðàç, âîò òàê ðàç). This is a phrase you exclaim when you are unpleasantly surprised by something — what used to be expressed in English by such phrases as “of all the things!” and “my heavens.”
Today it’s probably just a bleeped-out expletive. “Íàø ñàìîë¸ò âûíóæäåí ñîâåðøèòü ïîñàäêó â Ìîñêâå,” — îáúÿâèëà ñòþàðäåññà. “Âîò òå ðàç!” — âîçìóòèëñÿ ñîñåä. (“Our plane must make a landing in Moscow,” the stewardess announced. “What the hell!” my outraged neighbor said.)
Or âîò òåáå íà (also âîò òå íà), which also expresses amazement, often about some bad or unpleasant news or event. In 1920, this was “Well, I never!” Today, it’s probably “No way!” “Ïðîêóðîð âåëåë ñîñåäà àðåñòîâàòü.” “Âîò òå íà! Çà ÷òî?” (“The prosecutor ordered your neighbor’s arrest.” “You’re kidding! What on earth for?”)
And if it were 1856 — or if you were channeling Scarlet O’Hara — âîò òåáå êðåñò (also âîò òå êðåñò) would be “as God is my witness.” Now it’s likely to be the mundane “I swear!” Âîò òå êðåñò, îí ðàáîòàåò íà ìåíòîâ (I swear to you, he’s working for the cops!)
True, not all is lost. Âîò ãäå ñèäèò/ñèäÿò is what you say when you are sick of some thing(s). “Ìíå ýòîò êèîñê óæå âîò ãäå ñèäèò,” — Àííà ïðîâîäèò ïàëüöåì ïî øåå. (“I’m fed right up to here with that stand!” Anna said, running her finger across her neck.)
And âîò ïîäè æ òû (also èäè òû), used to express disbelief and amazement on hearing some news, has a pretty close English equivalent.
“Îíà âûøëà çàìóæ çà Áîðþ.” “Âîò ïîäè æ òû! Çà Áîðþ?” (“She married Borya.” “Get outta here! Borya?”)
Reply: Âîò òå êðåñò! (Honest to God!)
Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is author of “The Russian Word’s Worth” (Glas), a collection of her columns.