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The Here, Now and Never

Published: February 26, 2014 (Issue # 1799)


Сейчас: now, just, soon, never

Way back in Russian 101, I was enchanted by the words теперь (now) and сейчас (now). How clever of Russians, I thought, to clarify so simply the distinction between right-this-moment now (сейчас) and nowadays-at-present now (теперь).

But теперь — or should that be сейчас? — I’ve come to realize that these seemingly simple words have several meanings. They can refer to the past, present and future and have a new now-word friend. They are still enchanting but not so simple. Теперь is the nowadays now: Теперь все квартиры должны иметь счётчики воды (Currently, all apartments must have water meters). It’s often used in then-and-now expressions: Раньше я очень любила кататься на аттракционах, а теперь боюсь (In the past, I loved to go on rides, but now I’m afraid).

But it’s also used as a transition word to indicate a change of topic or task and might be translated as “next.” You often hear this in the lecture hall: Мы решили первую задачу и теперь перейдём к второй (Now that we’ve solved the first problem, let’s move on to the second). But you can also hear it around the house: Теперь добавляем немного муки и хорошо смешиваем (Next we add a little flour and mix it thoroughly).

Сейчас is the right-this-moment now: Я сейчас занята — перезвони мне через час (I’m busy right now — call me back in an hour). But сейчас time travels. It can refer to the future in the sense of “very soon.” Я сейчас приду! (I’ll be there in just a sec). Or it can refer to an action that just took place in the past. Он только сейчас вышел (He just stepped out).

In parental arguments with teenagers, сейчас means either “right this instant” or “sometime next year”:

Mom: Убери комнату! (Clean your room!)

Teenager: Сейчас! (I’m on it, meaning “I’ll get to it after I finish up on Facebook, try on my new jeans, eat dinner, walk the dog and spend three hours on the phone with my best friend.”)

Mom: Сейчас же! (Now! I mean it!)

And sometimes сейчас leaves the temporal dimension and enters the spatial realm to mean “right next to”: За домом сейчас же начинается лес (The forest begins right behind the house).

And then there’s a new now word — щас. Okay, it’s not a new word but a transcription of the way сейчас is pronounced. For now it seems to have the same meaning of сейчас. О чём ты думаешь прямо щас (pronounced прямщас)? (What are you thinking about right now?)

Ты идёшь? (“Are you coming?”)

Щас (“In a sec”)

I often get щас as a one-word e-mail reply after sending in work. It means: “Got it, give me a second to look it over.”

My favorite slangy use of щас (or сейчас) is delivered dead-pan and means: Not now, not ever. Say you are listening to your teenage daughter complain she has nothing to wear to a party on the weekend. Her solution? Дай мне кредитку, и я поеду куплю новое платье (Give me your credit card and I’ll go and buy a new dress). Your sarcastic response: Щас (When pigs fly).

Your solution? Теперь давай посмотрим твой гардероб (Now let’s take a look at your clothes). Her response: Щас. (In a minute.)

Translation from teenagerese: Like that’s going to happen. I’ll borrow something from my friend instead. A satisfying щас.

Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is the author of ‘The Russian Word’s Worth’ (Glas), a collection of her columns.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Jan. 29



Attend a master class on how to deal with complicated business negotiations today at the International Banking Institute, 6 Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. Running from 3 to 6 p.m., Vadim Sokolov, an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, will introduce aspects of managing the negotiation process and increasing its effectiveness. Attendance is free with pre-registration by telephone on 909 3056 or online at www.ibispb.ru



Celebrate what would be writer Anton Chekhov's 155th birthday at the Bokvoed bookshop at 46 Nevsky Prospekt. Starting at 5 p.m., the legendary author will be feted with readings of his stories and short performances based on his plays by various St. Petersburg actors. Chekhov's books will also be offered at a 15% discount during the event.



Friday, Jan. 30



The Lermontov Central Library, 19 Liteyny Prospekt, will screen 'Almost Famous’ in English with Russian subtitles at 6:30 p.m. Cameron Crowe's Academy Award-winning comedy from 2000 stars Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, and tells the story of a budding music journalist at Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s. Admission is free.



Meet renowned Russian poet, journalist and writer Dmitry Bykov, famous for his biographies of Boris Pasternak, Bulat Okudzhava and Maxim Gorky, and winner of 2006 National Bestseller Award. Bykov will read old and new poems as well as answer questions about his works at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Main Hall, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at 1,000 rubles and are available at city ticket offices and the from the Philharmonic website www.philharmonia.spb.ru.



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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