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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

Wednesday, Nov. 26


AmCham’s Public Relations Committee will meet this afternoon in their office in the New St. Isaac’s Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha at 4 p.m.


Zoosphere, an international exhibition focusing on the pet industry, opens today at the Lenexpo convention center on Vasilievsky Island. Not only will items such as toys, terrariums and accessories be available for purchase, but animal enthusiasts can also learn about the latest in veterinary medicine and behavioral training thanks to the conferences and presentations that are part of the event.



Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg’s showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the team’s website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literature’s most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The tragic tenor’s work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russia’s greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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