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How To Pass the New Russian Language Test

Published: May 1, 2014 (Issue # 1808)




  • Photo: Facebook.com

Ошибочка: mistake, minor or major.

I've detected a slight buzz of panic among the expat community in Russia. It seems that a Russian work visa or residence permit will only be issued to those of us who can pass a test on Russian language, culture, history, and even legislation. Кошмар! (What a nightmare!)

To help you cram (зубрить), here is a sample multiple-choice (тест) question: Что такое косяк? (What is косяк?) a) a door jamb; b) a group of birds or fish; c) something crooked; d) a mistake; e) none of the above; f) all of the above. If you guessed "f" — Садись! Пятёрка! (Sit down. You get an A). You will pass your exam with flying colors.

Косяк is a funny word. In it you hear косо (crookedly), and yet it refers to something that must be straight: Он беспомощно привалился спиной к дверному косяку (He helplessly fell against the door jamb). Or something that would seem to have nothing to do with straight or crooked: Посетители шли в театр косяком (People swarmed into the theater). Or something that is either up in the air or down in the sea: Летал над нами крикливый косяк журавлей (A noisy flock of cranes flew over us). Вышел косяк лещей и плавно двинулся в сторону берега (A school of bream appeared and smoothly swam toward the bank). And the slang usage is equally rich. Косяк might mean a joint (as in marijuana) or a face (as in ugly mug), but since none of my friends are gangsters, I can't confirm it. I can, however, testify that косяк means a goof or gaffe, because I hear, read and use it that way all the time. Ой! Забыла предупредить, что приду сегодня позже. Мой косяк (Oops! I forgot to warn you that I'd be late today. My bad).

Russian has other words for goofs. Ошибка (mistake) is the most neutral. Its diminutive, ошибочка, might mean a minor error: Никого не шокирует стилистическая ошибочка (No one is shocked by a little stylistic error). Or it might mean a great, walloping, horrible mistake that you are trying to downplay. This is a classic linguistic ploy of teenagers: Папа, ошибочка вышла. Я думал, что нажимал на тормоза, а оказывается, что нажал на газ. В дерево врезался. (Dad, I made a little boo-boo. I thought I was hitting the brakes, but it turns out I was pressing the gas pedal. I rammed a tree). Another word easily recognizable to English speakers is ляпсус (lapse). It is even more comprehensible to anyone who studied Latin in school, since it is a transliteration of lapsis and is used in much the same way — most often to describe a typo or slip in speaking or printing.

Почерк автора был неразборчивый, и некоторые ляпсусы попали в первые публикации (The handwriting of the author was illegible, so several mistakes made their way into the first publication). Ляпсус has a short-form goof, ляп, which is slangier and a bit more universal. В принципе, фильм можно было бы считать удачным, если бы не несколько ляпов (Overall, you could say the film was successful except for a few blunders).

If you prefer guns to dead languages, you might like the word промах (miss, slip-up) to describe your goofs. Забыл купить подарки и кинулся исправлять свой промах (I forgot to buy gifts, so I rushed to fix my blunder). And if you come empty-handed, just say: Мой косяк.

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

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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