What Drives All Those Engines and Motors
Published: October 9, 2013 (Issue # 1781)
Photo: For SPT
Ìîòîðêà: motorboat; boat with outboard motor
Back from a short vacation and looking through the mailbag: Let’s see. … “Is there a word to describe the colder-than-usual fall weather in St. Petersburg?” Yes, dear reader, there are actually many words to describe the weather. Unfortunately, The St. Petersburg Times is a family newspaper, and I can’t share them with you.
Moving right along … There are a lot of letters about my column on President Vladimir Putin’s letter in The New York Times. Most of them make the same point. Take this one from — can’t make it out — looks like Peskov? Or is that Surkov? Anyway, it reads Ðóññêàÿ âåðñèÿ ïèñüìà áûëà äëÿ âíóòðåííåãî ïîòðåáëåíèÿ — âû æå ïîíèìàåòå (The Russian version of the letter was for domestic consumption — you understand, of course).
You know Mr. Peskov, or Surkov or whoever you are, for over a decade people have been telling me that the wildly anti-American propaganda spouted on the Russian news 24/7 is “just for domestic consumption” — just a bit of a show for the hoi polloi who like their leaders to talk tough. Distasteful, of course, but we’re all adults. It’s all just part of the political game.
But that show for “domestic consumption” reaches 130 million people and it’s been extremely effective. I don’t feel very understanding anymore.
Sorry. I had to get that off my chest.
Let’s see what other questions are in the mailbag. Here’s one: “What’s the difference between äâèãàòåëü (engine) and ìîòîð (motor)?”
They are synonyms, of course, but there is a slight, um, well, difference in usage … right? I turn to my Russian-speaking friend. “Íó, äà. Ñèíîíèìû. À ðàçíèöà â … ãì … íó … “ (Well, sure. They are synonyms. And then there’s a difference in … hm … well …)
Actually, if either one of us knew anything about mechanics, this would be easy. It turns out that in this case, Russian and English are in perfect harmony. An engine — äâèãàòåëü — is any machine that turns some form of energy into motion or force. A motor — ìîòîð — is a specific kind of engine that uses internal combustion or electricity, although that distinction is not always respected in casual usage. But the thing that lifts your jet is äâèãàòåëü (engine), and the thing that moves your car is either äâèãàòåëü or ìîòîð (motor).
Ìîòîð can also be a slang word for a car. Ñåé÷àñ ìû ñ òîáîé âîçüì¸ì ìîòîð, ïîêàòàåìñÿ, è ïîéä¸ì â ðåñòîðàí (Now let’s get a car, drive around and go to a restaurant).
Ìîòîð÷èê (motor) is any little motor or motorized thingamajig. Îí íàæàë íà êëàâèøó âåíòèëÿòîðà, è ìîòîð÷èê çàïåë ñâîþ æàëîáíóþ ïåñíþ (He pressed the button to turn on the fan, and the motor sang its sad little song).
But ìîòîðêà is a little motorboat, the kind of putt-putt you use for good-weather boating: Îòåö êàòàåò íàñ äåòåé íà ìîòîðêå ïî Âîëãå ñ äâóõëåòíåãî âîçðàñòà. (My father has been taking us kids out in the motorboat on the Volga since we were two years old).
Ìîòîð can also be slang for a person’s heart: Ìîòîð øàëèò (My heart is acting up). And it’s an important word on the movie set: Òàê ... íà÷àëè … ìîòîð! Õëîïíóëà õëîïóøêà. (All right … camera … action! The film slate clapped shut.)
So ìîòîð is versatile, but only äâèãàòåëü can move things figuratively. Ðåêëàìà — äâèãàòåëü òîðãîâëè (Advertising is the engine of trade).
Now if we could all just find a kinder engine of human progress.
Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is the author of “The Russian Word’s Worth” (Glas), a collection of her columns.