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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

Thursday, Oct. 30


Dental-Expo St. Petersburg 2014 concludes today at Lenexpo. Welcoming specialists from throughout the federation, the forum is an opportunity for dentists to share tricks of the trade and peruse the most recent innovations in technology and equipment, with over 100 companies hocking their wares at the event.



Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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