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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, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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