July 01, 1996

Excuse My English!

Excuse My English!

Not all anglicisms in Russian are “false friends” (see page 54). For instance, when you hear your Russian friend say he’s just eaten a гамбургер (hamburger), there’s no linguistic trap – he does mean a piece of ground beef with that distinctively dull, rubbery taste. (Inventive Russian journalists and literary critics have recently created a hybrid borrowing – ловбургер, “love-burger” –blending the notion of hamburger tediousness with cheap, romantic fiction translated from English.)

Indeed, the list of borrowed Russian words you need not suspect of being false friends of interpreters is lengthy: такси, метро, бар, аэропорт, видео, шоу, etc. Take them for granted and thank modern civilization for sparing you the trouble to learn them. Oh, and don’t forget to give thanks for the fall of the USSR. With the arrival of a market economy and a new political era, the list of borrowed words has enlarged considerably.

For instance, even communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, in spite of his paranoic hatred for things foreign, talks about Yeltsin’s tarnished имидж and works on improving his own. His colleagues from the former Soviet Communist Party didn’t care much about their имидж, or рейтинг for that matter – they were always “elected.” They could never be impeached either, only “removed” by death or some secret пленум. Today even children know the word импичмент, borrowed from U.S. democracy and often brandished so threateningly by the communist faction in the Duma against Yeltsin.

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