LANGUAGE CRAZINESS.

Reddit has a thread started off by this post:

I am a student studying ancient greek and am consistently blown away by its difficulty and triviality. The construction I mentioned in the title is the word ὡς (pronounced os) plus a participle. Please, kind redditors, comfort me and show me that there is a more arbitrary and capricious rule or language. Thanks so much… :)

This, of course, is very silly—what’s so difficult, trivial, or capricious about ὡς or any other linguistic phenomenon? (of course, I suppose the emoticon at the end is supposed to convey “I know it’s silly, I’m just being funny, so don’t take it seriously and mock me”)—but there are a few nuggets of interest among the drearily predictable complaints about cases, tones, and the like; I particularly liked “Of all languages, Russian has probably the most developed cussing. You simply have no idea how strong and elaborate Russian cursing could get until you’ve spent some serious time in Russia. Say тримандоблядская пиздопроебина (tri-man-da-blia-tska-ya piz-da-pra-yo-bi-na) a dozen times.”
What drew the attention of Avva (from whom I got the link), however, was this subthread, in which “maloney7″ says: “The Russian word for ‘stop’ has 7 syllables – ‘ost-an-av-le-va-yet-yes’ – which always made me laugh it’s so impractical.” The first respondent, “lampochka,” says, quite correctly, “It’s not ‘the’ Russian word for ‘stop’, it’s the longest you can deliberately drag it out. Ostanavlivaytes’ is a way to tell several people to stop several times or to be in the habit of of stopping. Even so, it has 6 syllables, not 7.” Another commenter points out that the seven-syllable version is indicative (‘you (plural) are stopping’), and lampochka adds that “there is a convenient monosyllabic bark, stoy.” Throughout all this, maloney7, while admitting the truth of what the others are saying, refuses to let go of the misguided attitude: “it just seemed odd that a word often used in emergencies was so long. And yes, you can say it shorter, but you get my drift.” No, not really, unless your drift is equally willing to make fun of English because you can say “Will all of you please be stopping, please?” Which is probably used in emergencies about as often as останавливаетесь.

Comments

  1. Every other Russian crossroads has a sign which reads: СТОП (Stop), not ostanavlivayetes’.
    Maloney’s claim is not just silly, it’s silly to argue with…
    But, of all things, it reminded me of antoher use of STOP in Russian. It goes like this:
    - Why is it that Stop-Kran (стоп-кран – emergency brake) on trains is painted red, but on airplanes it’s blue?
    I am off to bed now, but would comment on suggestions in the morning.

  2. Well, there are difficult, trivial, and capricious things in language: the remnants of the strong verb declension in English come to mind. (Back-burner project: take a list and try to discover synchronic patterns if any.)

  3. Sometimes in French they give “arrête!” three syllables for emphasis.

  4. The German noun declensions are the most annoying thing in any language I’ve studied.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    This sort of emphasis is not peculiar to the word “Arrête”, but stressing the final (normally silent) e could be used with the imperative of any verb that ends the same way (that is if you use tu with the person addressed).

  6. Charles Perry says:

    On cursing — when I was studying Arabic in Lebanon, the school had an entire unit on invective. The dosha or insult fight is kind of like the Dozens. Or maybe even like an Indian raga: you adumbrate a theme (your sister is a whore, you like donkeys and being on the receiving end) and then develop it gradually. When two drivers get into a dosha after a fender-bender, a crowd will often gather on the street and applaud when one party gets off a particularly ripe insult.

  7. michael farris says:

    “Every other Russian crossroads has a sign which reads: СТОП (Stop)”
    Poland too, where it’s STOP. It took me a while to realize that in Polish (and Russian?) it’s mentally parsed as a noun that identifies a place and not a verb (which is how I’ve always interpreted the sign in English).
    Also in related (depressing) stop news:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kawB3zv0cbo

  8. What’s so great about one syllable anyway? Usually it means in an emergency you have to really drag out the vowel sound to give the word the emphasis you want, i.e ‘staaaaaaaap!’. A good clean 3 syllable word like Japanese 止まれ!tomare! seems just as practical to me.

  9. останавливаетесь is incorrect imo, should be ostnanovis’ if singular, ostanovites’ if plural or at least ostanavlivaites’ which is also plural but like continued action (nesovershennui vid? forget, but i know the correct meaning)
    and meaning all to stop, stand still and could be used then in any emergency, and ostanovis’ means stop doing something too, not only moving like in stoi
    that’s how i perceive those words
    останавливаетесь could be used in some questions
    like ‘why do you stop and stay here’ – ‘pochemu wu zdes’ останавливаетесь, or gde vu vsegda ostanavlivaetes’ – where do you always stay( when one comes to somewhere)
    to say it like a command or narrative is incorrect
    though sometimes people use other forms like ostanovilis’, it’s a past tense, but can be used as a command too if to address a group

  10. ‘. . .refuses to let go of the misguided attitude . . .’
    I’ve noticed this phenomenon for a while now. I also caught myself doing it. The speaker thinks it’s important to express his thinking-process, and doesn’t realize its irrelevance. What he’s actually doing is raising a barrier against learning what he’s already forgotten. Perhaps this is one way prejudice begins.

  11. I forgot to add I love to read avva, but never comment cz too am lazy to type in translit and come back to the thread to paste a comment, to type in romaji seems like inappropriate there

  12. Counting syllables and comparing between languages!? That guy is never going to get anywhere with learning a second language.
    Scrabbling around in the remnants of my Russian, I find I would expect the word to exist in my head and my mouth with 2 sections
    остан авливаетесь
    more or less. I can’t remember where the “stop” root section ends, and the continuative/habituative section (or whatever it’s called) begins. The second section, with second person plural ending etc. etc., is not worth subdividing in practice. All that should just roll off the tongue as a pattern, so you have to learn it that way.
    German words are reputed to be long, and verbs difficult, but they aren’t – unless you’ve screwed up your head by counting syllables, say.

  13. Finnish’s many famous cases are sort of a gyp, really. As far as I can tell there’s only one declension in Finnish, and thus its many famously knotty cases are… suffixes. Postpositions, if you like. I mean, so you need to inflect the adjectives as well. But there’s not a language on Earth where it’s unclear, what adjective applies to what noun. So the much-vaunted number of cases in Finnish becomes significantly less remarkable (‘Can you believe this?! What a silly language!’) when that fact is taken into account. When every noun is declined the same way (or according to pre-evident factors, like vowel harmony), it’s barely a case at all.

  14. тримандоблядская пиздопроебина – that’s pretty impressive. I thought there used to be some website where it would generate stuff like that – but I can’t recall where it went…
    I did find this gem while looking for it

  15. Slightly beside the point, I know, but does that discussion remind anyone else of Flanders & Swann’s “Philological Waltz“?

  16. rootlesscosmo says:

    When two drivers get into a dosha after a fender-bender, a crowd will often gather on the street and applaud when one party gets off a particularly ripe insult.
    Boswell mentions a custom whereby pleasure-boat passengers and boatmen (“bargees”) exchanged insults in the competitive, can-you-top-this Dozens style. Dr. Johnson got off a stumper when he called to the occupant of another boat: “Sir, your wife, under pretence of keeping a bawdy house, is a receiver of stolen goods.”

  17. Z.D. Smith, Finnish doesn’t have “one declension” in the sense that suffixes are automatically added to stems. Because of a number of sound changes and the rise of consonant gradation, there are now many classes of stems. The intermediate Finnish for foreigners course at University of Helsinki, for example, is almost exclusively concerned with teaching all these many categories of nouns which change shape before taking certain suffixes.

  18. Vanya: 待て maté wait, stop in Japanese, has to syllables, but, I agree, you don’t need short words for barking commands.
    Michael Farris: Stop in Russian doesn’t decline, doesn’t take prefixes or suffixes, no gender is assigned to it, so I’d class it as an interjection. Is it not in Polish?
    Read: останавливаетесь – to say it like a command or narrative is incorrect
    Consider a series of directions given to a friend/group:
    Вы останавливаетесь здесь, отдыхаете, проверяетесь, затем движетесь к месту встречи с остальными. Приказ понятен?
    You stop here, have rest, check everything, then you move on to the meeting point to join the rest.

  19. mollymooly says:

    Why is it that Stop-Kran (стоп-кран – emergency brake) on trains is painted red, but on airplanes it’s blue?
    I know that in cars, “emergency brake” is American for “hand brake”. I suppose on trains they are actually used for emergencies rather than parking. I don’t know how a plane would brake without falling out of the sky.
    @Michael Farris: I tend not to like my news framed by somebody called “Vile Race Hate Rants”. “Stop” pronounced /stVp/ is good Irish. Insisting on “Stad” is being bolshy, like Quebec’s “Arrêt” (which, I’ve just realised, is also a noun, not a verb).

  20. Could there be an ending: останавливаетесья? I now realise I’ve had this word stuck in my mind since I was learning Russian, aged 16. I think I must have remembered it because it was such a long word. I hadn’t remembered its meaning in English, just the sound.
    Up to the time Britain joined Europe in 1971 the road sign said HALT! as if you were being addressed by a sergeant-major.

  21. michael farris says:

    “Stop in Russian doesn’t decline, doesn’t take prefixes or suffixes, no gender is assigned to it, so I’d class it as an interjection. Is it not in Polish?”
    It has a fairly narrow (though expanding) range of use but seems to be treated as an animate(!) masculine noun.
    What I found irritating about the stop sign issue was that I can’t imagine anybody misunderstanding the ‘stad’ signs, and the complaint came from a newcomer.

  22. I did find this gem while looking for it
    That’s wonderful, thanks!

  23. Вы останавливаетесь здесь, отдыхаете, проверяетесь, затем движетесь к месту встречи с остальными. Приказ понятен?
    ugu, i mean it sounds then like in the future tense, though the verbs are in the present tense
    so it’s like ‘you are to …’ construction
    ostanavlevaetesya is without the soft sign, i thought it’s some kind of dialect or old obsolete usage

  24. j. del col says:

    The ‘emergency brake’ on locomotives was traditiionally called the ‘dead-man’s switch’ or ‘dead-man’s brake.’ Thanks to the influence of bureacratese, it is now called the ‘safety stop pedal.”

  25. rootlesscosmo says:

    The emergency brake on locomotives is the same piece of equipment as the non-emergency brake: a valve, rotating through about 60 degrees of a horizontal circle, which regulates air brake pressure throughout the train. A controlled partial reduction applies the brakes with more or less force; a sudden complete reduction (“big-hole”) applies them with maximum force.
    On passenger trains in the US, each car has a cord, for use by passengers, which communicates a piercing whistle signal to the engine crew, who then make an emergency stop. (Railroad rulebooks used to carry a vocabulary of such whistle signals; most of them have fallen into disuse with the decline in passenger service.) Each car is also equipped with a device called the conductor’s valve, which actuates an emergency application of the air brakes throughout the train, like “big-holing’ the train from the engine. When we had cabooses, there was a similar device on them.
    Railroad cars are also equipped with a hand brake, which functions by tightening or loosening a chain attached to that car’s brake shoes; it works far too slowly to be of use in a emergency, and is used either to hold a detached car in place (if the air brake hoses are disconnected the air will leak out of the reservoir) or to slow a detached car, its air brake pressure deliberately “bled off” so that it can be “kicked” into a rail during yard switching operations.

  26. “… the time Britain joined Europe in 1971″.
    The UK accession date is 1 January 1973. Denmark and Ireland joined at the same time, Norway planned to do the same, but, as no doubt you know, Norwegian voters rejected membership.

  27. Oh, and somewhat off topic, but since we’re talking about Russian, I remember talking to some poor graduate student who was complaining that the word контрпропаганда(counterpropaganda) had five consonants in a row…

  28. I should have said ‘-ish’, I couldn’t be bothered to look it up.
    Norway’s rejected it since too. It means we would have to lower our standards on things like food quality and safety. So, even though I would be able to get English Bramley and Cox apples and cheap wine and cheese, even I am against it. The EU’s been good for very poor countries like Sweden, but I think the Danes too are doubtful. I hate burocracy — damn, twice this week I’ve had to look that up: bureaucracy.

  29. Thanks, read.

  30. AJP, you do realise you’re speaking to a faceless bureaucrat from Brussels here.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    Quebec’s “Arrêt” (… a noun, not a verb)
    This is what is written on the equivalent of a STOP sign.
    In France, “Arrêt” means either “the state of being stopped” (like a parked car) or “place where a vehicle regularly and temporarily stops”, such as a bus stop or truck stop. A STOP sign is just as in English.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    I did find this gem while looking for it – That’s wonderful, thanks!
    I looked up the “gem”: two comments: a) You already need a fair command of the language in order for these sentences to be useful. Imagine the tourist ignorant of Russian painfully and slowly trying to pronounce the phonetic transcription while the addressee is wondering whether to laugh or get mad, and b) the suggested sentences are obviously directed at men; perhaps some of these lines should be memorized by women in order to recognize if they are the recipients of vulgar offers? there are no smart replies suggested. Ignoring the boors is not always enough.

  33. You’re no faceless bureaucrat, bruessel. Despite your blog name for some reason I had thought you were a filthy rich Luxembourger.

  34. The trick to spelling “bureaucracy”, in my experience, is learning to spell “bureau”, which is admittedly a bit French but not otherwise insurmountable, and then postfixing it with the unproblematic “-cracy”.
    The trick to dealing with bureaucracy, EU or otherwise, is harder to come by.
    (My own view is that the EU should assemble an army and invade Norway just to prove it can, but they don’t listen. Maybe once IJsland has been assimilated…)

  35. Why is it that Stop-Kran (стоп-кран – emergency brake) on trains is painted red, but on airplanes it’s blue?
    Wait, what is an emergency brake on an airplane? Do you mean some type of control in the cockpit? Clearly, planes have no “passengers pull here if you see something up ahead” contraption like trains do.
    I think planes can reverse thrust, but when would there be an option to brake in an emergency?

  36. then postfixing it with the unproblematic “-cracy”.
    After you’ve mastered this, we can talk about idiosyncrasy.

  37. Logocracy is rule of, or government by, words.
    The United States is described as a logocracy in Washington Irving’s 1807 work, Salmagundi. A visiting foreigner, “Mustapha Rub-a-dub Keli Khan”, ironically describes it as such, by which he means that via the tricky use of words, one can have power over others. Those most adept at this are termed “slang-whangers”
    , which I find to be a quite current-sounding expression.

  38. clodhopper says:

    “тримандоблядская пиздопроебина (tri-man-da-blia-tska-ya piz-da-pra-yo-bi-na) a dozen times.” ”
    or the 52 letter
    “llanfairpg…….”
    or SHAFE ie “supremeheadquartersalliedforceeurope”
    Some people like being longwinded and never come up for air and others luv to say one syllables, ’tis why englesh has two levells monos and multis.

  39. As regards Russian obscenities, the “3-tier” ones are actually a part of the ages-old tradition of “bends” (загиб), as explained in more detail in this article. This is a Russian tradition of “competitive” swearing, where the goal seems to be to be able to construct the longest chain of insults (usually weakly linked together by topic or an occasional rime), with extra credit given for longer and harder-to-repeat words. The tradition claims the existence of canonical “bends” supposedly known or used by historical figures like Peter the Great.
    As regards the “gem”, I am rather unimpressed and wouldn’t advice repeating this in Russia (not because it’s obscene, that would be all right, but because it seems offensive and un-inventive, guaranteed to make the locals classify the user as a peevish brute). Some words from the page could be useful to build a small field vocabulary of a traveller, I suppose.
    And I am sure the reaction to the “emergency brake in a plane” question is giving Sashura a lot of quite joy, unless I am the one missing the joke :-)

  40. В самолете нет стоп-крана.

  41. What do they use to stop? Velcro?

  42. Marie-Lucie,
    Those phrases aren’t supposed to be useful. That web site is supposed to be humorous – some of the fairly innocuous English phrases are translated into the kind of Russian the lower criminal class, or the Prime Minister, speaks. I.e. the Russian translation of “I do not need a taxi. My friends are picking me up.” literally translates as “I don’t need a fucking taxi. My mates are meeting me.” Unless you have an excellent command of Russian and Russian culture, or are well versed in the arts of self defense, a foreigner would be well advised to not use those phrases in daily life.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    Sometimes in French they give “arrête!” three syllables for emphasis.

    Especially when shouting it after someone who’s running away: A !!! Rê !!! Teuh !!!

    The German noun declensions are the most annoying thing in any language I’ve studied.

    I see your noun declensions and raise you the adjective declensions!!!1!
    großer
    ein großer
    der große
    großem
    einem großen
    dem großen
    The latter sometimes trips up native speakers. After all, /n/ can become /m/ in front of /b p pf f m/…
    HOW ARE YOU GENTLEMEN !!
    ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US.
    YOU ARE ON THE WAY TO DESTRUCTION.
    YOU HAVE NO CHANCE TO SURVIVE MAKE YOUR TIME.
    HA HA HA HA . . . .

    After you’ve mastered this, we can talk about idiosyncrasy.

    And hypocrisy! I dare not google for hipocracy… interesting that I’ve never encountered hippocracy so far. Or maybe I’m just in successful denial.

    Maybe once IJsland has been assimilated…

    Which is going to happen any year now. More quickly than Croatia, I bet.

    I.e. the Russian translation of “I do not need a taxi. My friends are picking me up.” literally translates as “I don’t need a fucking taxi. My mates are meeting me.”

    Yeah, I laughed a lot at that page. What’s translated as “get off my back” is “fuck off at last” (literally “fuck yourself off finally”)… Even “are you a card short of a full deck” involves what seems to be the kind of construction of fuck off or French se démerder: a prefixed verb is taken and its stem replaced at random by something obscene (in this case хуй “dick”).
    The transcription, though sciency-looking, is not quite consistent. Don’t rely on it. B-)
    What’s up with the Prime Minister? :-)

  44. Prime Minister V.V. Putin – he’s well known for his colorful choice of colloquialisms. (Were you thinking he’s still President? A lot of people do that.)

  45. Including the President.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    vanya, of course the “gem” website is humorous – learning insulting phrases would not be the smartest move if that’s all you knew. But it is useful to be able to recognize such phrases. Still, I think that there could have been a few choice sentences for use by women (or for recognition by men).

  47. j. del col says:

    Yes, airplanes have thrust reversers, but those are usually deployed only when the plane is rolling down the runway after landing.
    However, some Russian aircraft use thrust reversers while on final approach–a practice unheard of with other equipment.

  48. Marie-lucie,
    The absence of phrases for women is determined by the joke. The register of the language on that site is all “gopnik” language. The point is not just to give foreigners obscene phrases to say, but to replicate the style of speech of a distinctive class of the population. At least in the Russian mind that’s basically a male thing. Imagine in reverse a phrase book that translated fairly normal Russian or French phrases into American gangster rap slang and you’ll get the idea.

  49. Planes, at least small planes, also do have wheel brakes similar to those on cars — obviously only for use on the ground. And yes, we call it the emergency brake because you are only supposed to use it when your ordinary brakes have failed and you are rolling downhill, or some such thing. Setting it routinely while parking is neither necessary nor common, except in places like San Francisco.
    Which leads to the consideration of San Francisco cable car braking systems, of which there are four. The “cable brake” is the primary braking system, and is really just the cable itself, which moves at a uniform rate of 14 ft/sec (about 4.25 m/sec or 9.5 mph) and can therefore can slow the car as well as accelerate it. The track brakes are wood blocks pressed down onto the tracks, which have to be replaced every few days or they burn up; they are mostly used to stop the car at a scheduled stop. The wheel brakes are steel and press against the steel wheels, and are primarily used to assist the cable brake when descending steep hills. Finally, the real-emergencies-only brake drives a metal stake firmly into the slot which provides access to the cable — it is frequently necessary, after using this brake, to burn the stake off with a torch!

  50. of course the “gem” website is humorous
    Part of what makes it funny is the frustration of travel. Of course you have to maintain a calm demeanor when moving through a strange culture, but wouldn’t it be great, just once, to let them know how you really feel, sort of like Mark Twain’s “companion” in Innocents Abroad was always doing? I am also reminded of a friend who used to run a business by herself. When she was busy she would yell “What do you want” at the phone in a tone of undisguised hostility before picking it up and answering it in her usual calm business voice.
    I too would have liked to see some salty putdowns for those aggressive and obnoxious males looking for visa/personal entertainment that female travelers have to expend so much additional energy in handling. The mammas of gansta rappers have any number of colorful ways of telling their offspring they don’t know how to act; surely the “gopniks” have some mommas who could help us out with this one.

  51. David Marjanović says:

    тримандоблядская пиздопроебина

    All you really need to understand of that one is the -еб- part.

    Including the President.

    LOL! Indeed! – I know he’s officially no longer president, I just don’t know anything about him that doesn’t get into Western media.

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