OPYT.

I’m reading Dmitry Bykov’s gutsy essay Опыт о страхе, on the state of things in Putin’s Russia, and I just realized that although the title has to be translated “Essay on fear” (his thesis is that Russia is gripped by an omnipresent, unreasoning, Kafkaesque fear), none of my dictionaries, even the multivolume ones, gives any meanings for опыт [opyt] other than ‘experiment’ and ‘experience.’ But Google tells me that Pope’s “Essay on Man” is “Опыт о человеке,” and Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding is Опыт о человеческом разуме, so it’s clearly an existing usage; my question to Russian readers is: how marginal is this sense of the word? Is it felt as foreign, or do the dictionaries omit it out of laziness?
(The word essay itself, of course, originally meant ‘experiment, trial, testing’: 1631 HEYLIN St. George 247, “I will make bold to venture on it, by way of tryall and essay.” … 1704 ADDISON Italy (1733) 195 “After having made Essays into it, as they do for Coal in England.” 1745 De Foe’s Eng. Tradesman I. xii. 98 “He has made an essay by which he knows what he can, and cannot do.” The literary sense comes from Montaigne, whose Essais are called “Опыты” in Russian.)

Comments

  1. It’s probably just one of those things, like the fact that when a French author refers to Emerson’s essay “Confiance-en-soi”, the translator to English just has to know or look up that Emerson called it “Self-Reliance”, not “Self-Confidence”.

  2. Опыт seems to refer more to a published opinion piece (as opposed to and эссе [ick] that you’d write in school). but i remember the first time i looked it up thinking how odd that it wasn’t a listed definition because it is generally what you see such literary works called. I see that even answers.com doesn’t list it, but they do have попытка.

  3. (Native Russian speaker.)
    This is definitely not a widespread use of the word. I don’t think it exists outside of this specific context.

  4. The contrast between the consequence of the essay
    [as well as the courage it required to write it, and the state of the society about which it is written]
    and the inconsequence of defining a word
    [as well as the complete liberty you have to write the blog question, and the vanity of the society that worries a word for its meaning]
    reminds me of Solzhenitsyn. I think if your heart is right, you’ll read without having to define.

  5. Maxim Afanasiev says:

    My impression is that the usage of the word “опыт” in titles of Russian texts is either (1) the way Bykov uses it, with the preposition “o”, which seems rather archaic and, probably, reminiscent of Montaigne’s “Les essais” (traditionally translated as “Опыты”, with titles having the preposition “De”, as in “De la Peur”, becoming “o”, as in “О страхе” in Russian, just like Bykov’s “Опыт о страхе”), or (2) without a preposition, as in “опыт посвящения”, “опыт стихосложения” — rather less archaic and more wide-spread, probably to be translated as “an attempt”. Usage (1) seems much more uncommon, and I strongly suspect that Bykov was specifically hinting to Montaigne with this title.
    Disclaimer: the above is based solely on my personal impressions from reading Russian texts; it might be completely wrong, and it is probably incomplete.

  6. Transplant says:

    My edition of Segal’s Russian-English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1943, gives this definition:
    “experience, knowledge, proficiency; experiment, essay, test, trial”
    — No indication that it could be used in a literary sense, but Segal would assume that his readership was English speaking, with a Russian word in context, and not a Russian speaker trying to find the correct English word. The definition is sort of buried in Dal’, and I’m not sure I would recognize it as an “essay” without having read the definition with your blog entry in mind:
    “Many writers call their compositions an “opyt,”
    not affirming them to be full or complete.”

  7. I can’t comment on whether using “опыт” in this way comes across as foreign or not. I’m a non-native Rus’n speaker living in Eastern Eur (and rely heavily on Rus’n as well as other Eastern Eur languages) and it’s a new usage for me. However my 2 Rus-Eng/Eng-Rus dictionaries (Harper Collins and Langenscheidt) both use the word “attempt” to define it; definition #3 in the Langenscheidt is ‘essay’. Interesting that neither uses “опыт” as a definition for “essay”

  8. definition #3 in the Langenscheidt is ‘essay’
    Aha, so at least one dictionary recognizes it. Thanks.
    MAC, your comment is stupid and insulting, but in this free society, you have the right to make stupid and insulting comments. Enjoy that right.

  9. Thanks for linking the essay, LH. While it’s a bit too demagogic and inexplicably (or perhaps all too explicably) exculpatory of Putin, it’s a worthwhile read.
    The comments section can be charitably called an outhouse pit, however. A few relatively sane voices notwithstanding, such a level of vicious and paranoid Judenhass is rarely found today outside of the Muslim world.

  10. It’s not standard usage. Could be, Bykov explicitly references Montaigne (that is, the Russian translation) with this title.
    Kaa

  11. The comments section can be charitably called an outhouse pit, however.
    I tend to skip comment sections because so many of them are like that—thanks for the warning.
    I wouldn’t call it “exculpatory of Putin”; it seems to me that he’s saying Putin wouldn’t be able to get away with what he does if it weren’t for the sad history he describes. Surely Bykov is no fan of Putin.

  12. Maxim Afanasiev says:

    I would like to add my thanks for the link to the essay (which indirectly led me to other essays by Bykov on the same site) to those expressed by Solus Rex. I can’t but agree with Rex’s comment on the comments section of the page, however; unfortunately, such things are inevitable on most Russian sites these days, unless the title is cryptic enough to turn away the stupid 🙁
    Actually, those comments are a fine illustration to the essay and highlight what I think is its (and his other essays’s) main weak point: Bykov could be seen to be in a perpetual quest for a Platonic unity that would give a sense (or an entertaining plot) to the reality around, looking for what it “should be”, for a universal explanation (“all journalists are afraid”, “all Russians are afraid”, “Putin is a founder of a new religion”, etc.). Well, Russian nationalism has an age-long tradition of using various conspiracy theories for just that, and many of his readers would, if allowed to, readily turn up tons of bloodthirsty stupidity… If the world has some safe places to play with theories of this sort, modern Russia is surely not one of them.

  13. solus rex says:

    I wouldn’t call it “exculpatory of Putin”; it seems to me that he’s saying Putin wouldn’t be able to get away with what he does if it weren’t for the sad history he describes. Surely Bykov is no fan of Putin.
    It seems like he views Putin’s role as that of a passive instrument, rather than an active player.
    Or did on first reading. He’s no sycophant, true.

  14. solus rex says:

    I can’t but agree with Rex’s comment on the comments section of the page, however; unfortunately, such things are inevitable on most Russian sites these days, unless the title is cryptic enough to turn away the stupid 🙁
    However tempting it is to dismiss antisemitism as a byproduct of simple stupidity, the sickness goes deeper than that. While many of the comments are, indeed, little more than primal grunts, a fair number is quite articulate. Moral leprosy doesn’t check IQ.

  15. Maxim Afanasiev says:

    > While many of the comments are, indeed, little more than primal
    > grunts, a fair number is quite articulate. Moral leprosy doesn’t check
    > IQ.
    Well, I would rather term it as ethno-centric world view, if such a term
    exists… I would still put some partial, but fundamental, stupidity
    and lack of sense of humour ahead of moral corruption among the reasons
    for the views in question: these people are locked into a morality that
    is obviously different from mine, and I think this is due to their
    limited world-view; they could be very moralistic and selfless in their own way.
    My point was that Bykov’s world view, as far as I could judge from his
    essays (a collection of old ones has recently appeared under the title
    “Блуд труда”), is, while a far cry from what we are talking about here,
    fundamentally similar to what some of his nasty readers exhibit: trying
    to understand all real events as following a certain scenario or having
    a single shape or plot — and basing it all on some very broad
    generalizations.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    So that’s why the (ehem) leader of one of Austria’s two far-right parties bears the surname of Strache… previously, explanations had to resort to the assumption of a portmanteau word (Strafe “punishment” and Rache “revenge”), resulting in the pun “Die Strache Gottes” for explaining his temperament…
    To return to the topic, the titles of 17th/18th century essays have occasionally been translated into German starting with Versuch über “attempt about”.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    There’s a reason why answers.com doesn’t mention it: Wikipedia doesn’t mention it. (And neither does Wiktionary.)
    I have yet to see evidence that answers.com is anything but a time-delayed mirror site for Wikipedia.

  18. solus rex says:

    Montaigne’s Essais were translated into Russian as “Опыты” and into Ukrainian as “Проби”.

  19. solus rex says:

    Well, I would rather term it as ethno-centric world view, if such a term
    exists…

    I prefer the term (and the idea) of “civic nationalism”. A few of the saner commenters tried to advocate some semblance thereof, but were hopelessly outnumbered by the simians.
    Bykov, as far as I understand, is a radical anti-nationalist. However much sense (especially moral one) such a view might make in Russia’s context, that is not what I personally subscribe to.

  20. Maybe the word опыт here is used in its antiquated Montaignian sense to underscore the experimental nature of what is written–at least as far as testing the boundaries of what can be said is concerned.
    Another chilling essay on fear in Russia and one that didn’t make it into print is here: http://fildz.livejournal.com/69733.html

  21. Maxim Afanasiev says:

    >
    > Bykov, as far as I understand, is a radical anti-nationalist.
    >
    Interesting. Anti-nationalism is something I always had sympathy with.
    To me — based on reading “ЖД” and “Блуд труда” — Bykov was mostly
    coming across as a sort of modern romantic, not too far from romantic
    nationalism actually, and his journalism as a curious mix of romanticism
    and appeals to common sense. If I am right in this, then his position,
    given the Russian politics of today, is truly tragic, as these things do
    not mix easily. While I don’t like this ideological strain at all, I was
    always a curious and fascinated reader of Bykov. After all, all attempts
    at ideological classification are as limited as some of his
    generalizations.
    >
    > However much sense (especially moral one) such a view might make in
    > Russia’s context, that is not what I personally subscribe to.
    >
    Well, unfortunately, as the comments to Bykov’s essay testify, Russian
    politics are rapidly evolving into a state where any views sensible
    people could subscribe to are becoming irrelevant.

  22. Montaigne’s Essais were translated into Russian as “Опыты” and into Ukrainian as “Проби”.
    The Ukrainian gives us a lead into another cluster of words that is relevant, springing (like Проби, no doubt; cf. probe) from Latin probare. Consider French éprouver: “to experience”, mostly these days. But Petit Robert gives as the earliest meaning “(XIIe) Essayer (qqch.) pour en vérifier la valeur, la qualité”. This is surely indicative, as is the connexion between our proof and experiment. Compare Spanish ensayo meaning both prueba and near-synonymous experimento (in the little Klett dictionary, anyway). Curiously, trabajador probado appears to mean “experienced worker” by two routes: a worker with experience, and a worker who has been tested (“proven”). Scanning through my Oxford Paravia (beautiful big resource) I find that Italian provare runs parallel to these French and Spanish meanings. And as with our trabajador, there is an interesting semblance of dual determination in prova scritta (“essay test”, in education): the essay is a prova, but so is the test.
    Then there is this from OED, for prove:

    7. trans. To find out, learn, or know by experience; to have experience of; to go through, undergo, suffer. Also with complement: to find by experience (a person or thing) to be (something). Cf. APPROVE v.1 9. Now rare (arch. in later use).

    One thinks of Marlowe:

    Come live with me and be my love,

    And we will all the pleasures prove

    That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,

    Woods or steepy mountain yields.

    We might have thought this prove meant “try”, which would be normal for the time. But it seems that it may mean simply “experience”.
    Probable cases of confluent semantic runnels, anyway; but let me not Babble-on like a brook.

  23. That leads us, Noetica, to exceptio probat regulam, the subject of anguished debates throughout the intelligentsiasphere. I sum up the best modern thinking (that is to say, mine) in the following .sig block:
    “The exception proves the rule.” Dimbulbs think: “Your counterexample proves
    my theory.” Latin students think “‘Probat’ means ‘tests’: the exception puts
    the rule to the proof.” But legal historians know it means “Evidence for an
    exception is evidence of the existence of a rule in cases not excepted from.”
    The earliest recorded form, however, is in fact “exceptio figit regulam.”

  24. Ay, JC: it does so commodiously lead us. Rilly it does, and OED confirms what you say. (I figit I should check there immediately, before I figot.)
    F(ol)lowing the same stream of conscientiousness, I should add that probab(b)le is itself mouldyvalent, so caveant dimbulbuli. Of course, the word is of huge importance in philosophy, current and underbridge. Hume, for example, may not have meant by it what we now think we mean, and is probably miscontrued on that account.

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