Here’s another bit from the Second Act of Bykov’s Orfografiya (see this post for an earlier sample); it illustrates the fascination and frustration of reading the book:

Bookseller’s Row in the Haymarket was a grotesque sight—like almost all sights then: destitution and wretchedness were carried to such absurd lengths that they ceased to provoke tears but only decrepit, wise laughter such as the last Romans must have aimed at themselves and the Gauls. Somewhere in the hidden, half-legendary Petersburg cellars precious manuscripts were still being exchanged for equally fabulous, apocryphal things—a pound of butter, a ham; but in the Haymarket they dealt mainly in the literature of the Russian Golden Age, naive literary almanacs in which vulgar quarrels were carried on, with opponents caught in misprints and hidden peccadillos hinted at—so-and-so lost everything at gambling, or had informed on someone, or was a kept man… The public was most picturesque and ill-assorted: here was the beginning of the disintegration of the Petersburg School—zaumniks, “ushkuiniks,” pustoglots, nothingists, metaphorists, columbines, going-to-the-peoplists, and the completely enigmatic quasists. Here stood the gnomelike graybeard Trufanov with a bundle of “northern antiquities” transcribed in a decorative style and said to have been collected at the time of the Arkhangelsk rites—in fact they had been taken from a collection of byliny and worked up into a state of complete incomprehensibility; he was seen with his group singing the bawdy songs of Nesein [No-sow] (“My name is because we are not simple peasants: we do not sow nor reap, we are peasants not by calling but by willing”).

(The Russian is below the cut.)
The “disintegration of the Petersburg School” section drives me nuts: “zaumniks” I know, they were practitioners of Zaum, but what’s the status of the rest? Ushkuiniks were medieval Novgorodian pirates, and there was a literary almanac called Ushkuiniki published in Petersburg in 1922 and later a 1927 self-published poetry book of that name by Aleksandr Tufanov, a now-forgotten futurist, zaumist, and “sound poet” (note the apperance of a character called “Trufanov” immediately below in the passage—Bykov consistently renames characters based on real people, so that Shklovsky turns up as “Lgovsky” and Gorky as “Khlamida,” an early pseudonym); was there any group of “Ushkuiniki” in 1918, or is it pure invention? “Pustoglots” [pustogloty] has the Russian prefix for ’empty’ and the Greek suffix for ‘tongue, language’ (as in polyglot), and the Russian word gets a few Google hits as an insult; “nothingist” [nichevoshnik] is a rare word defined by Dahl as ‘someone for whom everything is nothing’; columbines [akvilegi] is, as far as I can make out, simply the name of a flower; lyudokhod isn’t an actual word but has a prefix meaning ‘people’ and a suffix meaning ‘going,’ and it’s used as a caption for this photo; kvazer seems to sometimes be used for kvazar ‘quasar’ and sometimes in ways I don’t understand [these words are explained in the comments below]. What’s a poor translator supposed to do with this farrago? But it sure is fun.
Addendum. A correspondent points out to me that “Nesein” is a “very transparent to a Russian reader allusion to the peasant-poet Sergei Esenin,” something that was obvious as soon as she mentioned it but that hadn’t occurred to me. Thanks, Evgenia!

Писательский ряд на Сенной являл собою зрелище гротескное — как почти все тогдашние зрелища: нищета и жалкость дошли до такого абсурда, что перестали вызывать слезы, а только дряхлый, мудрый смех, каким, должно быть, последние римляне смеялись над собою и галлами. Где-то в тайных, полулегендарных питерских подвалах еще выменивались драгоценные рукописи на такие же сказочные, недостоверные вещи — фунт масла, окорок; но на Сенном торговали в основном литературой русского золотого века, наивными альманахами, где шла площадная литературная борьба, где ловили оппонентов на опечатках и с витиеватым многословием намекали на их тайные грешки — проигрался, донес, жил на содержании… Публика была самая живописная и разношерстная: тут было начало распада петербургской школы — заумники, «ушкуйники», пустоглоты , ничевошники, метафористы, аквилеги, людоходы и вовсе уж загадочные квазеры. Тут тихо стоял похожий на гнома седобородый Труфанов с пачкой узорчато переписанных «Северных старин», якобы собранных во время радений под Архангельском, — на деле же взятых из сборника былин и обработанных до полной невнятицы; был замечен со своей кодлой распевавший похабщину Несеин («А прозванье-то мое — от того, что крестьяне мы не простые: не сеем, не жнем; крестьяне не по труду, а по нутру»).


  1. Kvazery probably stays for the multiplicity of quasi-something movements.
    Lyudokhody – those who are going “v lyudi”, into the world (the very well-known work of Gorky – sort of autobiography – was called “V lyudyakh” and was about the harsh life of the young writer-to-be doing all kinds of jobs to survive.
    Nichevoki (ничевоки) rings a bell for me although I never was much interested what they were exactly busy with.
    Pustogloty – either those who could not speak any language properly, or those who had /wanted nothing to eat / swallow? (Glotat’ means to swallow), or somebody who were leading emply (and/or loud) talks (from glotka глотка – gullet, throat; there is an expression орать во всю глотку – cry at the top of one’s voice.

  2. Maxim Afanasiev says:

    Just some comments on the possible translations of the cryptic names of
    some real or imaginary literary groups from the text; I do not know what
    groups or movements, if any, Bykov is hinting at, so I am just
    speculating from what I think the meaning of the name might be.
    “людоходы” and the googled-up photograph: I don’t think the word is
    related to what the photograph’s title hints at — the photograph is
    likely comparing the chaotic movement of people on the square with
    “ледоход” (thawing of ice on a river in spring producing chaotic
    ice-plate movement); “людоход” as a title hints at “ледоход”, I believe.
    As for the supposed literary group’s name
    “людоходы”, it is probably related to the expression “пойти/ходить в
    люди” or “ходить в народ”, so the group’s name might point to some sort
    of literary populism (those going out to the people, populists).
    “квазеры”: likely hinting at the prefix “квази-” (“quasi-“, almost), and
    probably means some sort of imitation; another example of an artificial
    word constructed in this way would be “псевдоквазия” (“pseudo-quasia”,
    invented word that is supposed to mean deceptive imitation) — I remember
    it used in one of Strugatsky brothers’ novels.

  3. Thanks very much—you’re both obviously right about людоходы and квазеры, and I’ll change the translation accordingly.

  4. Maxim Afanasiev says:

    Actually, “ничевоки”, mentioned by Ashalynd, are real and — probably — relevant, as quick googling shows:
    As for “аквилеги”, this link to a Russian translation of Seneca:
    mentions the name in its footnotes as that of the “ancient Roman corporation of water-finders”…

  5. Thanks! Here‘s the direct nichevoki link: “Н. провозгласили «отделение искусства от государства», а свое творческое бюро выдвигали в качестве аппарата по руководству искусством. Н. выявили себя откровенно буржуазной, враждебной революции, пролетарской диктатуре группировкой, оспаривавшей принципы культурного строительства пролетариата. В литературе Н. не оставили никакого следа…” They sound like a perfect group for this novel!

  6. Maxim Afanasiev says:

    Another thought: “квазеры”, I would venture to suggest, might be an anachronism, and so a mistake by Bykov if it’s indeed invented. I believe the more likely form, for 1920s, would be “квазёры” or “квазисты” (“акмеисты” being a case in point) — this is supposed to be happening before the onslaught of English-inspired neologisms, after all…
    Or is it just a case of “ё” replaced by “e” — maybe it was “квазёры” all along, and, then, a word that immediately invoked, by the sound of it, the word “фразёры”, “(empty, useless) phrase-crackers”(?). The latter is probably a bit far-fetched, though.

  7. I believe that “ушкуйники” here refers to the poetry almanac and possibly to the corresponding group of poets:
    ЧУКОВСКИЙ, НИКОЛАЙ КОРНЕЕВИЧ (1904–1965), русский писатель, переводчик. Сын К.И.Чуковского.[..]Начал выступать со стихами в 1922 в альманахе Ушкуйники (Петроград), изданном Чуковским за собственный счет (под псевд. Н.Радищев), в литературном приложении к берлинской газете «Накануне» (4 июня) и петроградском журнале «Современное обозрение» (№ 2).

  8. Adrian Bailey says:

    “pustoglots” makes me think of The Puszta, so my instinct (wrong as it may be) would be to say that it means “speakers of the plains dialect”.

  9. OK the cast of blog aficionados changed over time, and the topic is open once again, owing to ,A HREF=http://www.languagehat.com/archives/004201.php>a grander question about the theory of The Grammar Conspiracy suppressing the freedom of expression with the rules and norms of the language (or, as some Bykov’s characters had it, preventing the very laws of physics from changing!)
    On the narrow subject of this thread though:
    Bykov’s fictional groups and movements should resemble or parody the myriad known literary, political, and neo-religious movements of Russian Silver Age. We just need an expert to recognize them! Not an expert myself, but I think that aquilegs resemble akmeists; pustoglot seems to be related to “zhivoglot” or “proglot” (with the shared root meaning to “consume, to swallow”) and the meaning may be unsatiable, voracious consumers of something, swallowing but remaining empty.
    The most transparent allusion is probably of Esenin / Nesein and his horny couplets. One can’t but recall the following venerable couplet:
    Мы не сеем и не пашем
    Мы валяем дурака
    С колокольни х*ем машем
    Разгоняем облака
    It’s so fitting in the story of idled linguists, no longer useful for the humankind!
    We aren’t sowing or plowing
    We are just wasting time
    Waving our dicks from a belfry
    To chase away the clouds

  10. Waving our dicks from a belfry
    To chase away the clouds

    Although I can’t read the Russian, this rendering sounds like it might mean “swinging our dicks in the belfry”, as if they were bell clappers. It reminds me of the German expression die Eier schaukeln [rocking your balls], meaning to sit around wasting time – in anodyne English “fiddle your thumbs”. Feminists will note with satisfaction that only men can be accused of this.

  11. I just knew something was wrong with that: “twiddle”, not “fiddle”.

  12. this rendering sounds like it might mean “swinging our dicks in the belfry”, as if they were bell clappers.
    No, it definitely says “from” rather than “in” the belfry. And may I point out that the activity you suggest could hardly be said to drive away or disperse clouds; for that you need a vigorous waggling directed to the exterior of the belfry.

  13. Well then, to chase the bats out of the belfry. This would put new spin on the expression “all clapped out”.

  14. I’m reminded of an old joke about a duke pissing out of his box and onto the orchestra seats at a musical performance (being either too lazy or too wrapped up in the performance to visit the facilities, I don’t remember the psychological backstory) whose punchline includes the query “Could you waggle it about a bit, Your Grace?”

  15. The Pissing Duke, or, A Device to Disperse Commoners.

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