Or, the Problem with Dictionaries. Yesterday it occurred to me (in the context of trying to extract a stubborn light fixture from the ceiling) to wonder what the Russian for ‘pliers’ was. I had the feeling I’d looked it up before, and sure enough when I turned to my workhorse, the Oxford Russian Dictionary, I recognized the alternatives I found there: shchiptsy and kleshchi. Now, shchiptsy is defined in the Russian-English section as ‘tongs, pincers, pliers; forceps,’ while kleshchi is ‘pincers, tongs.’ You see the problem: neither unambiguously means ‘pliers,’ and there was no way to decide which was the better alternative, so I hadn’t bothered associating either with the English word. This time I decided to delve deeper. I checked my Harper-Collins Russian Dictionary, and lo and behold, there was an entirely different word, ploskogubtsy. This immediately looked convincing, since it literally means ‘flat little pincers,’ but now I had three candidates. I looked up ploskogubtsy in Ozhegov (my basic Russian-Russian dictionary) and found it defined as ‘kleshchi [pincers] with flat grasping surfaces,’ which was what I wanted. But I was left with questions. Was ploskogubtsy a relatively new word that had achieved popularity since the Oxford was compiled, or was it a relatively technical term used by mechanics but not by ordinary people, who would just say “Hand me the kleshchi“? And how can one know such things? Ideally, there should be better indications of usage in bilingual dictionaries, but I suppose that might push the cost of production up beyond the break-even point. Anyway, I hope one of my Russian-speaking readers will let me know if ploskogubtsy is the right word to be storing in my long-term memory.