THE PEOPLE OF SEMIKA.

I’m still reading the Gorky translation discussed here and here (I’m now on the second volume, V lyudyakh [Among people, tr. as In the World]), and in Chapter 8 there’s a nice anecdote about how the young narrator, forced to read dull books to the captain of the Volga steamer in whose galley he was working, was struck by the phrase собственно говоря ‘strictly speaking,’ which occurred in the context “Собственно говоря, никто не изобрел пороха…” (‘Strictly speaking, no one invented gunpowder…’), and back in Nizhny Novgorod with his family, asked to tell more of his shipboard experiences, he responded: “Мне уж нечего рассказывать, собственно говоря…” (‘I really don’t have anything to tell, strictly speaking…’), causing general laughter and leading him to be nicknamed “Strictly speaking.” I’m sure many of us who used to read books above our age level can recall similar experiences.
Right after that comes another absurd goof by the translator, Isidor Schneider. Gorky is describing an area where he went to wash the baby’s diapers alongside the city’s washerwomen, who mocked and entertained him; he writes: “На этом поле, по семикам, городское мещанство устраивало гулянье”—’On this field, during the seventh week after Easter [po semikám], the city’s petty bourgeoisie [meshchanstvo] would organize an outdoor celebration [gulyan'e, which the dictionary translates "fête"].’ And here’s the result of Schneider’s valiant struggle with it: “The people of the neighboring town of Semika had laid out part of the field as a sort of park.”
Addendum. Gorky talks about a young woman, a cutter’s wife, who was always reading (and scorned for it by the rough neighborhood folks); he mentions that she and her husband “were subscribers to the magazine ‘Neva,’” and Schneider has a footnote dutifully explaining that this was “a popular magazine that took its name from the river that flows through Leningrad—then, St. Petersburg.” Except that the magazine is actually Нива (Niva), ‘field of grain.’ Oh Izzy, Izzy: how did you get mixed up in this translation business, for which you were so little suited?
Further addendum. At the start of Chapter 14 Gorky mentions the books he read to his fellow workers at an icon shop, one of them being Ivan Vyzhigin, by the historical novelist (and reactionary hack) Faddey Bulgarin. Izzy renders this “Ivan Vyzhigin, the Bulgarian.”
But wait, there’s more. In Chapter 16, Gorky says “Читаю «Бурсу» Помяловского и тоже удивлен: это странно похоже на жизнь иконописной мастерской”: “I read Pomyalovsky‘s Bursa [i.e., Очерки бурсы, "Seminary Sketches"] and was amazed: it was strangely similar to the life of the icon shop.” Except that Schneider, seeing Bursa and thinking of la Bourse, translates it “I read Pomyalovsky’s The Stockmarket, and found the operations it depicted startlingly like those in the icon store.” (‘Stock market’ in Russian is биржа [birzha], which comes from French bourse, probably by way of Dutch beurs; бурса [bursa] ‘seminary’ is, like the French word, from Latin bursa ‘bag for money,’ via Polish or German.)

Comments

  1. semik – it’s used in plural ‘semiki’ because it’s really the whole seventh week after Easter culminating on Thursday (Slavonic Shrovetide also culminates on Thursday). The celebrations roughly correspond to Maypole rituals and mid-summer fetes with very strong pagan motives – and they still live. Nabokov’s Pnin talks about Agraphena the Bather performed at semiki. And similar rites are in Tarkovsky’s ‘Andrei Rublev’.
    What’s puzzling though, is why there hasn’t been a newer and better translation of this work considering Gorky’s enormous bridging role from 1900s to 1930s? I’ve looked on Amazon and even the recent editions are all Schneider’s translation. Has it all fallen victim to him being maligned as the father of socialist realism and the author of bolshevist novel Mother? What a shame, he is so much more than that.

  2. it’s really the whole seventh week after Easter
    Thanks, I’ve corrected my translation accordingly. (That scene in Andrei Rublev is amazing, but then the whole movie is. Too brutal for my wife in some places, though.)
    I’ve looked on Amazon and even the recent editions are all Schneider’s translation.
    Good lord, I assumed it had long been superseded. If it’s still the only one, that’s a crime against literature, and someone should remedy it rather than retranslating War and Peace yet again.

  3. At the risk of being labeled an anti-semike, I’m wondering if the ‘strictly speaking’ gaffe is at all glossable. Is it just a very lofty phrase?

  4. John Emerson says:

    For the record, the American socialist realist book Jews Without Money by Mike Gold is worth reading. It’s a series of chort sketches which remind me of William Saroyan, though less cutesy. (Gold was a Stalinist goon otherwise, but I don’t see that in his book.)
    “Strictly speaking”: When my niece was about four she said “Mom, you exasperate me!” (She’s now about 32. Time flies.)
    I saw some of my own mannerisms in my son, who would begin sentences with “actually” a lot when he was 3 or 4.

  5. I don’t know if you saw this, Language, The Isidore Schneider Papers, at Columbia:
    BIOGRAPHY
    Isidore Schneider (1896 – 1976) was born in the Western Ukraine. His family emigrated when he was six and their struggles and privations engendered the communist attitudes that marked much of his early work. His literary career was launched in the “little” magazines of the early twenties such as The Dial and the The Transition. His earliest book publication was in the first edition of The American Caravan. His work appeared in many American literary anthologies alongside some of the finest writers of prose and verse in the early twentieth century. His long and diverse career included an editorship at New Masses, as well as work in newspaper publishing and work as a publisher’s advertising manager.
    SCOPE AND CONTENT
    Manuscripts and correspondence. There are numerous manuscripts and typescripts of his poems, novels and short prose. There are also hundreds of typed book-reports done for various book clubs and publishers. Included are files of newspaper and magazine clippings related to Schneider.
    Among his correspondence are many prominent members of the literary world during the first half of the twentieth century, e.g. Conrad Aiken, Theodore Dreiser, Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Lillian Hellman and other notables.

  6. Strictly speaking, the word “мещане” meant simply town dwellers, as opposed to the peasantry.

  7. Sashura, семик refers to Thursday before Trinity Sunday. On that day there are specific rituals. Here the use of the plural just means that every year on that day the merchants paid for food etc. (The whole week is called зелёная неделя).

  8. Mab, thanks, I’ve checked semik in my dictionaries and on yandex dictionaries, where there are three pages of references. The Trinity connection is not the only one. In fact, the Slavonic pagan seems to be older and stronger than Chirstian. I also looked up the passage in my Gorky, he says that the flood-meadow in question was called Yarilo – the pagan Slavonic sun god. The commentary to semik in my tome says: “В православном быту славянский праздник семик сливался с церковным праздником Троицы и Духова дня” – In Orthodox tradition the Slavonic fete of semik has merged with the Church fete of Trinity (Pentecost) and the Holy Spirit Day.
    Gorky, like many of his generation, is a master of erotic allusion, and I would interpret Yarilo and semiki as a subliminal expression of sexual frustrations of the youngster – standing in the stream washing nappies side by side with a crowd of young washerwomen who were teasing him mercilessly.

  9. Today people say Семик to mean only Thursday before Trinity Sunday (when some visit the cemetery; others do that Saturday, which is the “official” church day for remembering the dead). But much has been lost over the decades, so perhaps the term was used differently in the past. However, in my favorite book of traditional holidays, there is a description of the whole week, called семицкая неделя. Although there is a cemetery visit on Tuesday, the big day is Thursday, which involves pious activities (praying for suicides, people who died by violence, unbaptized children), but also the fun mostly girl stuff. That does go on until Trinity Sunday. But there are all kinds of songs like: У нас в году два праздника/ Семик да Троица. (We have two holidays in the year/ Semik and Trinity) All the references I find (Семик на ветвях, а Троица на цветах — Semik in branches, Trinity in flowers) show a distinct one-day holiday of Семик, which gets celebrated in various pious and unpious ways until Trinity Sunday. So I guess the question is whether you can find a reference to семики that makes it clear it meant the entire week. Or that it refered to the Thursday-to-Sunday celebrations.
    Although the translation is awful in general, I have to say that this sort of thing is very hard. All those traditions were destroyed by the Bolsheviks, and of course the language describing them was lost, too. Sometimes both were preserved by emigres, but I’ve never heard of Russian Orthodox communities in the US celebrating this holiday. I think a lot of the pagan stuff got finally jetisoned once they were abroad. Семик was a real mix of high church piety + nature-worship (birch trees blessed) + husband-hunting (all the girl stuff).

  10. Well, Schneider was 1) a Communist and 2) Jewish (judging by his name), so that’s two reasons for his lack of interest in pre-Revolutionary religio-cultural traditions. Plus he didn’t know Russian very well at all.
    I’m enjoying this battle of erudition greatly!

  11. In my case it’s not erudition; I’m just interested in folk and religious traditions. They are part of what every Russian knew when s/he read literature 100 or 200 years ago, but now much of it has been lost. Of course, lots of references and traditions get lost over the ages everywhere, but here they were simply cut out of life completely. There are many words/references that the most erudite native speaker — even specialists in 19th century literature or linguists — just can’t figure out anymore. In this case (Semik) there were also regional differences which might also be reflected in language use. So although I’m shocked at how bad the translation is, this little bit is quite tricky.

  12. John Emerson says:

    There are many words/references that the most erudite native speaker — even specialists in 19th century literature or linguists — just can’t figure out anymore.
    This is also true of Chinese and Ottoman Turkish literature. A friend of mine has custody of he Chinese grandfather’s correspondence with Hu Shih, Sun Yat-sen, and other eminent Chinese of the early 20th century. She’s been trying to find someone to translate it, but it’s written in the old literary style and only university specialists can read it any more.

  13. Mab, if you are seriously challenging me, I will surrender immediately and admit that you are right and I am wrong. Before I die I have only two points to make, one linguistic, second, practical:
    1/ semik may be just the Thursday in the narrow sense, semiki in the wider sense would refer to the run-up and the aftermath, hence semiki, semitskaya or semikovaya nedelya (semik week). Old traditions were indeed suppressed, first by the church, then by the bolsheviks, but we still refered to our holidays in plural ‘na maiskiye’ (over the May Day holidays) or ‘na noyabr’skiye’ (over the November holidays)
    2/ it’s just so unlike Russians to have a one-day holiday. I got into a semiki type fete in my uncle’s village one summer. It was simply called ‘zelenaya polyana’ – the green opening, a place in the woods, where bon-fire was lit, young people danced and played games. It went on for well over a week.
    I had a classmate called Marina Berdychevskaya. It can’t be you?

  14. Oh jeez. Sashura, I’m not the challenging type. I’m saying only this: I only know the holiday used in the singular. I can find plenty of references to that. So if I were translating that passage, the only thing I could defend would be “on the Thursdays before Trinity Sunday…”
    It’s possible that semiki was used to mean the whole week, or the Thursday to Sunday period. It’s also possible that it was a regional usage. But if you were to translate the passage “during the week before Trinity Sunday” and some close reader like Hat came along and asked why you did that, you’d have to show some reference backing it up. I’m rather adament about this because I live in Moscow where the standard translator reply to a question like that is: Òàê ìíå êàæåòñÿ (that’s what it seems like to me). Well, you can imagine the quality of translations that come out of “that’s what it seems like to me.”
    I’ll happily accept what you say since it makes some linguistic sense. But, since I’m çàíóäà (a nudge), I need proof.
    No, I’m not Marina Berdychevskaya, but I laughed like hell when I read that. Cut off 3/4 of the last name and you’ve got me.

  15. Hat, could you fix up the mojibake on this page?

  16. to read Mab’s characters use Cyrillic Windows-1251 (change under View menu)

  17. marie-lucie says:

    Why were Russian characters quite OK before (I don’t know much Russian but I know what the characters stand for), and here it is not just Mab but everyone else whose characters are wrong (the ones I see are just a jumble of letters with diacritics)? I tried to follow Sashura’a advice just now but don’t know where to find a “View Menu”.

  18. From the menu bar (File Edit etc) of the Windows Internet Explorer window, Select View, then Encoding from the drop down menu, then Windows (Cyrillic).

  19. m-l, I know you have a mac, so do you use Firefox or Safari for your browser? Either way, along the top left of your screen should be the menu titles. From left to right it says: Firefox (or Safari), File, Edit, View… etc.
    If you look in View, you find “Character Encoding” on Firefox, or “Text Encoding” on Safari, and that’s where you click “Cyrillic Windows-1251″, as Sashura said, on Firefox. On Safari you probably have to click one of the Cyrillics, but I don’t know which one.

  20. I only know the holiday used in the singular. I’m rather adamant about this because I live in Moscow
    a-ha, Queen Mab of Semika, you are challenging me, a true-born Muscovite, as stubborn as the people of Lewes! I found 18 references to semiki in the plural (not counting my own and the hereinbefore Gorky’s, the latter can be discounted though as it can refer to a multitude of consecutive years, not days). And these are just for semiki and not for sed’miki, semeriki, sed’mitsy, semyaki etc. meaning the same. Look here or here or here. Do you surrender or do you want more refs?
    Re translations, I was wrong about Schneider being the only one, I dug out my ‘Mother’ in English translated by American Margaret Wettlin and googled her and then checked on Amazon – there are translations of the whole trilogy by her. They should be better, because she worked in Russia with Russian editors helping her. But Schneider’s is still being republished – in 2000-s!

  21. The Windows IE menu options only seems available if the comments are opened as a new window.

  22. on Safari, click View at the top menu, go down to Text Encoding and in the drop down menu choose Cyrillic (Windows) – that works. Sorry, can’t help with Explorer, deleted all copies. (thanks for prompting, AJP)

  23. Hat, could you fix up the mojibake on this page?
    Done, I hope. Let me know if you still see gibberish.
    I was wrong about Schneider being the only one
    Thank goodness—that idea really upset me!

  24. I’ve never heard of Russian Orthodox communities in the US celebrating this holiday.

    Maybe because its a folk tradition, and the majority of Orthodox emigres would have been distant from this tradition. Also, from what I’ve read/heard, I don’t think the American orthodox believers go in for such dualist beliefs.

    Try Amazon UK – there’s a whole different range of books by Gorky, although they do look strange.

    By the way, what code’s getting used for the Cyrillic? Its coming out all alien for me. I need to update my settings.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    ééööóóêêååííããøøùùççõõúúÞÞ
    ôôûûââààïïððîîëëääææýý
    ßß÷÷ññììèèòòüüááþþ//
    This is the Qwerty keyboard for Russian as AJP suggested. I want to know if it will register properly (double letters should be more easily recognizable than single letters).

  26. marie-lucie says:

    It worked! and now I can also see Russian words in the other messages. Thank you, AJP! Your method was the easiest (but perhaps limited to macs).

  27. marie-lucie says:

    Well, I wrote too soon. When I last looked at this thread (once my comment was posted, before closing the thread), my Russian keyboard characters, and those of everyone else, were right. Now they are back to gibberish.

  28. Mine are gibberish again too, but I see my browser has reset itself to Western ISO-8859-01 character encoding.

  29. Sheesh. Boys. How did a scholarly discussion turn into the War of the Translators?
    Well, the links don’t work for me, but I’ll take your word for it. But, nudge that I am, I’d want confirmation that the usage was the right time period and right region. But see how much fun this is? How satisfying? Now we have real linguistic evidence instead of “that’s what it seems like to me.”

  30. Perhaps Sashura knows how to make it stay Cyrillic when you reopen your computer–maybe that’s a bad idea, though, who knows?

  31. Sashura. Sorry. Is that a typical Russian name?

  32. sorry about the links, I’m sure I’ve formatted them correctly, don’t know why they won’t work. For your files, here is a quote from the Perm University study on the names of Russian holidays (http://www.psu.ru/psu/files/0194/problemy_filology.pdf): Праздник Святой Троицы в народе имеет также сокращенное однословное название – Троица. Период от Вознесения Господня до праздника Святой Троицы, или неделя перед праздником Святой Троицы, именуется словом Семики. (The Holiday of Holy Trinity also has a contracted popular one-word name of Trinity. The period from Our Lord’s Ascension to the holiday of Holy Trinity, or the week before the Holy Trinity, is called by the word Semiki.)
    Mab, may I ask why you use ‘nudge’ for “зануда”? I’d say zanuda is a pain, a bore, drag or nag, or even archaic pedant. I can see that by ‘nudge’ you are trying to avoid the negatives of ‘pain’ or ‘bore’, but you may take it too far from the original Russian word.

  33. The source for Hat’s pages includes the setting content=”text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″.
    This is very bad for the prevailing purposes: I vigorously recommend that Hat wheedles his computer person to fix this to utf-8 and have the archives (if possible) re-encoded.
    I’m mildly amazed it ever worked at all: apparently Hat is using something that embodies HTML unicode entities for all his Cyrillic needs, which way madness could reasonably be thought to have lain.

  34. don’t know why they won’t work
    For some reason they have the languagehat URL tacked on to the front:

    http://www.languagehat.com/archives/ribka74.ru/prazdnichnie_scenarii/troitsa-chast-1

    instead of:

    http://www.ribka74.ru/prazdnichnie_scenarii/troitsa-chast-1/

  35. “text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″
    This is the default for my computer (Windows XP-Firefox)Western ISO-8859-1
    utf-8
    I tried changing my character encoding to this and m-l’s Cyrillic mojibake keyboard turned to all question marks, Mab’s text too. Hat’s post and Sashura’s comments are the only things that are rock solid no matter what character coding is selected. But wait…mab’s Cyrillic at February 4, 2010 12:43 PM morphs all over the place, but the comment at February 4, 2010 07:42 AM is just fine. Something changed on Mab’s system between the two comments.

  36. Sashura. it’s one of the dozens of diminutives for Alexander, old-fashioned now, popular at the turn of the last century. The poet Blok was one famous Sashura. It’s a contraction of two common diminutives – Sasha and Shura. For me it’s a take-up – I was teased as Sashurka and Sashuravi by two different people for different reasons. (Shuravi is the Dari – Afghan/Persian – nickname/word for Russians/Soviets. I think it means ‘council’, hence Soviet.)

  37. “Noodge” is also Yiddish for the same thing. It’s used a lot in America.

  38. sorry for the confusion. I’ve formatted the links again, please check if they work.
    here
    here
    here
    re viewing Cyrillics, unicode (UTF-8) should cover most codings and current Macs pick up most languages automatically anyway. If not, change to Cyrillics under View, but the browser may go back to default after the page is reloaded. You can also change fonts to Cyrillics in browser preferences, but that would change the way you view Latin characters.
    to type Cyrillics (and other langs) on Macs go to System Preferences>International>Edit Languages and check box for the language you want. If you can’t touch type activate Keyboard Viewer in International>Input Menu, open it thru main screen menu (it should be at the bottom of the language drop down menu in the top right corner of the screen) and click-type.
    Maybe Mab knows which encodings are used on the machine there?

  39. What coding do I use? Um, well, er, hm… (small voice) how would I find that out? I have a licensed Russian version of microsoft XP. I see everyone’s Russian perfectly. I never think about it because I always see everyone’s encoding perfectly; I think it adjusts to whatever the encoding is on the emails or sites I get or go to. But, um, you can tell I’m a techno-ninny. Sorry if I’m mucking things up.
    Nudge (noodge) is Yiddish for a pestering, boring, annoying pain in the butt who won’t let things go. That is, zanuda. (My Yiddish dictionary tells me it might in fact come from Russian.)

  40. testing testing. This is what my coding bar calls something like Western European (ISO) çàíóäà

  41. testing testing This is what my coding bar calls Cyrillic Windows çàíóäà

  42. testing testing This is what my coding bar calls UTF 8 çàíóäà
    Even after refreshing the screen I see all of them. I mean the Russian is Russian, not ??? or weird codes or computer garbage.
    Do you folks like any of them?

  43. They all look like garbage to me.

  44. The source for Hat’s pages includes the setting content=”text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″. This is very bad for the prevailing purposes: I vigorously recommend that Hat wheedles his computer person to fix this to utf-8 and have the archives (if possible) re-encoded.
    I just went into my Templates code and found:
    <meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=<$MTPublishCharset$>” /$>
    Do I take it correctly that this means my encodings are dependent on whatever Movable Type sets them as?
    Something changed on Mab’s system between the two comments.
    No, I went back and replaced the gibberish with Cyrillic generated by me.

  45. oh. I’ll transliterate:)

  46. John Emerson says:

    I think that the problem is at the receiver’s end. I’m using my backup computer and don’t have any non-latin scripts installed.
    It may be that some kind of upgrade somewhere (Steve’s computer or host) sabotaged his site for some viewers who didn’t upgrade. Just another normal e-disaster.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    For me, Sashura’s links 1 and 3 show beautifully, but link 2 can’t be opened (error message). On the other hand, my earlier test fails, as do mab’s three tests (but mab, your earlier posts look OK, as do Sashura’s).
    Sashura: your advice about Cyrillic on macs is the same as AJP’s earlier, and that is what I had used, as I wrote before. The characters looked fine when I first sent the post, but after I closed and then reopened the thread, it all became gibberish again.

  48. Mab’s earlier posts look OK because they were fixed with Hattic Magic. Something in Mab’s system is generating characters that no one else can read. I suspect there are a lot of computers in Russia that do this, because I get a LOT of Russian spam in the same gibberish.
    Whenever I have a problem with languages, I go to the Microsoft website and start upgrading the service packs. One computer I bought did not even have Service Pack 2 installed; now there is a Service Pack 3 as well. I also had to download something-or-other for Arabic. When I tried to enable Arabic in the Control Panel it told me what group of eastern character sets to download.
    As a workaround, what about the Russian keyboard in the Gate2home link in the Languages Utilities post? Here is m-l’s double letter keyboard trick again with the Russian keyboard:
    ййццууккееннггшшщщззххъъ
    ффыыввааппррооллдджээ
    яяччссммиииттььббюю

  49. marie-lucie says:

    ййццууккее
    This is a new try.

  50. What’s weird — it seems to me — is that none of you can read my UTF 8 Russian. I thought that was a form of unicode that was more or less readable anywhere. The other things that are weird — it seems to me — are 1) didn’t I write in Russian before and you could read it? and 2) I don’t have trouble on other sites in Russian. Of course, most of those are Russian sites, but still.

  51. Hat: I have never used Movable Type, but according to my sources you can (and in my opinion, profitably could) edit the value of the PublishCharset setting in your mt.cfg file.
    The discussion here seems to lack much-needed clarity, I’m afraid: the single most important thing is what the webpage itself says the encoding is: browsers have (in these degenerate days) a tendency to believe it.
    And good old ISO 8859-1 (AKA Latin 1) doesn’t include Cyrillic, so the only way to get it in is to encode the Unicode character values using a special HTML syntax provided for this purpose, which is all very well as far as it goes, but commenter’s browsers (in whatever encoding) are unlikely to do this.
    You can of course set your browser’s encoding manually to match that used by the commenter, but that is surely a less good choice. I don’t guarantee that commenter’s browsers will upload correct utf-8 if Hat changes settings — I have never understood exactly what the encoding of comment boxes is supposed to be — and I do almost guarantee there will be unwelcome implications for the site as a whole (and old posts in particular) if it is changed.
    But utf-8 can encode Latin, Cyrillic and (which is not to be sneezed at) pretty much everything else, and according to a recent newsfactoid it now accounts for abut 50% of the web. It is widely agreed to be a Good Thing, and the way of the future.

  52. marie-lucie says:

    My new attempt worked, but I have no idea why it did not work a little earlier, as I did exactly the same thing in both cases, with the Russian font I moved into the language box at the top right end of my mac screen. But mab’s examples of Cyrillic still show up as gibberish.

  53. My computer guy agrees with you and will try to fix it when he gets a chance (like all good computer guys, he’s way overloaded with work).

  54. Er, that “you” was directed at des.

  55. I believe that Preview converts odd characters into HTML entities in the Comments field, so that may be a difference.

  56. but can we get back to the muttons – I have long struggled to translate – or even explain the notion of ‘meschanstvo’, so beloved of Gorky. It is one of those Russian words describing a moral or ethical notion which do not seem to have a corresponding word in English – to the point when I start doubting if the notion itself exists in Anglo-Saxonie at all, for lack of word.
    Literally meschanstvo means ‘citizens – town dwellers’. Historically it refers to a particular group in the highly regimented Russian imperial class system. Meschane were below the gentry and the merchants (kuptsy) and above workers and peasants. You had to be an owner of real estate (house) in town to acquire the right to register as a meschanin.
    But in Gorky’s usage meschanin, meschanstvo is an epitome of aggressive narrow-mindedness, with prudishness added and coloured with high-class aspirations. Essex Girl would be close to what it means. Meschanstvo is a key notion in Gorky’s work. It is close to ‘poshlost’, which is the key is in Chekhov’s work (poshlost’ is in between vulgarity and commonness, but also untranslatable). To Chekhov, poshlost as vulgarity/commonplace is mostly cultural, but to Gorky meschanstvo, also vulgarity/commonplace, has a strong social weight. During the Soviet period to be accused of being a meschanin was a very strong reproach, albeit non-political.
    Hat uses ‘petty-bourgeoisie’ here, which is correct (maybe town-folk?), but if meschanstvo were used in Gorky’s expanded, behaviour-outlook context, would petty-bourgeoisie fit? Russian-English dictionaries give it as a translation of the word мещанство, but petty-bourgeoisie translated back again becomes ‘мелкая буржуазия’, a politologist term, not a cultural category.
    Also, a little footnote: there is a magazine called Neva, after the river, but it was launched 40 years after Gorky’s novel was published. Neva was the first to publish Conquest’s Great Terror in Russian.

  57. meschanstvo
    I’ve always seen it used in the context of the Moscow merchant class in tsarist Russia which was associated with a middle class philistinism – no interest (or an actual dislike) of anything else apart from money – perhaps originally caused by a lack of opportunity or time but hardened into belief. The sorts that would actively prevent artistic inclinations of their children. Or if at all involved with culture, only go to the opera to be seen, don’t like modern art or music
    City bankers, in other words.
    I have a habit of describing tasteless expensive things as meschansky or bezkulturny

  58. that’s the ones. But is ‘philistines’ enough?

  59. oh, AJP, thanks, for explaining the Noodge/Nudge thing, I’ve never heard it in this sense.

  60. for a one word translation of the sense, avoiding the politics, I think philistine catches it well enough. If your left-leaning, then bourgeois (without the petty) covers it too.
    BUT
    “Philistines” does not work in the Gorky quote here and I think the translation has to be literal (Townsfolk?), even if it doesn’t carry the connotations. Its been awhile since I saw the films (I’ve not read the books (yet)), but I’m sure the other meaning is loud and clear, and I suspect more so in the books.
    To be honest, if the thing or concept doesn’t have a direct translation or the closest is misleading (kasha-porridge or pelmeni-ravioli as examples) its sometimes better not to translate but to explain in a note.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    meschanstvo
    Most of Sashura’s social and psychological description fits in with French petit bourgeois (the person(s)), petite bourgeoisie (the class), except that les petits bourgeois often do not own any property, and they don’t always aspire to the lifestyle of la haute bourgeoisie or even higher as Emma Bovary (who came from a peasant family) did (her husband, a true petit bourgeois, didn’t). I would say that meschanstvo has connotations in between petit bourgeois, nouveau riche and also arriviste (the latter word would be apt for the get-rich-quick class which sprung up in Russia after the fall of communism).

  62. Re: Niva vs. Neva and meshchanstvo- this is neither here nor there, but Olesha mentions Niva magazine in his autobiographical short story “I Look Into the Past,” written in 1927 and set in 1909, when Olesha, or “Dosia” as the main character is called, was about ten years old. The young dreamer “Dosia” is fascinated by bicycles and airplanes, less because he is interested in engineering, as his father hopes, than because they represent the possibility of escape from a boring, pretentious middle-class household. “Dosia’s” parents are worried that he might be masturbating under the bedclothes, but couch their fears in the more acceptable language of culture: they reproach him for not reading the library of classics which his father has had carefully bound for him. Essentially, the father has prepared a suitable love match for the son, which the son disdainfully rejects: “So let’s talk about the bookcase. It is filled with Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Goncharov, Danilevsky and Grigorovich. Tolstoy is missing because Niva magazine just didn’t give Tolstoy as a literary supplement. And there’s no Chekhov because you discontinued the subscription to Niva before it started carrying him.” The odd link between reading the specially-bound Niva supplements and masturbating is made even clearer later on… I wonder what Gorky would’ve done with that!
    And re: the poor English translations of Soviet émigrés: my all-time favorite so far is Charles Malamuth’s rendering in Zolotoi telenok of “opoloumevshie kholostyaki,” that is, “half-crazed bachelors,” as “onanistic bachelors!” My only guess is that he took the infix -pol- to be the word for “gender, sex” not the word for “half” – but it’s a weird decision, any way you slice it!

  63. Hat uses ‘petty-bourgeoisie’ here, which is correct (maybe town-folk?), but if meschanstvo were used in Gorky’s expanded, behaviour-outlook context, would petty-bourgeoisie fit?
    Maybe not, but I don’t know any better way to translate it. “Philistines” works in some contexts, but (as keith100 says) not here.
    my all-time favorite so far is Charles Malamuth’s rendering in Zolotoi telenok of “opoloumevshie kholostyaki,” that is, “half-crazed bachelors,” as “onanistic bachelors!”
    Thanks, that gave me a good laugh!

  64. Trond Engen says:

    There is no longer literate and illiterate. This is the age of the transliterate.

  65. I dug this snippet up from Google Books. I don’t know the author, because the book is a collection of essays:

    [...] with more contempt than our “bourgeois”. It is the essence of mediocrity, not only intellectual (as in English) but moral as well. Bourgeois Street in St. Petersburg was the red-light district. Pushkin sets out to rescue the word. He relates how his ancestors fell from favor by refusing to bootlick or flatter, while newcomers curried power — “and thus I am a Russian bourgeois.”

  66. and thus I am a Russian bourgeois.
    I think Pushkin talks about the working gentleman here, rather than the property owning meschanin. The concept of intellectual work as work equal to manual work that should be equally treated and properly remunerated was very important to Pushkin. These are the beginnings of future intelligentsia.

  67. keith, marie-lucie, thanks a lot,
    I love arriviste. How is it different from parvenu?
    aof, re onanistic bachelors: are you sure Malamuth didn’t mean it? it’s wrong word-wise, but catches the image so perfectly.

  68. Onanistic bachelors: in England, at least, this would be “wankers”, wouldn’t it?
    Oh, AJP, thanks, for explaining the Noodge/Nudge thing
    I meant to say that although I don’t speak Russian i thought mab’s use of nudge was brilliant.

  69. nudge
    yes, it is – and it’s very modern as well, in computer design you ‘nudge’ objects in place, which is a rather tedious process.

  70. Onanistic bachelors
    wankers – merchant bankers in rhyming slang.
    Which brings us back to meschanstvo
    Its all connected

  71. I dug this snippet up from Google Books. I don’t know the author, because the book is a collection of essays
    My Google-fu is superior—it is by Sidney Monas! I googled the title of the book (The Craft & Context of Translation, ed. William Arrowsmith and Roger Shattuck, 1961, repr. 1964, 1971) and found a table of contents on Questia; the page number on the snippet turns out to be from Monas’s “Boian and Iaroslavna”:
    PART ONE THE CRAFT OF TRANSLATION
    D. S. CARNE-ROSS Translation and Transposition 3
    KENNETH REXROTH The Poet as Translator 22
    SMITH PALMER BOVIE Translation as a Form of Criticism 38
    JEAN PARIS Translation and Creation 57
    WERNER WINTER Impossibilities of Translation 68
    PETER ARNOTT Greek Drama and the Modern Stage 83
    ROBERT W. CORRIGAN Translating for Actors 95
    SIDNEY MONAS Boian and Iaroslavna: Some Lyrical Assumptions in Russian Literature 107
    WILLIAM ARROWSMITH The Lively Conventions of Translation 122
    ROGER SHATTUCK Artificial Horizon: Translator as Navigator 141
    PART TWO THE CONTEXT OF TRANSLATION
    DENVER LINDLEY The Editor’s Problem 158
    RICHARD HOWARD A Professional Translator’s Trade Alphabet 164
    WERNER WINTER Translation as Political Action 172
    PART THREE AGENDA FOR TRANSLATORS AND PUBLISHERS
    WILLIAM ARROWSMITH Ancient Greek 179
    FREDERIC WILL Post-Classical Greek 183
    SMITH PALMER BOVIE Latin 187
    SIDNEY MONAS Russian 189
    ROGER SHATTUCK French 191
    D. S. CARNE-ROSS Italian 195
    WILLIAM ARROWSMITH Twentieth Century Italian 197
    GEORGE D. SCHADE Spanish 200
    THEODORE ZIOLKOWSKI German 202
    Hmm… I may have to get this book.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    Sahura: I love arriviste. How is it different from parvenu?
    The arriviste wants to get somewhere, the parvenu has already got there. In each case these are people who desperately want to join a social class higher than the one they started from, and that class looks down on them even if they make it in terms of money and possessions. The people who crashed the White House dinner were definitely arrivistes, although they didn’t seem to have what it takes to become parvenus.
    A parvenu is not quite the same as a nouveau riche, since the newly rich (all these terms seem to be used only in masculine form, or in the plural for couples) might have gained wealth through a variety of means (eg winning the lottery, unexpected inheritance, as well as their own efforts), and also might be showing off their wealth without rejecting their own background, but parvenu implies that the person has made strenuous efforts not only to escape their previous restrained circumstances but also to climb up the social ladder and become part of the upper crust. So even though the upper crust might despise a parvenu for his lowly origin and sometimes plebeian tastes and manners, they have to recognize that he has some talents.

  73. thanks Marie-Lucie,
    looking at the same subject from a different angle: isn’t there a certain pressure, political correctness et all, NOT to use these words for fear of upsetting those disadvantaged at whom they are aimed. Meschane have lost their accusative power, I’d say, around the end of the 60s and now definitely sound dated. Novy russky (new Russian) is close, but there is an apparent streak of envy in this, not derision as in meschane. I recently had a heated argument with a friend who was saying that ‘chav’ is unfair and disgusting – with leveller’s passion that really surprised me.

  74. I wouldn’t know how to use chav, even though I’ve seen it written.

  75. don’t use them, it’s dangerous.

  76. marie-lucie says:

    Sashura: isn’t there a certain pressure, political correctness et all, NOT to use these words for fear of upsetting those disadvantaged at whom they are aimed.
    Not that I know of. Of course you would not use such words in the presence of those you are disparaging unless you aimed to be deliberately insulting, but I think that is normal politeness rather than political correctness.
    chav: I know very little Russian, let alone controversial words.

  77. Chav is English. (We got Catherine Tate, Little Britain, with their exaggerated chav characters, and the Rose Tyler Dr. Who’s down here in the US.)

  78. sorry, I should’ve made it clear that chav is English. I’ve just consulted my children, it seems that kéké in French corresponds to chav.
    how’s Little Britain regarded on your side of the pond?

  79. On chav, having read the Wikipedia entry, it seems to me that no self-respecting young person would want to be associated with a word like this. It’s well-known to everybody, apparently, and I doubt that it could possibly be cool any longer–if it ever was (which I doubt).
    But now there’s another word I found, hidden under ‘chav’:

    In August 2006, a company introducing tuk-tuk vehicles into the south coast city of Brighton, England named one the “Chavrolet”, which had it painted in the distinctive Burberry tartan
    Does everyone use this phrase, tuk-tuk vehicles? I feel more & more like Robinson Crusoe.

  80. I bet Sash has his own tuk-tuk vehicle.

  81. I bet Sash has his own tuk-tuk vehicle.

  82. “Tuk-tuk”* is what you say to tiny children in Norwegian if they give you something of value.
    *(=takk)

  83. John Emerson says:

    Rip Van Winkle, AJP. You’re so out of touch.

  84. Rather than fighting over who gets to be Crusoe and who Winkle, we can all take our places among the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

  85. how’s Little Britain regarded on your side of the pond?
    Well enough that the boys successfully pitched an off-season Little Britain USA; the episode with Sting singing along with Emily (the transparent transvestite) won an Emmy.

  86. In complaints about the BBC on internet message boards, I often read that people are convinced that it is dumbing down and only aimed at chavs now (especially BBC1).

  87. Seven Sleepers of Ephesus
    Some say the cave of the seven sleepers is in Jordan. They do have the bones of the dog in there.
    That “tuk-tuk” is called a three-wheeler in Nepal, at least by the guide book, and is considered to be the most environmentally sound taxi.

  88. John Emerson says:

    When I found out that at least tuk-tuks aren’t two-strokes I warmed to them considerably.

  89. Seven Sleepers of Ephesus
    I have heard this used in Norwegian (syvsover) & I think Sili mentioned the dormouse.

  90. From LH’s 7 sleepers link:
    The legend of the seven sleepers has given origin to sjusovare or syv sover (literally a seven-sleeper) to be used in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish to refer to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. It means someone who “sleeps hard and long”. The word also is used to mean the hibernating rodent called the edible dormouse.

  91. I didn’t know about the edible dormouse.
    What are you doing awake, AJP?

  92. marie-lucie says:

    I didn’t know that dormice (?) came in edible and (presumably) inedible varieties. Are there other animals which are thusly classified?

  93. Keeping in mind that I follow the very simple rule Animalia ⊂ inedible myself, others that come to mind with edible in their common name are bullfrog and fruit bat.

  94. WiPe tells me that the dormouse family has many genera and species; that the “edible” (a.k.a. “fat”) dormouse was raised in ancient Rome for snacking purposes; that the dormouse native to Britain is something else (in a different genus, if that means anything); and that the word dormouse had no mouse in it until folk etymology went to work on it.

  95. Ah, back from the frigid dacha and this thread continues to be interesting.
    “Novy russky (new Russian) is close, but there is an apparent streak of envy in this, not derision as in meschane”
    Novy russky is very derisive. I suppose there is a bit of envy — who doesn’t want gobs of money? — but it refers to tasteless, stupid, extravagant spending of money. Even people who want to, say, remodel their apartments luxuriously don’t want novy russky style. There isn’t any positive of sense of the self-made man or woman in it. Now it has been superceded a bit by the concept of Rubyovka, what I call Rodeosky Drive, where the disgustingly rich live in McMansions in horrible gated communities protected by armed guards.
    All of this is hard to translate because we have different associations/connotations for people of these classes. So sometimes you need a descriptive translation.
    BTW, it’s sometimes hard going the other way. Whistleblower is virtually impossible to translate into Russian because a whistleblower is good, but all the words and phrases for it in Russian carry a very negative connotation.

  96. tuk-tuk – is it onomatopoeic?
    Rublyovka, with an ‘l’, after Rublyovskoye chaussé
    When Hedrick Smith wrote New Russians it immediately jumped into the Russian language as an idiom. There was, I am sure, a bit of positive in it then, the 90s chaos changed it.
    Have a look here for Whistleblower, mab. It is impossible to translate it with a positive meaning, not so much because of linguistics, but because of the social climate (current) and relations between the people and the authority (historically). Who do you whistleblow to, think? It’s a very old saying, ‘свистунов – на мороз’ (whistleblowers, kick’em out in the cold). When demokratia and pravozashitnik (human rights activist) are swear words, how do you expect whistleblower to be positive? Wait 5-10 years till the atmosphere in the country changes, and then the word will appear without you or me struggling to translate it. Dobrolyubov’s satirical magazine was called ‘Svistok’ (Whistle). It was his take on right-wing critics who called democratic writers ‘svistuny’ (whistlers, irresponsible chatterists).

  97. I expect if I looked around I could find an explanation for someone naming the British educated middle class “the chattering classes”, but I think it’s an inapt description. They don’t chatter as a group and they don’t chatter any more than anyone else.
    I got up because I was awake for a long time, Ø. Then I slept until 11.
    I applaud MMcM for not eating the nearest dormouse and in general for being vegetarian.

  98. It is impossible to translate it with a positive meaning, not so much because of linguistics, but because of the social climate (current) and relations between the people and the authority (historically).
    I think that was what mab meant. It is true in many places where a poor and oppressed populace has to deal with remote, uncaring, and brutal authorities; in American ghetto neighborhoods, for example, the same contempt is held (sometimes with lethal consequences) for those who report crimes (“Stop snitchin’“).

  99. Whistleblower isn’t positive word in english either. There’s always a slight touch of distaste there (if not down right contempt)when its used.
    There would need to be a new word to describe the positive functions.
    Some Scots use clipe – completely negative of course,for an informer. Has nice ring to it.

  100. John Emerson says:

    In 1855 Theophile Gautier wrote: Bourgeois doesn’t mean a citizen with the rights of the city. A duke may be boirgeois in the indirect sense in which the word has been used for the past thirty years or so. Bourgeois, in France, means roughly the same as philistine in Germany, and it means everyone, whatever his position, who is not initiated in the arts or doesn’t understand them.
    Gautier refers back to the original medieval meaning (a citydweller involved in trade — neither a peasant nor a nobleman nor a clerk), but his definition (which he traces back to 1825) is a pejorative which apparently means “prosperous but uncultured”.
    Marx’s technical and political meaning came later still: someone who lives off property ownership, a rentier or someone in manufacturing or trade, and employer rather than an employee, and not a nobleman or peasant.
    “Petty-bourgeois” in Marx’s sense presumably means the least successful bourgeois (contrasted to the high bourgeoisie of the Andrew Carnegie type). But in Gautier’s sense “petty” is just an intensifier, since to him pettiness is part of being bourgeois.
    These are fairly archaic terms. By these standards, the Rockefellers are bourgeois, since they’re property-owners but not landed nobility. That pretty much distinguishes capitalist society, the replacement of the nobility by the bourgeoisie.
    America’s class system was never much like Europe’s except in the South, and it changed again in the middle of the 20th century when everyone except The Poor and The Minorities became nominally middle-class (= “bourgeois”, a word avoided because of its Marxist and bohemian flavor).

  101. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t have the impression that whistleblower = snitch.
    To me a whistleblower is one who dares to report what the community is whispering but afraid of saying aloud, for instance an unsafe situation in a factory, or corruption in public office, and does so courageously, often at great personal risk. A snitch reports on something the community does not want reported and does so in secret, often for personal gain.

  102. John Emerson says:

    To go on, during the Sixties I remember one radical saying “France has the pettiest petty-bourgeoisie anywhere.” That’s part of the American misunderstanding of France, I think: we go to France to get existentialists, avant-gardists, radicals, intellectuals, decadent aristocrats, gourmets, and so on, but France has always been predominantly petty bourgeois — the petty bourgeoisie called most of the other groups into being, oppositionally.
    “Chattering classes” has been popularized in the US by George Will in order to insult anyone who disagrees with him. He also talks about “the dangerous classes”. If it were up to Will we’d have a restricted franchise, debtor’s prisons, workhouses, poorhouses, and a state religion.

  103. When demokratia and pravozashitnik (human rights activist) are swear words
    that’s scary
    we translated demokratia to our own language archilal – narodopravlenie – it just can’t have any negative meaning then
    pravozashitnik also omits the adjective ‘human’, so it becomes ambiguous word maybe for the uninitiated

  104. “Whistleblower isn’t positive word in english either. There’s always a slight touch of distaste there (if not down right contempt)when its used.”
    I don’t agree, Keith100. Several years ago Time magazine named their “people of the year” The Whistleblowers (three women who blew the whistle on corruption). I understand the words “snitch” and “whistleblower” as m-l does.

  105. being vegetarian
    MMcM is not the only Hattian vegetarian. I wonder if this is something common to languagehat readers. I’m not a vegetarian anymore, but as I read languagehat more and more, I find myself eating meat less and less. Cause and effect? Probably unrelated: most Peace Corps volunteers are both vegetarian and have a small tattoo somewhere.

  106. whistleblower
    Depends on which part of Anglophonia you’re from or which version you learnt. Here in Britain it is as I described. It might be one of those words that’s getting positivised by those labelled with it.
    I am, however, glad that its not got negative connotations elsewhere.

  107. So whistleblower is negative in the UK? Interesting. Is this a North American thing? When a factory is closed down because of pollution, of course the workers don’t like it. But otherwise — and sometimes even in those cases — a whistleblower is a hero in the US.
    (waiting to be contradicted…)

  108. a whistleblower is a hero in the US
    Yes. (But of course these threads are dominated by Peace Hippies.) I think Canada too.
    We also have our Silver Shovel awards.

  109. A whistleblower is certainly a hero to me, but I regret to say that I am not accepted as a spokesperson by the American masses.

  110. John Emerson says:

    It depends on the level of cynicism about government. Where governbment is generally trusted (e.g. Scandinavia) I suspect that whistleblowers are respected.
    Mistrust of government is not necessarily justified. Cynicism opens the door for lots of other kinds of creepiness. A lot of American suspicion of government is inherited from the slaveholders, who needed a weak federal government in order to survive.

  111. “I regret to say that I am not accepted as a spokesperson by the American masses”
    Aw, Hat. I’ll vote for you!

  112. “A lot of American suspicion of government is inherited from the slaveholders”
    Wow. You think? I wouldn’t look farther than the wingnuts and their mailings, but that’s just me.

  113. John Emerson says:

    Suspicion of government goes back to the beginning and is basically hardwired. Initially it was the British oppressors, but the South took over and there’s been a continuous tradition.

  114. A lot of American suspicion of government is inherited from the slaveholders
    Trust in American government is something that has actually been studied empirically. It was initially very high, then plummeted during Watergate and only gradually went back up. People do expect government to behave ethically and are disappointed when it doesn’t. If whistleblowers aren’t respected in North America, how to you explain the popularity of JFK’s Profiles in Courage, which examined people who took unpopular but ethical public stances for the common good which cost them personally. We are still a nation of Peace Hippies, even when we behave pragmatically.

  115. to Sashura – This is very interesting – what is it that “onanistic bachelor” captures, exactly? The man is sitting fully dressed, buttoned-up, behatted, on the Odessa beach in summer… oh. I see. Bachelor, therefore onanistic. Tee hee. I must say even though Malamuth made many bad mistakes (which I assume were inadvertent), he did (purposefully) add goofy jokes of his own to the novel, so I can actually see him deliberately choosing this (although Ilf and Petrov themselves had gotten most of this kind of ribald humor out of their system in 12 chairs…).

  116. marie-lucie says:

    Quite a few years ago (probably early sixties) I read an article in a French magazine contrasting French and American perceptions of their respective governments. According to the author, the French were always suspicious, but the American attitude was “How could they possibly dare to lie to us?” A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, especially on the American side.

  117. John Emerson says:

    The entire South resisted the Federal Government in more or less everything, successfully until 1965 or so. There was tremendous resistance to the New Deal on these same grounds, and it wasn’t restricted to the South. The New Deal only slightly reversed that trend, and by 1968 that was gone.
    I’m not too crazy about “Profiles in Courage”. It’s one of the sources of the Democratic habit of shitting on Democratic voters. In several of the 8 cases named I think that the Senator praised by Sorenson / Kennedy was probably wrong.

  118. John Emerson says:

    French are suspicious and cynical by temperament, but they suspect individuals and don’t suspect government as such. The level of tax cheating in France is supposed to be extraordinary, however, to the extent that the laws are customized to be hard to cheat. American tax cheating is probably approaching the French level by now.

  119. The anti-government thing in Amercia might have started as early as Shay’s Rebellion 1786 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shays%27_Rebellion
    All revolutions end up the same.

  120. Bachelor, therefore onanistic.
    you dig it, aof!
    The town of Semika sure gives a lot of food for thought. Are you sure you’re not inventing all these amazing translations, Hat? Faddey Bulgarin as a Bulgarian, bursa school as stockmarket – it’s just too much. Munchausen.
    @John Emerson: there is a different side to the bourgeois – keeping up with the Jones’s. If it weren’t for this, we probably woudln’t have had a thriving fine arts (market) today, music, architecture, design – and posssibly good literature too.
    sorry, I don’t understand how distrust of government is linked to slaveholders/traders?

  121. John Emerson says:

    In the US, the central government is weak by design, primarily because if it were strong, laws against slavery and segregation might have been passed.

  122. I don’t understand how distrust of government is linked to slaveholders/traders
    If you are a bank robber, are you going to trust the police? Likewise if you want to oppress someone, like if you have some economic interest that depends on coercive tactics, you don’t want someone in the government getting all ethical. The issue of “states rights”, that is, that the states’ governments rather than the federal government have jurisdiction over a legal area, has long been used to disenfranchise unprivileged groups. A smaller government is cheaper to buy.
    I still say a “whistleblower” is positive. The idea of rooting out waste and corruption is even enshrined in the structure of our governmental agencies. Most of them have an Inspector General office just for that purpose. Only the most cynical will see something ominous in the fact that most IG’s report to the head of the agency they oversee.

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