Time Bomb.

I just finished the Strugatskys’ Жук в муравейнике (‘A beetle in an anthill,’ for some reason translated Beetle in the Anthill — it’s a metaphor, not a description of an actual anthill); for the first 95% of the way, I was engrossed and delighted (I can be exact about the figure, since I was reading on a Kindle), but the last chapter was hasty and melodramatic and brought me down a bit. At any rate, here’s a sentence that struck me:

Саркофаг есть своеобразная «бомба времени», вскрыв которую современные земляне получат возможность воочию ознакомиться с особенностями облика, анатомии и физиологии своих далеких предков.

The sarcophagus [an alien artifact] is a sort of “bomb of time”; by opening it, earthlings today can acquaint themselves with the distinctive features of the appearance, anatomy, and physiology of their distant ancestors.

I translate «бомба времени» as “bomb of time” to suggest how strange it sounded to me; it actually took me a moment to realize it was a Russianing of English “time bomb” (which is normally rendered “бомба замедленного действия,” ‘bomb of delayed action’). I checked the Национальный корпус русского языка and found only a few examples of its use, the first of which was from Mayakovsky’s Баня (The Bathhouse):

Пускай эта бомба времени разорвется у него.

Let that time bomb go off at his place.

Does «бомба времени» sound as strange to Russians as it does to me?

Actually, the more I thought about it, the odder “time bomb” itself seemed to me — a bomb made of time?? The earliest cite in the OED (updated 2012) is:
1893 Daily Tel. 9 Nov. 5/7 The engine of destruction was not a time bomb.
“Timed bomb” would seem more logical, but of course that’s harder to say.

Another oddity was the word кроков here:

Было там несколько схем и как бы кроков, набросанных рукой профессионального топографа, — рощицы, ручьи, болота, перекрестки дорог, […]

There were a number of diagrams and rough sketches, jotted down by the hand of a professional topographer: groves, streams, swamps, crossroads […]

The problem is that the noun кроки (from French croquis ‘quick sketch’) is indeclinable, and surely not common enough to have developed colloquial plural forms like the genitive plural “кроков” used here. But I asked Anatoly Vorobey, and he said:

I’m not very surprised – the word practically shouts “I’m a regularly declined nominative plural”, and the stress pattern fits, too (cf. куски). The dictionary can claim it to be a neut. sing. all it wants, the usage probably won out in these cases.

So there you are: I’ve become more purist than actual Russians.

Comments

  1. AJP Crown says:

    El Croquis is a pretty well known architecture magazine from Spain, and though it’s not a term used in English in architecture I think it may be used in fashion circles (though perhaps just in England).
    https://elcroquis.es/

  2. Does «бомба времени» sound as strange to Russians as it does to me?

    Yes. The meaning is that of a time capsule. For which капсула времени is an adequate translation.

  3. Ditto that. Time capsule, not time bomb. For the former, the almighty multitran strains to find a proper Russian translation. They suggest a “memorial capsule” sort of thing but it still sounds weird. The latter seems to totally normal to my L2 Anglophone ear. “A time-activated bomb”. Time fuse is from the same category, right? And depth charge? The first two aren’t calqued in Russian. They are бомба / взрыватель замедленного действия. Lest the feds associate any of our names with this explosive topic, I sign off as X

  4. кроки? Today is first time I heard that it wasn’t a declineable plural

  5. Interestingly “time bomb” meaning is relevant for the novel. It’s Sikorski’s opinion.

  6. In English, a “topographer” would not record an above-ground feature like a grove (or probably even a crossroads). The word might work (loosely reading “topographer” as meaning “cartographer”) if it were not prefixed by “professional,” but with that specification, it just seems wrong. Is this an issue in the Russian as well, or is topography not so strongly distinguished from other types of cartography they was it is in technical English?

  7. I think that anyone except professionals uses Russian analogs of “topographer” and “cartographer” interchangeably. This site explains (sorry, with translation):

    Картографы считаются специалистами по конструированию средне и мелкомасштабных карт с первичных источников, исходных данных.[…]
    Основой для выполнения всех топографических видов съемок являются государственные геодезические сети […] создание такой геодезической основы для топосъемок, если хотите, прерогатива и обязанность геодезистов.[…]
    А топографы – специалисты, скажем так, для построения локальных топографических карт.

    “Cartographers” are specialists in production of medium and small scale maps from the primary sources[…]
    The basis for all topographical measurements are state geodetic networks […] creation of such geodetic base for topographical measurements is the remit of “geodesists” […]
    “Topographers” are experts in the production of local topographical maps.

  8. Both words, topographer and cartographer, sound peculiar. The common occupation, the one people actually see around in the field, is a surveyor. In Russian, геодезист.

  9. @Dmitry Pruss: Surveyors are much more common in English as well, but surveyors don’t generally make maps on anything but the smallest scales (a few plats or less).

  10. I thought it would be easier to think of other terms that start with “time” like like “time bomb”, but it’s harder than I thought. Time lock seems to be a thing, and the aforementioned time fuse and time capsule… timeline, time zone, and time warp seem different to me somehow because they’re not physical objects, but maybe they’re in the same category.

  11. AJP Crown says:

    ЕБАТЬ СПАРТАК

    Loosely speaking, a surveyor measures property and a cartographer makes maps. It’s not a question of the scale of the job. There are enormous surveys and maps of tiny islands. Either one can require topographic info (traditionally via spot heights & contour lines, nowadays also DEMs or digital elevation models). I’m not sure “a topographer” is a proper job (profession) in itself, mapping topography is a task undertaken by surveyors & cartographers. Note there are also topological maps: scaleless diagrams, eg Underground train maps.

  12. The sarcophagus [an alien artifact] is a sort of “bomb of time”; by opening it, earthlings today can acquaint themselves with the distinctive features of the appearance, anatomy, and physiology of their distant ancestors.

    See, that definitely sounds like they meant to write “time capsule”, like D.O. says. There’s no way that the metaphor of a time bomb makes sense. The whole point of a time bomb is that you don’t have to do anything to it for it to have an effect; unlike a Twinkie or an Army mule, it goes off of its own accord.

    AG: time signature? Time machine? Timetable?

  13. David Marjanović says:

    ЕБАТЬ

    That’s the infinitive.

  14. AJP Crown says:

    That’s the infinitive.

    Ah yes, I vaguely recall the ть infinitive verb-ending. Blame the Moscovites. I merely copied from Instagram a stencilled slogan spray-painted in black on the pavement near the Dinamo (Dynamo) stadium and photographed by mab. Elsewhere on Instagram there’s also #ебатьспартак which has 6,793 posts and even #ебатьспартакебать with 2,467 posts so I’m feeling hopeful it’s not a typo.

    Wow, that’s a good video, juha.

  15. Graham Asher says:

    @Brett: “surveyors don’t generally make maps on anything but the smallest scales (a few plats or less)”

    I think you mean largest scales. The denominator gets smaller, but the scale larger, as you zoom in: 1:10,000 is a local map while 1:250,000 is a page from a motoring atlas or the like.

  16. Wow, that’s a good video, juha.

    Very enjoyable. When and how did the pig come to symbolize Spartak?

    I think you mean largest scales.

    That’s a lost cause; I’ve given up even trying to remember which is which. Add it to the list of inexcusably unmemorable terminology for related concepts.

  17. Не исключая значимость исторической вехи «Пищевика», фанаты футбольного клуба озвучивают свои варианты появления морды кабана на флаге у команды.

    Почему у «Спартака» символ свинья:

    1. потому что футболисты нанизывают победы и чемпионские награды также профессионально, как шашлычник надевает мясо на шампуры;

    2. потому что в красном ромбе значка «Спартак» присутствует буква «С» и в этих же ромбах очень удобно рисовать мордочки свиней;

    3. потому что красно-белые фирменные цвета команды близки по расцветке к мясу.

    https://www.babai.ru/articles/pochemu-u-spartaka-simvol-svinya.html

  18. AJP Crown says:

    One way to remember is that full scale is 1:1.

    Btw, does anyone know on which post the von Mackensen discussion was taking place? I’ve found a good German bio.

  19. When and how did the pig come to symbolize Spartak?

    Don’t know, but it is Spartak Moscow or Moscow (adj) Spartak or MjaSo that is meat. But I always imagined (my interest in these matters, the little of it there was, ended about 30 years ago) it as a piece of beef. In addition, their colors are red and white so I thought it’s marble beef.

  20. Lars Mathiesen says:

    A large scale model is large. (Michelangelo’s David is about 3:1). Surprisingly, that goes for maps too.

    (With the old ‘one inch’ way of indicating scales, larger numbers did give larger scales. 1″ = 1:63360, 2″ = 1:31680).

  21. PlasticPaddy says:

    @do
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/FC_Spartak_Moscow
    The Meat” (Russian: “Мясо”, “Myaso”) is a very popular nickname. The origins of the nickname belong to the days of the foundation of the club; in the 1920s, the team was renamed several times, from “Moscow Sports Club” to “Red Presnya” (after the name of one of the districts of Moscow) to “Pishcheviki” (“Food industry workers”) to “Promkooperatsiya” (“Industrial cooperation”) and finally to “Spartak Moscow” in 1935, and for many years the team was under patronage of one of the Moscow food factories that dealt with meat products.

  22. Почему у «Спартака» символ свинья

    Thanks!

  23. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I took ‘maps on the smallest scales’ to mean maps of a very small area, like anything else you might do on a metaphorical small scale – I think of surveyors as having to do with buying and selling houses, or maybe measuring out a building plot, not as making the ordinary kind of map which shows a town or more.

  24. /кроки – croquis/
    I agree with Anatoly and Dmitri, I’d decline kroki. At least in spoken speech, even though all dictionaries say it’s not declinable. F*** dictionaries, as AJP Spartacus says. If I were writing and change the sentence to put THEM in a non-declining position.
    Any noun that ends on -и in Russian strongly wants to be plural declinable. Kiwi and brandy are just holding, but whiskey has nearly surrendered.

    /bomb of time/
    It is strange, the expression. I think it should be left as it is, it is not a time capsule and not an timed explosive device. The Strugatskys probably borrowed it from Mayakovsky, who means it to be an ‘explosive’ time machine, a device that transports a ‘woman of the future’ to the present. So, the Strugatskys use it in a reverse meaning, getting to meet the ancestors, not the descendants living in the bright future. It least it’s how I’d interpret it.

    I found another reference to the ‘bomb of time’, quite recent. In a 2007 essay ‘The Bomb of Time’, Alexander Ilichevsky writes:
    Take for example not yet erected [Moscow] City, where half of Paris could be buried in the temple pit, it tells the consciousness that a new urban paradigm was dropped on the capital like a megaton bomb, and it exploded with dominance – the outbreak has already blinded, but the shock wave not yet reached.

    You see, he seems to be using it in a way, similar to the Strugatskys.

    the link http://textonly.ru/self/?issue=24&article=25773

    And here is a long article on Mayakovsky’s Banya with a complicated explanation of the invisible ‘bomb of time’. (in Russian) – https://ka2.ru/nauka/banja.html

  25. AJP Crown says:

    Hey, Sash!

  26. January First-of-May says:

    Kiwi and brandy are just holding, but whiskey has nearly surrendered.

    I think whiskey is still actively hanging on (it helps that plural-declinable виски is the plural of висок “side of head, temple”[1], though that form has a different stress).

    Really the stopping point of plural declension is that it implies plural adjective agreement (are there exceptions? I can’t think of any offhand), and obviously-singular nouns (e.g. “lady”) get stuck on that stage.
    If there isn’t a good reason not to have plural agreement (e.g. for mass nouns or proper nouns), the switch to plural declension happens faster.

    As for кроки, I also thought that this (rare) word was plural-declinable (probably because it was in the contexts where I encountered it), but didn’t know that it had final stress, so when it came up (…forgot where; possibly in this very Strugatsky quote) I read it with initial stress (as if from croques).

     
    [1] TIL that “temple” is the side of the head. I thought it was the top (макушка), which is actually “crown”.

  27. The classic backpacker ballade, Люди идут по свету, is what my internal poetry database picks for the word кроки:
    Получены карты, кроки…
    First syllable stress, doh.

    But when I tried looking it up online, I came up with nearly impossible
    Получены карты в сроки.

    Yeah right

  28. John Cowan says:

    TIL that “temple” is the side of the head.

    Right over the temporal lobe, in fact. This special use of tempora, says Wikt, is a calque of τὰ καίρια ‘right place, vital place, fatal spot, opportunity’, since the bone is thin there and a relatively modest blow can rupture the artery running under the spot, which can indeed be fatal. The other meaning of temple has the same ultimate etymology: ‘sacred spot’.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, so an elaborate football hatred in-joke. I see.

    einfach gut
    bei McDonald’s ist es einfach gut
    denn da gibt es Rapidlerblut
    Rapidler in Scheiben zerhackt
    und in Tüten verpa-ackt
    McDonald’s ist einfach gut

  30. David Marjanović says:

    …Turns out tempus (at least in the meaning “side of the head”, possibly also in the meaning “time”) and templum might be root cognates. Or not.

    BTW, the answer to “what’s green and hollow” depends: when there are any Rapidler in attendance, it’s “chives”…

  31. January First-of-May says:

    But when I tried looking it up online, I came up with nearly impossible
    Получены карты в сроки.

    My own (very brief) googling provides this version, your version, and at least two other versions (Получены карты и сроки and Получены карты и кроки), as well as three descriptions of how the original had кроки but someone who didn’t know the word mangled it to сроки, and two descriptions of how the original had сроки but someone emended it to кроки because they thought that made more sense.

    TL/DR: apparently nobody is quite sure which version is original, but both are around and well attested. In other words, it’s not just you.

     
    (I’m reminded of how I decided to look up the wording of the supposed “Belarussian translation of Pushkin” – you know, the one with дрючком пропэртый [or similar].
    I assembled about 40 different versions before I realized that I should probably stop, since I could hardly find all of them anyway.)

  32. Вообще-то по-русски получали не срОки, а срокА )))

  33. As D.O. said: I do remember someting about Sikorski thinking it’s a (metaphorical?) time bomb rather than a time capsule. But I read it twenty years ago.

  34. As far as I know, бомба only means ‘bomb,’ so why would that phrase be used for ‘time capsule’?

  35. бомба only means ‘bomb’
    in chemistry and physics, it also stands for hermetically sealed devices which are unsealed to reveal something which happened inside. Not sure if it is derived from a broader meaning outside calorimetry or chemical technology (one needs to figure out the direction of borrowing, likely from German or French), but it definitely coincides with “capsule”

    Note that the same narrow meaning of a hermetically sealed thick-walled vessel is found in English too.

  36. Very interesting, I didn’t know that.

  37. In French, it’s even more common, it’s a paint spray container –
    2 Récipient métallique contenant un liquide sous pression. Des bombes de peinture.

  38. It seems to be borrowed from French because the calorimetry of combustion has been developed by Lavoisier in the first place

  39. “Bomb calorimeter” is unremarkable. Calling the apparatus (or just the reaction vessel component of it) a “bomb” is not something that I think I have encountered though. The OED thinks that earliest uses of this sense of “bomb” referred to situations in which an actual cast iron bomb casing was used as the sealed vessel. Moreover, the appearances in English actually go back to 1747, which makes them too early for Lavoisier, who was born in 1743.

  40. In French, it’s even more common, it’s a paint spray container –

    And similarly in English, a “bug bomb” was an early form of insecticide spray. They looked bomb-like when they appeared in the 1930s, when “bomb” meant “hand grenade”, as in “Mills bomb” or “shell” as in “mortar bomb” as well as meaning a large explosive dropped from an aircraft. And “spray bomb” is still slang for an aerosol paint tin.

    But it’s a stretch to go from that to the assumption that “bomb” can mean simply “sealed metal container” with no connotation of explosion. Bug bombs looked like bombs (sensu hand grenades) and so do bomb calorimeters.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Originally, bombe refers to roundness, not to explosions. In German today, a street that rounded in cross-section so the rain flows off to the sides is bombiert.

  42. John Cowan says:

    That’s cambered in English, which can also refer to the shape of an airfoil from leading to trailing edge, or to the way wheels are tilted so that they are closer together at the bottom than the top.

    Bombe in English is a spherical or hemispherical ice cream dessert, often coated in chocolate.

  43. This is a blast from the past. The first units of my Russian textbook were big on going to the stadium and the Spartak / Dinamo rivalry.

  44. eub: my English texbook when I was six was big in hating Thatcher.

  45. Originally, bombe refers to roundness, not to explosions. In German today, a street that rounded in cross-section so the rain flows off to the sides is bombiert.

    Really? I looked it up and “bomb” is given as originating from Latin “bombus” meaning a loud noise. From which also “boom”.
    Are there references to “bomb-” meaning “rounded object” that predate, well, bombs?

  46. David Eddyshaw says:

    Originally, bombe refers to roundness, not to explosions.

    “Iris bombée” in ophthalmology is an iris ballooned forward by aqueous humour trapped underneath it (rather than an exploded iris, which would, however, be way cool, so long as it belonged to somebody else and not yourself.)

    The French verb refers to cambers on roads too.

    The Larousse etymological dictionary is rather vague on whether the French actually comes from Latin bombus, suggesting it might instead be an onomatopoeic word meaning something like “gonflé.”

  47. As regards the irregular form of “кроки”: I think there’s one other thing worth considering. Strugatskys are sometimes employing invented or rare words in slightly strange forms as an element of style. The action is far in the future and the characters are supposedly speaking in a strange language using a professional jargon. The appropriate impression is achieved by employing words that are, I think, calculated to be perfectly understandable, but slightly strange to a contemporary Russian speaker, so as to signal a difference but not require an explanation. A hint at a jargon without actually slowing the action down to introduce one.

    “Бомба времени” is, I think, just a one-off metaphor for something planted in the past to take effect in distant future. It is not necessarily reflecting any prior usage of the expression.

  48. The action is far in the future and the characters are supposedly speaking in a strange language using a professional jargon. The appropriate impression is achieved by employing words that are, I think, calculated to be perfectly understandable, but slightly strange to a contemporary Russian speaker, so as to signal a difference but not require an explanation.

    While that’s true in theory, in this case we can see from this thread that actual contemporary Russian speakers find the “strange” form much more natural than the official one.

  49. “While that’s true in theory, in this case we can see from this thread that actual contemporary Russian speakers find the “strange” form much more natural than the official one.”

    That’s true – the strange form is indeed more “natural”, but the word itself is not. It is not, I believe, widely used – or even understandable without the context – for a lot of the native speakers (perhaps for most of them). I honestly don’t know if the supposed colloquial form was even a thing at the time. It likely was, the word is indeed inviting it, but only as a part of some professional or semi-professional jargon. The signature touch of Strugatskys: term-dropping, no stopping to explain. I think we can’t be sure they didn’t improvise the colloquial as a part of their usual brilliant “псевдоквазия”, rather than using an existing one. But all this is just speculation on my part, shamelessly pulled out of thin air…

  50. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Thin air is the best place to get your convictions. Much better than Facebook!

  51. John Cowan says:

    I suspect most people with convictions get them in court.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    The Larousse etymological dictionary is rather vague on whether the French actually comes from Latin bombus, suggesting it might instead be an onomatopoeic word meaning something like “gonflé.”

    Like Bombyx and the bumblebees?

  53. I suspect most people with convictions get them in court.
    I like that. Up there with “anyone who has a vision should see a doctor” (Herbert Webber, allegedly).

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