TYPO OF THE MONTH.

I was just reading Carol Palmer’s translation (pdf, Google cache) of Vladimir Lakshin’s courageous 1968 Novy Mir article “Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita” (which not only treated the novel, banned until only a year earlier, as a masterpiece, but mocked the “professors of literature” who resisted its reinstatement), and I hit the following description of the book’s wild variety of characters:

People in contemporary jackets and ancient tunics, in caps and in golden helmets with plumes, people with briefcases under their arms and with lances atilt, people of various epochs and ages, professions and circumstances: a writer, a bookkeeper, a house manager, the Procurator of Judea, a high priest, a centurion, the Variety Theater’s barman, a master of ceremonies, a railway conductor, a literary critic, Roman soldiers, robbers, martyrs, civil servants, actors, administrators, doctors, waiters, housewives, detectives, cab drivers, ticket takers, policemen, vendors of carbonated water, members of the management of a housing cooperative, editors, nurses, firemen—it is hardly possible to name them all. And yet the main characters have not been mentioned here, nor those whom one hesitates to call dramatis personae—the Devil and his retinue, witches, corpses, water nymphs, demons of all aspects and of every stripe, and finally an enormous talking car with a cavalry mustache.

If you haven’t read the novel, I imagine you’d hardly raise your eyebrows at the final item in the list; if the devil and witches and water nymphs, why not a talking, mustachioed car? But if you have, you know “car” is a mistake for “cat.” (Astonishingly, the mistake has not been fixed in the online version; has no one noticed it in the last 30-odd years? The original of the section following the final em dash is “дьявол и его свита, ведьмы, покойники, русалки, демоны и черти всех видов и мастей и, наконец, огромный говорящий кот с кавалерийскими усами.”)

Comments

  1. Oh, you’ve just gotta love that cat:
    ‘Imagine I’m sitting here,’ Anna Richardovna recounted, shaking with agitation, again clutching at the bookkeeper’s sleeve, ‘and a cat walks in. Black, big as a Behemoth. Of course, I shout “Scat!” to it. Out it goes, and in comes a fat fellow instead, also with a sort of cat-like mug, and says: “What are you doing, citizeness, shouting ‘scat’ at visitors?”‘
    [And the game of chess:]
    ‘The situation is serious but by no means hopeless,’ Behemoth responded. ‘What’s more, I’m quite certain of final victory. Once I’ve analysed the situation properly.’
    He set about this analysing in a rather strange manner — namely, by winking and making all sorts of faces at his king.

  2. It just points up Bulgakov’s lack of imagination — surely a Soviet car (a ZAZ or VAZ) would be much more sinister than a mere cat.

  3. “My Mother the Car”?
    Or that SCTV parody of 3CP1 with “Tibor’s Tractor” (where Nikita Khrushchev was reincarnated as the title character)?

  4. I am reminded of a Barnes & Noble book called Russian for Beginners, which contained the most improbable phrases you ever heard: My favorite was this one:
    No one knew how many cats granny had.

  5. michael farris says:

    “No one knew how many cats granny had”
    Admit it! You only included that so that someone (lucky me!) could link to this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASG6r9rhwcE
    Apparently crazy cat ladies aren’t a North American monopoly….

  6. I have grave doubts about the truth value of that story. While “Nina Kotova” is a valid Russian name (there is a violinist of that name), the fact is that Kotov is based on кот (kot), which means “cat.” And the Russian media has no hint of this story; the few blogs that mention “136 cats” all link to this video.

  7. jamessal says:

    Could it not be an aptronym? (Not a serious question; your doubt is enough for me.)

  8. I’m thinking of rereading M&M. If there is more than one translation, which is best?

  9. I’m thinking of rereading M&M. If there is more than one translation, which is best?

  10. I have grave doubts about the truth value of that story … And the Russian media has no hint of this story
    Just found it: her name’s actually Kostsova (Косцова). See here and here.

  11. jamessal says:

    I’m thinking of rereading M&M. If there is more than one translation, which is best?
    I can only read the English, but for whatever it’s worth, I prefer the Pevear and Volokhonsky to the Ginsburg.

  12. jamessal says:

    And though I obviously can’t read those articles, I’m glad to know that story is true!

  13. My favourite Hungarian textbook refers constantly to “vowel hamrony”. It seems so appropriate; I grew to love intoning “hamrony” as if it were a Hungarian word. (You have to be a little obsessed, of course.)

  14. JE
    I like the Michael Glenny translation best. It has some goofs in it, but I think it captures the voice and tone of the original best. For what it’s worth, it’s the translators’ choice (ie I know four literary translators who prefer it).
    Enjoy. It’s a great book.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Noetica, what is your favorite Hungarian textbook?

  16. Jamessal and Mark, you’re actually lucky not to be able to read those articles. One’s entitled “hairy pussies”.

  17. jamessal says:

    Sredni: Shhh! We don’t mention Mark around here…
    My aptronym link was wrong: http://www.good.is/post/what%E2%80%99s-in-a-name-sometimes-a-job/

  18. Just found it: her name’s actually Kostsova (Косцова).
    Aha! Thanks, Ray.

  19. I am reminded of a Barnes & Noble book called Russian for Beginners, which contained the most improbable phrases you ever heard

    I am in turn reminded of a c.1990 Kellogg’s TV ad of a woman struggling with a Serbo-Croatian linguaphone tape, repeating sentences like “I will be unable to attend the wild pig hunt” and “The last train left three days ago”. It wasn’t very funny at the time, but still less in the light of what happened to Serbo-Croatian shortly thereafter.

  20. Marc Rosenfelder has a nice list of improbable phrases found in phrasebooks. My favorites:
    “Can you take me to the minefields?”
    “Let it be well rubbed with a rag.”
    “Must I swallow them whole?”
    “Is your husband here?”
    http://www.zompist.com/thought.html

  21. michael farris says:

    Completely second-hand (from a source that combined reputable and irreputable characteristics).
    From a Quechua phrasebook written by someone who wanted anyone foolish enough to use it to get into deep, deep trouble.
    In one scenario there are things to say when meeting “an important person”. What the Quechua really says (as opposed to the translation) is (working from memory here): “I’m tired and lost, I don’t like it here. I want to leave.”
    The best though was what you supposed to say to “the wife of an important person”. A Quechua scholar swore that the literal translation was: “My inner fibers twitch for you, my little hummingbird.”

  22. marie-lucie says:

    JR: “improbable phrases”: “Is your husband here?”
    In most circumstances a man would be unlikely to be asked this question, but many men might like to learn how to ask it. Many women will recall having been asked this question, and I would hope that the phrasebook provided a suitable reply (or choice of replies).
    Two of my favourites (from a very old European phrasebook):
    (at a party) Etes-vous la reine de ce pays? “Are you the queen of this country?” (which I quoted some time ago).
    (request to a hotel manager) Envoyez-moi un pédicure et un dentiste “Send me a pedicurist and a dentist”.

  23. A Quechua scholar swore that the literal translation was: “My inner fibers twitch for you, my little hummingbird.”
    Hmmm. My nipples explode with delight.

  24. my favourite phrase in Japanese is “maa maa maa maa maa” means like well well well
    the intonation is very important it’s up up flat flat down
    can be used in all kinds of situations, i usually end it with ii deshyo

  25. Two of my favourites (from a very old European phrasebook) … (at a party) Etes-vous la reine de ce pays?
    Lovely anecdote though this is, this looks like a leakage from a grammar text rather than a phrasebook: see Etes-vous la reine de ce pays. Even so, looks like someone having a surreal joke … or maybe not, and this grammar book is in a rather bizarre world. See adjacently: “Did he find his purse?” … “He thinks that the tower of the church has fallen. Is he sure of it?” … “You have no book. I will lend you one.” … “The river is rapid and the current of it is strong. Do not expose him to it.”
    This is from French Course Grammar by TH Bertenshaw. WTF was going through the brain of Thomas Handel Bertenshaw, even in c. 1890 when he wrote this?

  26. marie-lucie says:

    RG: Lovely anecdote though this is, this looks like a leakage from a grammar text rather than a phrasebook
    I assure you that my examples are from a very old phrasebook, which must have come into our family from my great-grandfather (born circa 1865), who may have bought it secondhand. The book (quite worn in appearance) is still in my family, but I am too far from them to check the date and author. When I was young we used to have fun reading the book aloud, which is why I still remember some sentences.
    It is possible that Bertenshaw took some of his examples from that phrasebook, rather than the opposite, as many of the conversation samples were indeed bizarre, even granting that they reflected an earlier way of life (unless Bertenshaw was also the author of the phrasebook? then the grammar could have been a companion to the phrasebook).
    Another example I remember is:
    Il me faut des chaussures – en avez-vous de toutes faites? Montrez-m’en plusieurs paires de différentes grandeurs
    “I need some shoes – do you have ready-made ones? Show me several pairs in different sizes.”
    The phrasebook seemed to be directed at upper-class English people travelling in Europe (not just in France), hiring servants locally, dealing imperiously with guides and hotelkeepers, and also socializing with the highest stratum of local society.

  27. Marie-Lucie:
    Envoyez-moi un pédicure et un dentiste
    A perfectly reasonable inclusion in a phrasebook, considering how easily we can get a foot jammed in a mouth. “A légpárnás hajóm tele van angolnákkal”, remember.
    My favourite Hungarian textbook? Thank you! I’ve never been asked before. It’s Learn Hungarian, by a trio of likely Budapestniks. Sweet blend of linguistic rigour and traditional illustration-and-folksong asides. Farm animals and cartoons, too. Recommended, especially for its treatment of vowel hamrony. I wish I had the time to roam its 500+ pages once more, and this time emerge well-versed in magyarity.
    The Lonely Planet Hindi phrasebook used not to include how to say yes or no. A warning to us all. (Yes, I know: there is not always a single-word equivalent for either. Never mind that.)

  28. From Ray’s, I like the simple ‘Etes-vous reine? Je le suis.’ It could have been taken from Alice.

  29. Your hovercrafts are full of eels.
    One of these days I’m actually going to buy the Ionesco-Benamon textbook. Not expensive last time I saw it.

  30. Your hovercrafts are full of eels.
    One of these days I’m actually going to buy the Ionesco-Benamon textbook. Not expensive last time I saw it.

  31. … the Ionesco-Benamon textbook
    ¿Qué?

  32. My favourite Hungarian textbook? Thank you! I’ve never been asked before. It’s Learn Hungarian, by a trio of likely Budapestniks. Sweet blend of linguistic rigour and traditional illustration-and-folksong asides. Farm animals and cartoons, too. Recommended, especially for its treatment of vowel hamrony. I wish I had the time to roam its 500+ pages once more, and this time emerge well-versed in magyarity.
    Yes, that’s my Hungarian textbook as well, and I can attest to its excellence. I really should have another crack at it; I only worked up a half-assed acquaintance with the language before seeing a shiny thing and getting distracted.

  33. Mise en train. Absurdist example sentences by Ionesco.

  34. Mise en train. Absurdist example sentences by Ionesco.

  35. From Amazon: “Mise en train” Did you mean: mouse on train?

  36. Mice on a Train was the less effective sequel to Snakes on a Plane.

  37. Amazon: mouse on train
    Language: mice on a train
    Don’t panic, Language.

  38. Lugubert says:

    @ noetica:
    “The Lonely Planet Hindi phrasebook used not to include how to say yes or no. A warning to us all”
    For “yes or no or whatever”, there’s the famous head wiggle.
    A problem for people with clearcut opinions on food is, at least in their 3rd edition of their Hindi, Urdu and Bengali phrasebook, the errors on p. 111, where “I’d like it with …” is given as “… without …”
    And I don’t like their Urdu font. For a person not in perfect command of Urdu, or with just slightly impaired vision, the minimal difference between a medial ‘h’ and a medial ‘b’ is a pain.

  39. I only worked up a half-assed acquaintance with the language before seeing a shiny thing and getting distracted.
    Ah, me too. With so many languages. I bet many here could tell a similar story. Still, we retain the breadth if not the depth.
    Lugubert:
    We want to grab them by the shoulders for a good shaking, don’t we? So many badly conceived and badly executed phrasebooks in the world. I knew the founders of Lonely Planet way back when it was all done from their spare room. Studied at La Trobe University alongside the lovely Maureen Wheeler. I’ve been meaning to renew the acquaintance over the years, if only to ask why they favoured some nonce-romanisation over pinyin, in earlier editions of their Mandarin offering. But it’s been rectified in the meantime.

  40. I knew that Kevin S was trying to sell me something.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    Envoyez-moi un pédicure et un dentiste
    Noetica: A perfectly reasonable inclusion in a phrasebook, considering how easily we can get a foot jammed in a mouth.
    OF course! I had not thought of this interpretation (which is not used in French). What used to make us laugh was imagining these two persons arriving at the same time to service the lady who had summoned them, one working on her head, the other one on her feet.

  42. WTF was going through the brain of Thomas Handel Bertenshaw, even in c. 1890 when he wrote this?
    Also in a French-only grammar of just about the same time by Auguste Brachet. Perhaps they have a common source?

  43. marie-lucie says:

    It looks like the Bertenshaw grammar may be nothing more than an English translation (keeping all the French examples) of the Brachet grammar. The type even looks the same.
    The link (thank you MMcM) shows a digitized version of B’s 1889 edition, and there are errors on the site page, eg Marhier for Marmier, Bodtet for Boutet (names I am familiar with). The list of keywords is weird too.

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