Maciej of Idle Words is translating Ilf and Petrov’s Золотой теленок [Zolotoi telyonok, The Golden Calf] and has had the brilliant idea of creating a LiveJournal, baconmeteor, where he can ask questions about difficult points and get answers from the entire online universe of Russian speakers. For instance, in this post he asks about “this overheard bit of Soviet speak: На ваше РКК примкамера есть, примкамера! What is РКК, and what is a примкамера?” It turns out РКК is рабоче-крестьянский контроль (‘workers’ and peasants’ [financial] inspectorate’) and примкамера is примирительная камера, in Maciej’s words “like what the Brits call an industrial tribunal.” It would have taken a lot of digging through reference works and histories and a certain amount of luck to get that information (internet sources were of no help). If more translators did this rather than fudging or omitting difficult passages, there would be better translations.
Oh, and one of the comment threads introduced me to, a splendid site for Russian abbreviations and acronyms that got instantly bookmarked. (Thanks for the tip, Tatyana!)


  1. An inconsistency in your transcription with what I’m learning of Cyrillic led me into learning how <е> and <ё> differ in Russian–that is, not enough–which leads to perhaps a more constructive question than I thought of proposing originally; was this tendency widespread among those languages using Cyrillic in the former Soviet Union? That is, is it to be expected in Kazakh, pre-reform Uzbek, Belorussian and the other languages under heavy influence from Russian before 1990?

  2. I believe other languages that use the ё symbol write it consistently; it’s too bad that Russian does not, because even native speakers sometimes can’t tell which is intended, and for learners it’s a real minefield. Proper nouns are a particular mess. (I’ve seen it asserted that the name Lev, as in Tolstoi, was pronounced Lyov until the early 20th century; I have no idea whether this is true or not.)
    As for transliterations, Russians usually render it as a plain e (reproducing the Cyrillic ambiguity); I do so when writing to Russians, but here, where I assume most of my audience doesn’t know the language, I give the actual pronunciation.

  3. That’s fuuny, I thought I was the first one to put a link to on that blog. It’s a well-known site, actually, because it’s made by the most famous Russian web designer – Artemy Lebedev, son of Tatyana Tolstaya, author of “Кысь”.

  4. Lebedev is Tatyana Tolstaya’s son?! You learn something new every day.

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