Khemlin’s Investigator.

After finishing Fedin’s Города и годы (Cities and Years — see this post), I stuck with the mid-1920s for Zamyatin’s Рассказ о самом важном (“A Story about the Most Important Thing”); a bunch of Bunin stories; Ivan Shmelyov’s grimly powerful Солнце мертвых (The Sun of the Dead, set in war-ravaged Crimea in 1921; Mikhail Prishvin’s autobiographical Кащеева цепь (The chain of Kashchey), which I was enjoying until it turned into a standard-issue Soviet “how I overcame my youthful idealism and became a good materialist and Marxist” memoir; and Elsa Triolet’s first novel На Таити (In Tahiti), which she wrote because Maxim Gorky was impressed enough by her letters to Victor Shklovsky to say she should consider a literary career (she of course became famous for her later writings in French). Here’s what I wrote to Lisa Hayden (Lizok) about it:

So far I’m enjoying Triolet’s cool, descriptive style, especially refreshing after Prishvin’s overheated interiority; here’s the final paragraph of the first chapter:

На террасе — суета. Две темнокожих молодых женщины сломя голову исполняют приказания старой и огромной туземки, которая фыркает и шипит на них. Это приготовляют наш утренний завтрак и убирают комнату. На столе — хлеб, масло и неизвестные мне фрукты. Андрей пьет скверный кофе, сияет и верит в светлое будущее. Я тихо сажусь рядом с ним и думаю о том, что на меня из открытого чемодана, из-под белья, выползли три огромных, черных, мясистых таракана.

The terrace is abustle. Two dark-skinned young women are dashing around following the orders of an enormous old local woman who snorts and hisses at them. They’re making our breakfast and cleaning the room. On the table are bread, butter, and some fruits unknown to me. Andrei [her new husband André Triolet] drinks foul coffee, beams with pleasure, and believes in a bright future. I sit quietly next to him and think about the fact that onto me, out of an open suitcase, out from under the linen, have crawled three enormous, black, fleshy cockroaches.

It’s too bad it hasn’t been translated, but if you read Russian, I recommend it. It’s short and snarky.

So then I decided to return to the present century and read Margarita Khemlin’s 2012 novel Дознаватель (translated by Melanie Moore as The Investigator). You might call it a police procedural — the narrator, a sort of junior detective named Mikhail Tsupkoi, is investigating the murder of young Lilia Vorobeichik. But although the case is soon closed, he keeps doggedly gnawing away at it, neglecting his marriage and his official duties in the process, and because this is Chernigov (now Ukrainian Chernihiv) in 1952-53, both Stalinist terror and the lingering horrors of World War Two are omnipresent and play a larger and larger role. The tale is cleverly told, with no chapter breaks to orient you, just a succession of short passages separated by line breaks and the fevered, repetitive, increasingly obsessive thoughts of Tsupkoi. I don’t know how I’d go about trying to tell you anything more about the plot; fortunately there are two good reviews I can send you to for that: Lisa/Lizok’s Busybody: Khemlin’s Investigator (she, like me, read the Russian original) and Kaggsy’s The complexities of detection under Soviet rule (she read the translation). I can therefore confine myself to discussing some of the linguistic material that caught my attention. (Oh, and if anybody finds historical maps as useful as I do, this one of Chernigov from 1908 was a great help to me.)

I’ll start with the title. The Investigator is really the only sensible translation, but a дознаватель is a specific rank, below that of the следователь; both investigate criminal cases, but only the latter can bring an indictment against a suspect. The word дознаватель is uncommon (it’s not in any of my Russian-English dictionaries), and I’ve found various renderings of it via Google Books: “specialized inquiry officer,” “investigating officer,” “inquirer,” and so on. Moore apparently distinguishes the two as “investigator” for the lower one and “criminal investigator” for the higher.

As for the protagonist’s surname, Tsupkoi, it’s a Russianized form of the Ukrainian adjective цупкий (end-stressed, like the Russian name) ‘strong, robust, sturdy; hard, stiff, rigid, tough,’ which is very appropriate for the character. (Anybody know the etymology?) And there’s a lot of Ukrainian in the book — not just occasional words like парубки ‘young men, lads’ or узвар ‘compote’ (and ‘money’ is consistently гроши, not деньги), but entire passages, like the one on p. 157 of my edition (a sample: “У колгосп не пiдеш, Hi, не пiдеш. Що тoбi там робити? Нема чого.” [You won’t go to the kolkhoz, no, you won’t go. What’s there for you to do there? There’s nothing.]); I wonder how the translator deals with them? Tsupkoi, like all the characters, switches readily between languages, but at one point he says “Я принципиально не отвечал по-украински, чтоб была дистанция. Люди это всегда чувствуют.” [I didn’t answer in Ukrainian on principle, so there would be a distance. People always feel that.]

One feature that stood out was the odd (to me) use of или ‘or.’ In many places it seems to act as a question particle, sometimes translatable by “whether”; I think this is a complete list of such occurrences (with page numbers):

Не посмотрел — или замужем Ева (16)
Старик, который интересовался, или я не аид (56)
А еще тетя Катя у мамы всегда вечером спрашивает, или не нужен ей еще дядя Петро. (151)
Мне все равно, или будут у нас с мужем дети. (213)
Встретил Евсея с работы и спросил, или у него есть совесть. (250)
Спросил, или давала она раньше ключ от нашей квартиры Лаевской. (325)
Вопрос стоял, или достанет до сердца осколок. (326)
Однажды спросил напрямик — или она не беременная. (338)
Ты у Файды спроси — или можно Полине верить. (349)
Я спросил, или знакомые ему в Остре такие фамилии, как Мельник и Цегельник. (362)
У меня вообще мнение, что человек сам должен определяться — или ему жить. (364)
Мирон усомнился, или она ему сейчас выложила правду. (386)

Is this a dialectal thing? It rings a faint bell, so I may have run across it before, but none of my reference books mention it.

Finally, this made me laugh: “В буфете халу возьмите. Свежая.” [There’s some khala in the sideboard; take it. It’s fresh.] I wasn’t familiar with the word хала, and it wasn’t in my dictionary, but when I muttered it aloud I got it: challah! My wife just baked some the other day…


  1. I wasn’t familiar with the word хала, and it wasn’t in my dictionary, but when I muttered it aloud I got it: challah! My wife just baked some the other day…

    This happens to me all too frequently, too!

    The “или” question is interesting. It’s one of those small oddities (little words like “или” are often the most difficult when translating) that I seem to run across often and then just kind of, hm, intuitively accept, having a good feel for them when reading… but not having any clue how I’d prefer to translate them.

  2. PlasticPaddy says

    и́ли — союз, др.-русск. или «если, если же, неужели, нежели, или»
    so maybe ukrainian preserves this usage
    re tsupkii–it looks like cubic or cube+adjectival suffix (compare Russian tsybik).

  3. David Marjanović says

    Is this a dialectal thing?

    Isn’t that exactly how Polish czy is used? If so, I suspect a calque into Ukrainian, so this would be another Ukrainian feature of the book’s Russian.

    BTW, I recently got to witness a conversation between 6 Ukrainians – 4 spoke Russian the whole time, 2 spoke Ukrainian the whole time. It seems everybody in the country has had enough exposure to both languages for this to work as effortlessly as it does on TV (Servant of the People).

  4. I always thought, based on no real evidence, that interrogative или was a Jewish thing. In ordinary Russian или can mark a rhetorical question with negation: или я тебе не брат? “Am I not your brother?”, but AFAIK not a genuine question. Ukrainean “чi” (= Polish czy) works the same way. Notice also that in all the provided examples или doesn’t mark a direct question, only in a subordinated clause. Conventional literary Russian would use “ли”: Не посмотрел — или замужем Ева -> Не посмотрел — замужем ли Ева etc.

    And, of course, a nit. “скверный кофе” is not foul it is just low quality.

  5. My Ukrainian friends use this construction in Russian instead of the usual “ли” + this is the standard way of saying it in Ukrainian, so I’d say yes, it’s a dialectal / second language thing.

  6. I wonder if “old and enormous” is worse in English than it is in Russian. Presumably yes, if you translated it so.

    In Russian, огромная старая туземка is the only option in the formal, i.e. impersonal, register, while “old and enormous’ is a slightly emphatical (and casual rather than bookish) invitation to consider each. In a description it means, each of the two made an impression (impression of bigness, impression of oldness – not necessary strong but still the affected viewer is present, so it is not impersonal anymore) the author. II associate it with childish usage, perhaps not because adults don’t say so, but because extra attention to adjectives (большое-пребольшое!) is childish.

    But Russian also links verbs with и: “взял и сделал”.

  7. “Fast & furious” works in English, though. (and ‘quick and decisive” works in more or less formal Russian).

    I am not sure about “big and fat”. In Russian большой и толстый and большооой, тоолстый it is quite common. Can describe something edible, or one of those cockroaches, or a dick, or пиздец or whatever.

  8. As D.O. and B R say, it’s Ukrainian чи mistranslated as Russian или. In most cases, чи does correspond to или but not when it introduces an indirect question, such as:

    Як Турн біснується, лютує,
    В сусідні царства шле послів,
    Чи хто із них не порятує
    Против троянських злих синів…

    (How Turnus is raving and raging, sending envoys to neighboring kingdoms [to ask/find out] if any of them will protect against the wicked sons of Troy. – From Kotlyarevsky’s Aeneid.)

    There’s also צי in Yiddish but it’s a Slavic loan.

    They even sold khalas in Moscow bakery shops in the 1970s and early 1980s. I’m not sure that was the official name, though. Perhaps it was плетенка.

  9. January First-of-May says

    I’m not sure that was the official name, though. Perhaps it was плетенка.

    I vaguely remember плетёнка from my own childhood (in the 1990s and/or early 2000s) and it indeed might have been the official name. I definitely grew up knowing what a хала was, though!

  10. And, of course, a nit. “скверный кофе” is not foul it is just low quality.

    But that’s what “foul” means in this context; I’m not sure what you’re reading into it. I could have written “lousy,” but that seemed wrong stylistically. It’s perfectly normal to say “this coffee is foul” (meaning terrible, lousy, undrinkable).

    I wonder if “old and enormous” is worse in English than it is in Russian. Presumably yes, if you translated it so.

    There’s nothing particularly wrong with “old and enormous,” but it’s slightly awkward and I preferred the smoother version I used.

    Thanks to everyone for the convincing analysis of или!

  11. @LH, the question is rather whether this usage that I described (+subjectivety, +emphasis) exists in English. I guess it does not or just does not work in this specific case (but пыльный и тёмный чулан is likely fine in English too). But I am not sure that’s what she meant. It is how I hear it: I often hear such pairs of adjectives in emotional oral descriptions.

  12. David Marjanović says

    I thought foul was much more intense, referring to downright revolting smell or flavor in this case?

  13. скверный is “bad”. Плохой, дурной, хреновый.I don’t know why this word needs synonyms, but it does (and shows impressive variation across Slavics…).

    It is marked only for register and time period, but does not convey any extra shade of badness. Yet I’m not sure if it were so back then. Initially there could be such a shade.

    I the Bible it means “filthy” as in He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still..

    It is usually applied to drinks and situations rather than people, but examples from 18th century are about people: “скверный человек Калвин, прескверный Лютер, и их наследницы пресквернейшия”.

    There are abstract “bad” usages as well:

    Сверх того, и трактир попался скверный.
    Из олтаря выгоняет ее неблагочиние и скверный священников прибыток;
    ― Но это отчего, ― говорил соловей, ― что ты, имея так скверный голос, …

  14. “наследницы пресквернейшия” of the “filthy man” Calvin must be DE… I don’t know why in feminine.

    Кто не востанет, пращею духовною оных же Галиафов сокрушити, и их заградити уста глаголющих на нас сице: аки бы мы всуе творим, егда святых Божиих почитаем, им кланяемся, их в помощь призываем, нарицающе их мертвыми, нечувственными, ничтоже по смерти своей нам помоществовати могущими, и глаголют сия (сквернейшаго Калвина) словеса, (в книзе его 3, в разделении 24 написанныя): кто глаголет тако долгия быти у них уши и острыя, дабы от неба гласи наши слышали: тако очи ясныя, дабы нужды нашя видели: не может, глаголет, показатися, коим образом нашя молитвы познавали святые. Не познают убо, а понеже не познают молитв наших: то всуе их и в помощь призывати. О разума буяго! (скверный человек Калвин, прескверный Лютер, и их наследницы пресквернейшия) познати хотят неизмеримую глубину премудрости Божия; Чесо ради тако творит Бог, ведати хотят; Всуе, всуе, аспиде адский, сицевый яд от уст твоих измещеши. Аще дел Божиих познати умыслил еси, образ, коим образом то творит: то несть юрода безумнейша в мире, кроме тебе. Многия суть судбы Божия от нас утаенныя: многая нам неоткрытая, неявленная. Веруем и исповедуем, яко воплотися Сын Божий, рожденный прежде век от Отца: како же, коим образом, не вемы, якоже православная воспевает церковь в похвалах преблагословенныя Владычицы нашея Богородицы сице: радуйся свет неизреченно родившая: радуйся еже како, ниединагоже научившая: Радуйся премудрых превосходящая разум.

  15. скверный is “bad”. […] It is marked only for register and time period, but does not convey any extra shade of badness. Yet I’m not sure if it were so back then. Initially there could be such a shade.

    Yes. It has suffered the common fate of strong adjectives and gotten watered down over the years. The original sense was вызывающий отвращение; мерзкий, гадкий; my 1908 edition of Makaroff’s Dictionnaire russe-français complet defines it as “vilain, sale, abominable, détestable, horrible.” Etymologically, it’s related to Greek σκῶρ, σκατός ‘shit’ (the source of the word scatology).

  16. But скверный прибыток “income” is highly abstract, and it is 18th century.

    So it is possible that it meant “filthy” only in Biblical.

    And when we say “crappy” or “хуёвый” (or conversely “пиздатый”) we don’t think about crap or the aforementioned body part: it is there by virtue of being a Strong Word. So one possible model is that Slavonic authors for whatever reason used скверна/скверный for filth/filthy – and then it became a “strong word”, and then it entered Russian already in this capacity.

  17. So it is possible that it meant “filthy” only in Biblical.

    We’re not talking about literal filth, but the definitions I quoted speak for themselves. That was the normal meaning. It did not mean simply ‘bad.’

  18. Ah, interesting! I found the translation to read well, but I know no Russian of course so found all of this very interesting. It is a brilliant book, though!

  19. Actually, the process is not merely bleaching, it is also acquisition of a property “a rude word” that allows me to describe something as “дрянной” without knowing what “дрянь” means. So:

    hypothesis 1: скверный entered Russian in the sense “filthy” and then underwent bleaching.

    hypothesis 2: скверный came to Russian (other than ecclesiastical) from Biblical in the sense “bad’, because it looked like “a rude (but still learned) word”.
    The stage of “bleaching” (disgusting drink > bad drink) simply did not happen.

    I don’t know which one is true:( Perhaps you are right. What I know is consistent with both.

  20. What I know is consistent with both.” – I am aware of очиститься от скверны and осквернение sounds like a reference to filth too. Even сквернословие. But those meanings exist within a specialized register. Otherwise I say “скверный характер” not in the sense “мерзкий, неприятный”, conversely, I use скверный because it is a literary word. When the dictionary was compiled, they were even more diglossic and knew the situation within that specialized register better.

  21. Ukrainian adjective цупкий (end-stressed, like the Russian name) ‘strong, robust, sturdy; hard, stiff, rigid, tough,’ which is very appropriate for the character. (Anybody know the etymology?)

    The Етимологічний словник української мови of О. С. Мельничук et al., volume 6 (2012), has this (apologies for any remaining OCR errors):

    [цуп] «вигук, що позначає швидкудію, хапання, удар», [цупа́н] «щиголь; удар по лобу» Па, цу́пки́й СУМ, Па, щу́пати] «тупати», цупити «хапати, тягти; красти», [цу́пкати] «тупотіти», [цю́пати] «цілувати Г; дріботіти Нед», [оцу́пнути] «задубіти» ЛЖит, [оцу́пти] «тс.» тж; —бр. цуп, п. cup, cupnąć «тупнути», ч. сир «вигук, що відтворює звук при ступанні», cupati, cupnouti «падати» (з дерева, про плоди), слц. cupat’ «тупотіти», схв. цу̏пкати «підстрибувати», болг. [цупа́р] «вигук на позначення удару», м. цупка «підстрибує»; — звуконаслідувальне утворення, аналогічне до пов’язання туп, ту́пати; неприйнятні пов’язання з н. zupfen «смикати» (Шелудько 53) та зіставлення з п. cupnąć «припасти до землі» (Sławski І 110). — SW І 355; Machek ESJC 90, 91; Holub—Lyer 115.

    (СУМ = Словник української мови (1970–1980); Па = Л.С Паламарчук (1958) Словник специфічної лексики говірки с. Мусієвки)

    Following up the reference to Sławski І 110… Sławski’s Słownik etymologiczny języka polskiego (1952–1956) has both (1) cupnąć ‘kucnąć [to squat]’ and (2) cupnąć ‘o szybkim uderzeniu, nagłym schwytaniu [used of a quick blow, a sudden grab]’. Sławski just tosses off the idea of possible connection of (2) to (1) ‘squat’ casually, with no explanation of the semantics, and then goes on to suggest an sound-symbolic origin, connecting it to the family of the Ukrainian word.

    If the sound-symbolic origin is correct, I don’t completely understand the semantics relating цуп to цупкий (< *‘withstanding blows’?, *‘delivering blows’?; or perhaps compare the mystery of English sturdy?)

  22. hypothesis 2: скверный came to Russian (other than ecclesiastical) from Biblical in the sense “bad’

    But it did not. All the early uses are in the stronger sense. I realize that seems odd to you because you are familiar with the bleached sense, but the use of “gay” a century ago seems odd to modern English speakers. Language changes.

  23. All the early uses are in the stronger sense.

    How “скверный священников прибыток” is the stronger sense?

    I realize that seems odd to you because you are familiar with the bleached sense

    No, you are wrong here. I am considering both options, I just can’t tell which one is right.

  24. For погода просто отвратительная it is bleaching (though отвратительная still means “disgusting”, just not in such phrases). For какой прекрасный экземпляр! I am less sure because the phrase “a beautiful specimen” was calqued.

  25. I feel that скверный already got more attention that it requires, but I still looked up in Russian national corpus around year 1930. Here’s the first page:

    1. ― Он, видите ли, написан от руки, а у меня скверный почерк, буква “о” выходит как простая палочка, а… [М. А. Булгаков. Записки покойника (Театральный роман) (1936-1937)]

    2. Приближался осенний, скверный, туманный рассвет за окном. [М. А. Булгаков. Записки покойника (Театральный роман) (1936-1937)]

    3. Мы остановились в греческом отеле, единственном в городе, где за скверную комнату и ещё более скверный стол с нас брали цену, достойную парижского Grand Hotel’а. Но всё-таки приятно было выпить освежительного пинцерменту и сыграть партию в засаленные и обгрызенные шахматы. [Н. С. Гумилев. Африканский дневник (1913)]

    4. Смотрите: села, потом встряхнулась и улетела. Верно, скверный клей. Высох совсем. [Н. А. Тэффи. Tanglefoot (1911)]

    5. Ничему не обучался, почерк у меня скверный, пишу я так, что от людей совестно, как свинья. [А. П. Чехов. Вишневый сад (1904)]

    6. ― Вы при помощи мышления хотите определить бытие? Это скверный идеализм! На черта нужны эти вещи в себе? [Н. И. Гаген-Торн. Memoria (1936-1979)]

    7. В ночь, проведенную Митькой вне дома, Зинка видела про него скверный сон и потому, уходя в тот вечер на работу, старательно запудривала круги под заплаканными глазами. [Л. М. Леонов. Вор. Части 1-2 (1927, 1959)]

    8. Он подвигался вперед всеми своими конечностями, забирая туловище, елико возможно, внутрь, отчего скверный пиджачишко и заплатанные брюки совершенно стушевывались перед наблюдателем. [М. С. Шагинян. Месс-Менд, или Янки в Петрограде (1923-1924, 1954)]

    9. Находим кое-где скверный, сморщенный горох (и торговец и мы врем ― «для посева»), ржавые рыбки, род stet. селедочек и сардинок ― и все. [И. А. Бунин. Дневники (1940-1953)]

    10. ― Ты лентяй, ты скверный мальчик, твоя мать в тюрьме, а ты бездельничаешь. [Е. А. Гагарин. Советский принц (1933-1948) // «Новая Юность», 2002]

    11. Скучно до последней степени. Вася худеет, у него скверный вид. Мы все раздеты. [Л. В. Шапорина. Дневник. Том 1. 1898-1945 (1898-1945)]

    None of these is in a clear “stinking” sense though 3, 8, and 9 might have been, theoretically. In any case, “foul coffee” as exaggerated for “bad” gets some 100+ google hits. My conclusion, for what it’s worth is that Triolet used a relatively unmarked word (probably marked for being more literary compared to “bad”) and it doesn’t deserve a more emphativ “foul” translation, but it’s not a big deal.

  26. I thought foul was much more intense, referring to downright revolting smell or flavor in this case?

    That’s how I perceive it. It is impossible to drink foul coffee and beam with pleaure. “Lousy” seems more correct to me as well. I don’t think it’s normal to say coffee is foul and then continue drinking it, that’s what you say after you spit it out. “Nasty coffee” works but is probably too slangy/marked as AAE for this context.

  27. Naughty coffee.

  28. January First-of-May says

    “Lousy” seems like a good example of drasvi’s “rude word” property: the literal meaning is (still) obvious if you think about it for a few moments, but synchronically it just means “bad” without any direct association from the diachronic meaning. (Not sure if that qualifies as bleaching.)

  29. PlasticPaddy says

    Naughty coffee is possible for me only in children’s speech, naughty implies mischievous or (excusably) harmful intent, so an adult would assign the adjective to barista, producer, supplier, restaurateur etc., but not to the coffee.
    I think foul could be used ironically, meaning “I am going to drink this anyway, because I deserve it/I have to do it for diplomatic reasons/my 40 years younger girlfriend made it for me as a “special treat”, etc.”

  30. дерьмо and хуй-хер-хрен-фиг have an extra property: they belong to a class of words that can be used in a class of expressions. Хуй is even a part of this 4-level paradigm (хуйня-херня-хрень-фигня, хуёвый-херовый…) and anothеr one: нá [хуй/хер/хрен/фиг] – в жопу – к лешему.

    But yes, I think there is also a property of скверный that allows to use it here.

    If I say: “богомерзкий гугл”, I obviously borrow the word for this phrase for its style. It is not bleaching, because the word sheds off its meaning instantly (or rather it does not, it just not the meaning that matters to me).

    I could consider another example: I can try to say тошнотворный кофе or блевотный кофе in the sense “bad” (rather than using the adjectives descriptively).

    Can I do that? It is difficult for me to avoid the meaning. An extra hindrance is the recursive nature of communication (I don’t mean Chomsky, I mean: “if I say this, you will think that I think that you think that…”. We model our partners in our minds when we speak). I understand myself and I expect others to understand myself as saying that the coffee is literally disgusting.

    Back to богомерзкий, the process is facilitated by that people who use this word do not quite use it descreptively. It is an epithet. It is applied to a certain class of entities thought to be offensive to God, but no one is going to say: “[I don’t recomend reading this book] because it is disgusting-to-God” (like you can say “I won’t drink it, because it’s disgusting”).

  31. @PP, I know:) (but thank you!)

  32. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry, I was trying to think about this.
    He was naughty.
    *He made a naughty impression.
    He said something naughty.
    *Something he said was naughty.
    The * sentences are borderline unacceptable for me, but I would not be surprised to hear one of these from a L1 speaker.

  33. John Cowan says

    I’m fine with all but #2: I’d say naughty is only applicable as an attributive adjective to persons.

  34. “naughty impression”

    When I was 17 a freind of mine A said about a freind of mine B that he is characterized by “[adv.] [adj] of mind”. And a freind of mine C who loved the game “substitute every word with an antonym” came up with an antnymous phrase “[adv] [adj] of butt”. I think the adj. C used was mischievousness/disobedience or why else I thought about it? (but when I try to remember, I imagine agility of butt instead). And one of adverbs was surprising/astonishing/unusual.
    So perhaps it was “unusual strictness of mind” – “habitual naughtiness of butt’.

  35. The или / чи / czy explanation was so helpful! I love when something goes from seeming very strange to being completely clear.

    I find the arguments that скверный here means just “bad” convincing, but I like your translation anyway, Hat. To make the English sentence work I want either a bit of hyperbole (like “foul” or “revolting”) or a specific reason the coffee is bad (like “weak,” “watery,” or “cold”) or a qualifier that suggests the coffee here is always bad (“their bad coffee”). “Andrei drinks bad coffee” just seems less like the way someone would phrase things than “Андрей пьет скверный кофе.”

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