I’m reading my first truly contemporary Russian novel, Не стану взрослой (Amazon) by Andrei Kuzechkin; it came out last year and is set in 2009 (Michael Jackson has just died). I’m only starting the second chapter, but there are already enough linguistically interesting bits I want to share that I thought I’d post about it. To start with, how do you translate the title? The actual equivalent they’re using is Young 4 Ever (and I presume a translation of the book is forthcoming under that title), but how to render the actual Russian title in English? In a sense it’s simple, “I Won’t Grow Up” or “I Won’t Become an Adult”; the problem is that in Russian взрослой is clearly feminine (which means there’s no risk of a reader’s being tempted to apply it to the male protagonist), and there’s no good way to include that in English. “I’m a Girl Who Won’t Grow Up”? “I Won’t Become a Grown Woman”? No, I don’t think it can be done with any elegance or concision.
To move on to the text of the novel, in the first chapter one of the characters says “Я понимаю, что ежа голой задницей не удивишь” [I realize you can’t astonish a hedgehog with (i.e., by showing it) a bare ass], which greatly amused me; Google tells me the more common form uses the more vulgar word for ‘ass/arse’: ежа голой жопой не удивишь. A few pages later there occurs this interesting bit of prescriptivism: “Слово “компьютер” она произносила с отчетливым “е” вместо привычного “э” в последнем слоге. И у этой женщины — высшее образование и должность бухгалтера!” [She pronounced the word komp’yuter with a clear ye in place of the usual e in the last syllable. And this was a woman with higher education and a job in accounting!]. And the first page of Chapter 2 has three such bits in a row. First the protagonist calls Koreans the worst StarCraft players in the world and says “Вот поэтому мы их и дерем как сидоровых коз” [That’s why we beat the crap/stuffing out of them—literally ‘beat them like Sidor’s goats’]. I’d never heard the “Sidor’s goats” expression (usually in the singular: драть как Сидорову козу), but it’s one I like and will try to remember. Then he says to Vadim, the guy he’s just beaten at StarCraft, “Ты надеялся удивить меня “зерг рашем”? Серьезно?” [You were hoping to surprise me with “zerg rashem“? Seriously?] I was completely thrown by zerg rashem; fortunately, Google came to my aid again and explained to me that the Zerg are “a race of fictional parasitic insectoids and the overriding antagonists of the StarCraft series” and “The term ‘Zerg Rush’ or ‘zerging‘ has entered video gaming jargon to describe sacrificing economic development in favour of using many low-cost and weak units to rush and overwhelm an enemy by attrition or sheer numbers. The tactic is infamous, with most experienced RTS players being familiar with the tactic in one form or another.” So it’s just one of the many, many English words and phrases taken over intact in the youthful Russian of the novel (and the -em is the instrumental ending), but not being a player of video games I had no chance of getting the allusion. Then there comes this description of Vadim’s linguistic habits (Russian after the cut):

He’s constantly shoving in bits of internet jargon. Instead of “funny” he says “lol” or “ololo,” instead of “uninteresting” he says “UG” (short for unyloe govno [downer shit]), he calls girls “chan” like they do in Japan.

All I can say is: ololo!

The original Russian:

Постоянно вворачивает словечки из интернет-жаргона. Вместо “смешно” говорит “лол” или “ололо”, вместо “неинтересно” — “УГ” (сокращение от “унылое говно”), девушек называет “тян”, на японский манер.


  1. Petra Pan.

  2. I’d never heard the “Sidor’s goats” expression
    Really? I thought it was a run-of-the-mill phrase, it even crops up in Ruthenian.
    the protagonist calls Koreans the worst StarCraft players in the world
    What an unmannered foreigner*! The joke here is that Starcraft is considered – without much exaggeration – to be the Korean national sport. They have TV channels broadcasting professional games and tournaments 24/7 and Starcraft boot camps. It is usually assumed that to be any good (at least on the professional level), one has to make a pilgrimage to Korea.
    *In SC parlance, a ‘foreigner’ is any non-Korean player.
    зерг рашем
    It’s one of the controversial strategies referred to collectively as cheese, another term for it is 6-pool. The point is to sacrifice economy and instead get out 6-8 Zerglings as fast as possible. Hence, rush.

  3. When I googled Sidor’s goats, the first entry was from this blog!

  4. Bathrobe,
    and so is the second. Yay hat!
    The third one is from a translation of a short story by Chekhov.

  5. Whereas for my part “зерг рашем” would have been recognizable despite my blindness to every other nuance you’ve described. And as bulbul points out the line about Koreans is curious. This video gives some sense of the level of intensity with which Korean players approach Starcraft and similar games.

  6. I don’t know the book, just a theory – взрослой – взрослеть – to grow up. But Grow up – Гроуап is also a set of horrible characters in another popular cybergame World of Warcraft. It has a respectable number of hits on the Russian internet.
    Could the title be a play on this?
    Where’s AJP? This should be his fiesta!

  7. *Almost* totally off-topic, but you tell us, “Michael Jackson has just died,” putting that in the present tense–really referring to when the book was published.
    I wonder what the grammatical term for that is, and how that would be done in other languages?
    You were referring to a past event contemporaneous with something else, in this case the publication of the novel.
    I hope that’s not too far off-topic. Thanks.

  8. And as bulbul points out the line about Koreans is curious.
    I can see I should have provided more context; the speaker, Maxim, is being ostentatiously paradoxical/counterintuitive. He tells Vadim “You know what your mistake is? You play like a Korean.” Vadim, the eternal straight man, goes “Huh?” Maxim: “Koreans are the worst Starcraft players.” “But I thought they were the best!” This sets up Maxim’s punch line: “Everybody thinks that, and so do the Koreans. That’s why we beat the crap out of them.” (I don’t know who “we” is there or if anything real-world/specific is being referred to.) Here’s the Russian:
    — Знаешь, в чем твоя ошибка? — мрачно сказал Максим, размешивая кофе. — Ты играешь, как кореец.
    — И че? — спросил Вадим тем же тоном, хотя у обоих были разные причины для мрачного настроения.
    — Корейцы — худшие игроки в “Старкрафт”.
    — А разве не лучшие?
    — Все так думают, в том числе и сами кореяки. Вот поэтому мы их и дерем как сидоровых коз.

  9. you tell us, “Michael Jackson has just died,” putting that in the present tense–really referring to when the book was published.
    Actually referring to when the action of the book is set (the second section of the first chapter starts “‘Умер Майкл Джексон’ — на первой странице газеты этот заголовок был основным [MICHAEL JACKSON IS DEAD was the main headline on the front page of the newspaper]); this is an important distinction, because it is normal to discuss the events of a book or movie in the present tense (“This guy gets onto a train and takes out his PDA…”). I wouldn’t have used the present tense in talking about the publication of the book.

  10. I googled Sidor’s goat myself just now, and found this bit from Techniques of Satire: The Case of Saltykov-Ščedrin by Emil Draitser (pp. 82-83):

    The symbolic she-goat in the set phrase “to flog someone like Sidor’s goat” (drat’, porot’, seč’ kak sidorovu kozu, that is, to punish someone mercilessly) is transformed into a real one by adding the figurative expression “to bend down to the ground” (prigibat’sja k zemle, that is, to behave in a quiet, unnoticeable way). When the two expressions are juxtaposed, “goat” takes on literal meaning: “The Glupovian loves to bend down to the earth and pretend to be Sidor’s goat” (3, 469).

  11. there is a second meaning to drat, rarely mentioned in gentile sources, – to thrust upon someone, to f***. In this text it’s probably only half-meant, the main meaning is to beat, to win over.
    For various etymologies, here is a good overview, which includes Arabic ‘sadar casa’, a medieval zoophiliac boyarin Sidor, a comparison with Polish and German usage and a picture of the Russian brand of cider called Sidorova Koza. The link is not explained in the article, but presumably Sidor is a nickname for cider and koza is a reference to getting a squint, not being able to focus after too much drink – okosét’.

  12. I think just about every verb meaning ‘hit, beat’ in Russian (and many other languages) has a slang meaning ‘to fuck,’ a sad commentary on human nature.

  13. @hat,
    Funny, because the opposite is true of Czech and Slovak: any verb meaning ‘hit’ can be replace by ‘jeba[ťt]’ (and derivations thereof). It doesn’t work the other way – of all the substitutes I can think of (and you know there’s a lot), the closest one originally meant “shake”.
    a sad commentary on human nature
    I believe our feminist sisters would object and insist – with good reason – that it’s the nature of the male of the spieces that is revealed here.

  14. (Seriously, folks: Starcraft, linguistics and cussing – three of my favorite things right there. I love this place.)

  15. hear, hear, bulbul!
    sorry, sisters, it’s only linguistics.

  16. In a classic verse from Zakhoder’s rendition of Alice in Wonderland, Carrol’s Pig & Pepper rhyme mentions this Sidors goat, as well as another synonym for beating up, which is literally giving one some (of course) pepper
    Speak roughly to your little boy
    and beat him when he sneezes
    he only does it to annoy
    because he knows it teases.
    I speak severely to my boy
    I beat him when he sneezes
    for he can thoroughly enjoy
    the pepper when he pleases

    Малютку сына – баю-бай!
    Прижми покрепче к сердцу
    И никогда не забывай
    Задать ребенку перцу!
    Баюкай сына своего
    Хорошею дубиной –
    Увидишь, будет у него
    Характер голубиный!
    Уж я-то деточку свою
    Лелею, словно розу!
    И я его – баю-баю,
    Как Сидорову козу!

  17. I believe our feminist sisters would object and insist – with good reason – that it’s the nature of the male of the spieces that is revealed here.
    Your feminist brother here thinks that the metaphor is a perfectly natural one, that hitting is fine as long as it’s moderate and consensual (pound is similarly polysemous in English, and usually taken as positive when applied to sex), and reflects on the possibility of a cognate relationship between fuck and Latin pugnare ‘fight’.

  18. Re: the title of the novel.
    It immediately made me think of ‘Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up’. “The Lost Boys” are now all vampires, I suppose, and in any case ‘The Lost Girl’ may have the wrong connotations (cf. ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’). Moreover, I seem to remember (long time since I read it) that there are no lost girls because they don’t fall out of their prams—which is how the “lost” boys get lost—, and this is because (I think) they’re too smart to do so! But would a 21st c. bang [sic] up to date, all mod. cons., I’m-too-cool-for-my-own-good Russian novelist cite a romantic, sentimental 19th c. English novel?

  19. Probably not, but in any case it seems unlikely since (SPOILER) suicide, rather than indefinite childhood, is involved.

  20. I believe our feminist sisters would object and insist – with good reason – that it’s the nature of the male of the species that is revealed here.
    On the contrary, most feminists would argue there is no specific “male nature”, it is an artifact of a patriarchal culture.

  21. vanya,
    nurture, then.

  22. Victor Sonkin says

    The writer’s ‘computer’ remark is just stupid (and completely wrong); as for ‘zerg rush’ and ‘chan’, never heard of either. The goat and the hedgehog are well-known, though.

  23. The writer’s ‘computer’ remark is just stupid (and completely wrong)
    You mean there is no group that thinks it’s more prestigious to pronounce the word without palatalization of the t?

  24. Speaking of completely wrong, though, I was completely wrong about Peter Pan, which is explicitly referenced; I can see I’m going to have to do another post on the novel.

  25. actually, -chan/тян -ちゃん has quite a following. See Lurkmore

  26. “… is set in 2009 (Michael Jackson has just died)”
    No, Michael Jackson died in 2007. Unless you’re referring to someone else with the same name as the great English beer writer …

  27. I was completely wrong about Peter Pan, which is explicitly referenced
    So Petra Pan is still a possibility?

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