All Russian-language publicity materials (like the official website) for the film Trust the Man carry the tagline:
Любовь — это слово из четырех букв. [Lyubov’ — eto slovo iz chetyryokh bukv.]
Which is to say: Любовь is a four-letter word.
(Yes, Lyubov’ means ‘love,’ but something got lost in translation.)
Via Avva.


  1. Is anyone her familiar with http://www.RussianDVD. com ? I got a hard-to-find “Sorochinsy Fair” CD there just now. I would recommend it, based on my single transaction.

  2. Oh, thank you thank for this gem! It is now making its way around translators in Moscow via text messaging and LH!

  3. That’s too funny.
    New Yorker — I’ve ordered from that site many times (including back when they used to be called rbcmp3). I’ve never had a problem with them, and their prices are always pretty good.

  4. Throbert McGee says

    Hmmm. For a better translation that would preserve the double entendre of the English, how about something like Любовь — похожа на мат(ь), including the bracketed мягкий знак as ?
    (But my native language is English, not Russian, so I dunno for sure…)

  5. Artem Vakhitov says

    BTW, there is after all a four-letter word in Russian that describes a certain physical aspect of love 😉 It belongs to mat however.

  6. But then, “любовь — слово из четырех букв” might be a brilliant statement in the absurdist style. The great Daniil Kharms — so an anecdote goes — used to comment on his phone number, “It is easy to memorize, 32-08: thirty-two teeth and eight fingers.”

  7. God, I love Kharms.

  8. Here’s a Moscow Times article that touches on the subject:
    More Letters to Choose From
    By Michele A. Berdy
    Азбука: alphabet, primer, basics
    If anyone still needs proof that you should entrust your translation jobs only to qualified professionals, just look around Moscow. A new American film has opened with a tag line reproduced in big letters on posters and billboards, much to the puzzlement of Russians. It reads: Любовь — это слово из четырёх букв. (Love is a four-letter word.) The problem with the translation is, of course, that a “four-letter word” is a swear word — and more obviously, that the Russian word любовь has six letters.
    Okay, so the translator was having a bad hair day. But how could dozens of editors have looked at that line and thought: “A six-letter word is a four-letter word. Yup, that’s right. Print!”?
    Other than sending me into deep depression about the state of translation, that tag line set me wondering about Russian letters in general. On the one hand, those 33 letters give foreigners lots of problems at first. On the other hand, there are plenty of synonyms and pronunciation systems to help the hapless non-Russian speaker.
    Once upon a time буквы (letters) all had names in Russian. The first two were called аз and буки and gave us the word азбука, which means either the alphabet itself (today more commonly called алфавит) or a primer. Азбука can also mean “the ABCs” of something — the basics. So the supermarket chain Азбука Вкуса is The ABCs of Taste. If you forget the word азбука, you can also call a primer букварь.
    The proper way in Russian to describe a capital and lowercase letter is прописная and строчная, respectively, but people will understand if you ask: Слово пишется с большой буквой или с маленькой? (Is the word spelled with a big or small letter?) You can also use the phrase с большой буквой in the figurative sense: “человек с большой буквой” is “a human being with a capital H” — that is, the finest example of a human being.
    Alphabets are called кириллица and латиница (Cyrillic and Roman alphabets); for example, one web site tells you: Наберите текст латиницей, а потом программа переведет это в кириллицу. (Type the text in the Roman alphabet and the program will convert it to Cyrillic.) But you could also ask: Написать русскими буквами или английскими? (Should I write in Russian or English letters?)
    If you don’t understand a word, you can say: Скажите по буквам. (Spell it, literally “say it by letters.”) Here it can get confusing. Most Russians agree on how to pronounce the letters at the start of the alphabet: they say: “а, бэ, вэ, гэ, дэ…” But they diverge on pronunciation towards the end. Schoolbooks tell you to say “эр, эс” for the letters “р” and “с,” but often you’ll hear “рэ, сэ.”
    If you get totally confused — particularly when you’re taking down a name over the phone — the speller might switch to words that start with the letters in question. If you are, say, trying to find out where your lost baggage went, the answer might be «эр, и, эм» or it might be Роман, Ирина, Мария. In other words, your bags are having a fine time without you in the eternal city of Рим (Rome).
    I now spell my last name in Russian: Борис, Евгений, Роман, Денис, Ирина. I used to say Берди — как композитор Верди, только на “Бэ” (like the composer Verdi, only starting with a “B”). Once I spelled it that way over the phone to get a pass into a building, but when I arrived, no pass could be found. The kind woman went through the list again and again as I repeated my spelling routine. Suddenly she burst out laughing and held up a pass for Мишель Багнер. My great composers spelling trick had failed: Verdi turned into Wagner, and Berdy into Bagner.
    Ольга, И краткое. (Ой!)
    Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based interpreter and translator.

  9. In the fifth paragraph, the correct Russian expression for a word that begins with a capital letter would be “[слово, которое пишется/начинается] с большой буквы” (genitive). “С большой буквой” (instrumental) would be out of place there.

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