I’ve run into a couple of difficulties arising from my reading lately, and I thought I’d share them, since they affect more than the words in question.

1) This is what I think of as the “echelon” problem, because of a long and unfortunate tradition among translators from Russian of rendering the word eshelon ‘special train’ as “echelon,” simply because that English word corresponds in form and etymology to the Russian one. They overlook the slight problem that the English word has no meaning even remotely corresponding to the Russian; it means ‘a steplike troop formation; a level or grade in an organization or field of activity,’ and nothing else—except to specialists in Soviet literature, who have absorbed this peculiar bit of translationese to the point that I have had a hard time convincing them that it exists nowhere else and that the “translation” should be retired forthwith. A similar problem came up yesterday in reading a Boris Akunin story called Strast’ i dolg [Passion and duty], set in an alternate Russia which has revived tsardom, along with its Table of Ranks and all the rest of the imperial paraphernalia. The sentence in question reads: Pogibel’ deistvitel’nogo tainogo sovetnika prishla nazavtra, na raute u angliiskogo poslannika sera Endryu Vuda: ‘The ruin of the Active Privy Counselor came the next day, at a raut at the residence of the English ambassador Sir Andrew Wood.’ The dictionary translation of the word raut is “rout.” Now, this is a different case from eshelon because there actually is an English word rout meaning ‘a fashionable gathering or assembly, a large evening party or reception,’ but the word has been obsolete for over a century and it’s unlikely anyone but a devotee of Victorian literature would be familiar with it. (Side note: I learn from the OED that there are in fact ten different routs, ranging from ‘a company, assemblage, band, or troop of persons’ to ‘the act of searching, or of turning out something,’ including the hapax ‘some kind of horse’: 1697 Vanbrugh Æsop i. iv. ii, Your Worship has six Coach-Horses,.. besides Pads, Routs, and Dog-Horses.) To render the word “rout” would be unconscionable—I would say “at a reception”—but I’ll bet there are plenty of lazy translators who would do it.

2) I was reading a NY Times story yesterday called “Siberian Dam Generates Political Wrangle Over Power” when it occurred to me, not for the first time, to look up the Russian for ‘dam.’ The dictionary translation is plotina, but I can never remember it because I rarely see it in Russian texts. The story concerned the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam; I did a Russian search on the name and discovered the feminine gender is caused not by plotina but by GES, the Russian acronym for ‘hydroelectric station.’ That’s why I can’t remember plotina; what we call the Hoover Dam, the Russians would call the Hoover GES. GES does not mean ‘dam,’ but it is used where we use ‘dam’ in the usual contemporary context of large concrete structures for generating power. There must be other examples of this phenomenon—different terms used in similar contexts—but I can’t think of any right at the moment. Anyway, it’s an interesting test of a translator’s skill; if you don’t know the language well, you’ll wind up using a dictionary definition rather than the situationally appropriate word.


  1. ten different routs
    One is reasonably well-known on the English trad folksong circuit, via the song “The Rout of the Blues” (i.e. the mustering of the Royal Horse Guards regiment).

  2. In this case dam probably translates дамба (damba), not plotina.

  3. Is damba really used for those big concrete monsters? I thought (based on the Oxford’s rendering ‘dike’) that it meant an older style, the kind the Dutch boy stuck his finger in.

  4. Renee, you took the word out of my mouth.
    Only I’d use it in case of Hoover Dam, as direct translation of the name; Sayano-Shushenskaya is definitely a “station”. Dam is only a part, however significant, of the conglomerate of various technological units which is contemporary power station.
    In the case of the book you’re reading “raut” is intended as anachronism (which would sound as such, I beleive, in modern Russian also) – in the same fashion and for the same purpose the outdatedtitle and ranks are dug up and presented as alternative monarchist reality.

  5. I remember getting a comment about eshelon from you when I posted a translation of the first chapter of The Hot Snow to my blog a couple of years ago. Even if you haven’t had any success with other translators, you certainly convinced this one. 😉

  6. Per Ambrosiani says

    By the way, the text of Akunin’s story can be found at

  7. “No s krasnym krestom vse idut i idut eshelony
    A vrode po svodkam poteri ne tak veliki.” – V. Vysotsky.

  8. It’s technically incorrect to say ‘hydroelectric dam’, as the NYT reporter does. It should be ‘power station’. Damba normally serves water management purposes, e.g. in the Netherlands or St. Petersburg. A damb that is part of a hydro power facility is definitely plotina. It’s plotina Dneprogesa, not *damba Dneprogesa.
    Raut, esp. svetskiy raut sounds nearly as Victorian in Russian as in English, so it’s not an entirely bad idea to use ‘rout’ in a translation of a text as thoroughly stytlistically calculated as Akunin’s wirtings are often assumed to be.
    Deystvitel’nyy statskiy sovetnik is probably a calque of ‘Wirklicher Geheimrat’ so although sometimes translated as ‘active privy counselor’, it should be closer to ‘full’, ‘actual’, ‘real’ or ‘true’. I’d prefer ‘full’, as in ‘full member’.

  9. Also, “poslannik” sounds as anachronistic as “raut”. Both belong to – at least- Victorian era. Ambassador is translated as “posol”.

  10. Sayano-Shushenskaya is definitely a “station”. Dam is only a part, however significant, of the conglomerate of various technological units which is contemporary power station.
    Quite true, but the fact is that Russians talk about the conglomerate whereas Americans use “dam” as shorthand for the whole thing. If the Hoover Dam had been built in Russia it would be called a GES, and if the Sayano-Shushenskaya were in the US it would be called a dam. As a practical example of what I’m talking about, I was confused for a long time by the translated title of Yevtushenko’s book Bratsk Station — it sounded like a train station. If it had been rendered “Bratsk Dam,” it would have been much clearer.
    Deystvitel’nyy statskiy sovetnik is probably a calque of ‘Wirklicher Geheimrat’ so although sometimes translated as ‘active privy counselor’, it should be closer to ‘full’, ‘actual’, ‘real’ or ‘true’. I’d prefer ‘full’, as in ‘full member’.
    I hear you, but the traditional translation is “active,” and since all such titles are pretty arbitrary anyway, there’s no good reason for changing it. (“Privy” is a completely archaic word, but presumably you wouldn’t want to change “privy counsellor” to “secret counsellor” in deistvitel’nyy tainyy sovetnik.)

  11. LH, I wouldn’t write off ‘privy’ yet. A few Commonwealth countries still have Privy Councils.
    Eshelon can also mean ‘tier’ or ‘grade’ in Russian. ‘First-tier stocks’ would be aktsii pervogo eshelona. Note the expression gluboko eshelonirovannaya oborona, lit. ‘deeply-tiered defence’.

  12. I know the word still exists, but it’s only used in phrases like “Privy Council” — and I’ll bet most people have no idea what it means by itself, because it’s been obsolete for a long time. My point was that if you’re going to object to “active,” you should object to “privy” too; they’re equally phrase-dependent.

  13. LH, you seem to be saying most native speakers don’t get–not even instinctively–the meaning of ‘privy’ in ‘privy council’ or ‘privy to’. I didn’t realize that.

  14. I’d guess that more Brits than Yanks would know, but of course evidence would help. I’m fairly confident that the vast majority of my fellow Americans know the word, if at all, only as a part of some weird British institutions; “privy to” is a highfaluting phrase over here and would be used only as a show of erudition, and even those who know the phrase would (I suspect) be unable to tell you what exactly “privy” means.

  15. I’m reminded of the use of Diet for the Japanese parliament — previously so used in English only(??) for that of the Holy Roman Empire.

  16. There is another English word, weir, that may, depending on the context, correspond better to Russian дамба, when we’re talking of smaller ones. It’s widely known in England because there many of those on rivers and canals and I’ve never heard them called dams.

  17. Again, I doubt many Americans are familiar with the word, but that’s just a guess.

  18. I’m familiar with it from Wind in the Willows.

  19. I’m pretty sure I first learned of ‘weir’ while on the freshwater Thames.

  20. marie-lucie says

    Indigenous tribes of the North Pacific Rim (along with many others) used to construct salmon weirs on many rivers. These were not dams but more like kinds of fences which would prevent the fish coming from the ocean from continuing up the rivers, making them easy prey for fishermen armed with spears.

  21. Jonathan D says

    To me the difference between dam and weir isn’t simply size. A weir controls the flow on a waterways in a relatively limited way, while with a dam there’s more implication that it’s storing water in some sense. Dams could be much bigger than weirs, but are also very small structures for very local water storage where there otherwise wouldn’t be any sort of regular water body.

  22. “I’m pretty sure I first learned of ‘weir’ while on the freshwater Thames.” (Paul Ogden)

    Three Men in a Boat is half about locks and weirs on the upper Thames.

  23. George Gibbard says

    I first learned privy as the old word for toilet, e.g. in a medieval castle (it would be built into an outer wall such that your business fell outside the wall). This makes privy council immediately understandable, as the kind of thing Lyndon Johnson was famous for.

  24. Thanks for the chuckle!

  25. David Marjanović says

    To me the difference between dam and weir isn’t simply size. A weir controls the flow on a waterways in a relatively limited way, while with a dam there’s more implication that it’s storing water in some sense. Dams could be much bigger than weirs, but are also very small structures for very local water storage where there otherwise wouldn’t be any sort of regular water body.

    “Weir”, then, corresponds exactly to German Wehr – which otherwise means “defense”.

  26. This made me look up Hoover Dam on Russian wiki. It’s translated literally as Плоти́на Гу́вера, дамба Гувера with a link incongruously explaining that дамба ~~ earthen levee, rather than a concrete dam

  27. Trond Engen says

    Never use дамба in the concrete sense.

  28. 🙂 nice one Trond.

    Just for LH, this reminds of a wonderful samizdat magazine of poetry which I haven’t seen for at least 30 years, and always cited from memory. This and other poems from “Syntaxis” influenced my perception of poetry a lot! Stunned to see that it, too, made it to the internet recently:

    Дамба, клумба, облезлая липа.
    Дом барачного типа.
    Коридор. Восемнадцать квартир.
    На стене лозунг «Миру — мир».
    Во дворе Иванов
    Морит клопов.
    Он бухгалтер Гознака.
    У Макаровых пьянка.
    У Барановых драка.

  29. Thanks!

  30. Getting back to Pogibel’ deistvitel’nogo tainogo sovetnika, the whole sentence is archaiized. Pogibel’ is at the very least a marked word in modern Russian (that is, you don’t use it only for its direct meaning, you want to convey some nuance) and poslannik is not used for ambassador (it’s just “posol”). I suspect the whole story is written in this manner of faux-imperial language and the translator has to figure out an appropriate linguistic device to convey it.

  31. Dambas, like little boys, are fine in the abstract, but terrible in the concrete.

  32. Trond Engen says

    Condensation is good in the abstract but bad in the concrete.

  33. marie-lucie says

    Weir again: Reading about Irish and Welsh mythology I found at least one legendary character reputed for owning a weir, a word I had never encountered until then. I did not realize the importance of owning a weir, but I suppose that by constructing weirs across some rivers, ancient and medieval lords or other land owners not only improved their own access but controlled others’ access to salmon coming up those rivers to spawn.

  34. @marie-lucie: Owning a weir comes up now and then in the Celtic legends of the British Isles. In some of the stories, it definitely seemed that it was supposed to be an important cultural signifier, but I don’t think I ever figured out exactly what it meant. The most notable example for me (it was certainly the first literary example of a man with a weir that I encountered, and actually the only one that I can specifically place off the top of my head) was in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, which pastiches many elements of Welsh mythology.

  35. I suppose that by constructing weirs across some rivers, ancient and medieval lords or other land owners not only improved their own access but controlled others’ access to salmon coming up those rivers to spawn.

    There is one narrative like this in my family history. My Pomor ancestors supposedly were pauperized after the Peasant Reforms when they receive personal freedoms but the salmon weirs remained in the possession of Solovetsky monastery, leaving the Pomor fishermen with a sharecropper-like status, worse off than “before freedom”. Eventually they abandoned salmon fishing and moved to cities. This story is an ultimate hearsay, told me by my granny from the words of her grandmother, and some elements of it don’t seem to be correct. The famed island monastery didn’t have mainland possessions after the Imperial govt. helped itself with the former monastery properties across Russia, long before the Peasant Reforms. The monks could have controlled the weirs indirectly, but most certainly the mainland Pomors weren’t in serfdom dependence from the monastery even before. And I still couldn’t confirm the identities of my Northerner ancestors. Got a Finnish-like streak in my DNA to hint at who they were, plus some hopes to scour recently-digitized parish books of Yaroslavl (where my granny was born) … but one has to be a resident of Russia to register for online access there 🙁

  36. marie-lucie says

    Thank you Brett and Dmitry!

  37. Trond Engen says

    It hasn’t occured to me before that weir is cognate with No. vær “(orig. seasonal) fishing village; fishing or hunting ground on the coast”, ON ver “ibid.; poet.: ocean”. I believe the Icelandic cognate can be used even for a regulated seasonal fishing place in a river. Or at least is used that way in a toponym.

  38. marie-lucie says

    English weir, German Wehr, Norwegian vær, ON ver :

    Could the ware in Delaware, the name of a noble English family, be related?

  39. Wikipedia believes their name referred to a Norman lieu-dit, or small geographical region, named in French La Guerre which would be /wer/ in Normand. This in turn might be from Norse verr ‘alder’ or Breton gwern ‘id.’ It could also be an aphetic form of Latin ager ‘field’ or from Late Latin warectum ‘fallow field’, of which I do not know the etymology. A connection with the Frankish equivalent of English gore ‘triangular piece of land’ is also a possibility.

  40. marie-lucie says

    Thanks for the research, JC, although I find those derivations mostly far-fetched.

    In any case, un lieu-dit is not really a ‘region’ but a very small, named place, usually uninhabited but with some sort of identifying feature, such as a crossroads, a cross or small chapel, a prominent rock, etc, or a memory of some event, which is the basis for the name. But this name goes back centuries and its original meaning will probably have been lost or at least obscured.

  41. Perhaps it refers then to a small grove of Alnus glutinosa, the black alder, or perhaps A. viridis, the green alder (more of a shrub)? These are pioneer trees, among the first to appear in open fields, and eventually displaced by other trees that overshadow them. I don’t know if the native word aulne was replaced by a borrowing in Normand. (Geraint, are you there?)

  42. David Marjanović says

    Late Latin warectum ‘fallow field’, of which I do not know the etymology

    Reminds me of German brach “fallow”.

  43. ODS takes the “fallow” sense of brak to be from the break root (since the sward will need to be broken to resume farming) — hard to see how that would become LL warectum. There’s another sense of “lowest quality” that’s referred to the wreck root which might have been a more plausible source of the Latin, but I think that is much later.

  44. Many, many, many years ago The Frost Report ran a comic segment on what would happen if the evening news were illustrated by pictures.

    The best part was at the end, when ‘Lord Privy Seal’ was represented in rapid succession by a picture of a lord, a privy (toilet), and a seal (the animal).

  45. David Marjanović says
  46. To me the difference between dam and weir isn’t simply size. A weir controls the flow on a waterways in a relatively limited way, while with a dam there’s more implication that it’s storing water in some sense.

    The main difference, in BrE at least, is not one of function – it is that a dam isn’t supposed to have water flowing over the top under normal conditions and a weir is.

    Both are devices for storing water or controlling the flow of a river for various reasons. But a dam will have a spillway, a sluice, and/or pipes to allow water to flow past it, either round the side or underneath. A weir is a wall all the way across a river, and water will flow over the top of it.

  47. Trond Engen says

    Do the participle test. There’s a clear difference between being dam’d and being weir’d.

  48. @ David

    How amazing to find that! I haven’t seen it for 52 years and I still remember it better than what I supposedly learnt in my Mongolian class yesterday. 🙁

  49. Before the Europeans came, the Australian Aborigines used to build fish traps and weirs on rivers. I believe they were constructed of stone and were not what we would call dams.

  50. I would imagine that they were not watertight; that the water flowed out between the stones, and possibly over the top as well. (No slight on the Aborigines, but it would be well nigh impossible to build a watertight wall out of uncut dry stone.) That would be a weir rather than a dam.

  51. Language: “Privy” is a completely archaic word
    For me, to be privy to – in the sense of my sharing someone else’s private info, not being their toilet – seems perfectly normal English usage. I hadn’t realised that Americans don’t say it.

    Dmitry: the salmon weirs remained in the possession of Solovetsky monastery
    Weirs have been depriving people of fish all over, and pissing them off for ages. See Para 33 of the Magna Carta (signed by King John at the island of Runnymede on the R. Thames in 1215:
    All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.
    There are lots of fish weirs at estuaries along the coast of Wales.

    Beevers have been reintroduced to Britain after having been hunted to extinction 400 years ago. They build dams & lodges that, like weirs, slow the speed of a river enough to prevent flooding. River fishermen hate beevers because they believe they eat all the fish, which is ridiculous because beevers are vegetarian.

  52. January First-of-May says

    As a teenager, I once tried to make just such a stone “dam” (I think I intended it as a bridge, and did expect the water to flow between the stones) across the Western Dvina (admittedly at its very narrow and shallow point in Andreapol).

    I didn’t have much time to do it, so only made it about 10% of the way across; I was later told that it would have been a futile idea anyway, since the river would have just ended up flowing over my “bridge” (besides, I was making it from shore stones, which there might not have been enough of in the first place).

  53. I was preparing notes on diffraction gratings today, and I discovered an interesting fact about usage of the word echelon. The great optical pioneer Albert Michelson came up with the idea of what he called an “echelon grating” in the late nineteenth century. The geometry is depicted here, on page 410 of Born and Wolf’s Principle of Optics. The metaphor with the military formation is relatively clear from that picture. However, useful gratings with sharply rectangular corners* were not really produced until the 1920s. When they were, the name applied to them was not “echelon” by “echelle” (French for “ladder,” from which echelon is derived). The ladder metaphor may be more apt than the military one, but the change of name is somewhat puzzling.

    The OED appears uncertain whether echelle even qualifies as an English word. It gives:

    Obsolete. rare—1.

    ? An arrangement of ribbons in the form of a ladder; a lacing of ribbons in front of the stomacher.

    1690 Songs Costume (1849) 188 Of ribbon, various echelles, Gloves trimm’d, and lac’d as fine as Nells.

    The source of that lone citation is Satirical Songs and Poems on Costume: From the 13th to the 19th Century, by Frederick W. Fairholt. Fairholt duplicates an earlier 1690 pamphlet, which also included glosses for many of the terms in the description of of “The Ladies [sic] Dressing Room Unlocked, and Her Toilette Spread,” which Fairholt provides as footnotes. The definition of echelle, “a pectoral, or stomacher laced with ribbons, like the rounds [sic] of a ladder,” is the one mirrored by the OED.

    * See the diagram on the previous page of Born and Wolf. The modern idea behind such gratings is to use geometric reflection to direct light into a very high order fringe, thus increasing the precision of the grating (which is directly proportional to the order).

  54. Fresnel lenses are a kind of “stepped” lens and Fresnel was French, so maybe the connection to echelle began there?

    I’ve mentioned before a well-known Columbia architecture professor using ‘echeloning’ to refer to a path zigzagging down a cliff face and no one at that time (1979) having a clue what she was talking about.

  55. If the Hoover Dam had been built in Russia it would be called a GES, and if the Sayano-Shushenskaya were in the US it would be called a dam.

    Just ran across an example:
    Génissiat Dam
    ГЭС Женисья

  56. David Eddyshaw says

    Fresnel’s brother did pioneer work on the Modern South Arabian languages. They were that kind of family:

  57. Ассуанская ГЭС, famously.

  58. And the hymn of total destruction:

    Где вчера плескались рыбы – динамит взрывает глыбы!

    About the dneproges.

  59. When I first cam across “dam” in the sense “hydro-electrostation” – was it in Civilization, the video-game? – I was just as much amused (also because it is similar to damba), and I think for me “dam” is pars pro toto.

    damba is usually applied to protective dams. Plotina accumulates water.

    I honeslty don’t know if “HES” is used for tidal power stations and other hydro- plants that are do not use dams. But when you say “HES”, I immediately think of DneproGES, Aswan HES, and other projects that were widely advertized* in their time.

    Plotina” is used in connection to these constructions. It describes their important part (the dam, that is) – and if you say “Aswan plotina“, it will not sound odd to me. I will just think you do not want me to focus my attention not on its purpose but are referring to the dam as such.

    Also I know a couple small plotinas where I live, but I often think about them as “bridges”, because this is how I use them.

    *the same song with video but without an explanatory text and lyrics. It is a Soviet song about a Russian worker building the Aswan dam. He is tired of local arid climate but is ready to go to Mars. Said to be blacklisted when our relations with Egypt worsened.

  60. Mark Bernes is always a pleasure to hear.

  61. Not in this case for me, I think submerging half of Nubia, that whole of Kush (a state that coexisted with Egypt for all of the latter history) and a large part of humanity’s earlier history was a terrible idea. Obviously, Egypt does need electricity, but.
    When he says Mars I think Poor Moon by Canned Heat.

  62. I didn’t say I liked the dam, just the singing.

  63. This reminded me that, many years ago, I wrote a poem, in the form of an invocation to the gods Ra, Shu, Geb, Osiris, and Horus. With each stanza, the Egypt I described became more modern, and Aswan High Dam eventually featured prominently. I think it was an interesting idea, but it never totally worked. I haven’t thought about it in years, but now I think I might give the whole idea another try.

  64. a Russian worker building the Aswan dam

    That reminds me:

    Ива́н Васи́льевич Комзи́н (16 (29) июня 1905, Васильево, Леонтьевская волость, Вяземский уезд, Смоленская губерния, Российская империя[1] — 27 марта 1983, Москва, СССР) — советский инженер-строитель, энергетик, генерал-майор, организатор военно-морского и промышленного строительства. Начальник управления по восстановлению города Севастополь, основатель и первый начальник управления строительства «Куйбышевгидрострой».

    Курировал строительство Храмской, Днепродзержинской, Воткинской, Беломорской ГЭС, Севастопольской, Руставской, Заинской, Ереванской, Тбилисской ТЭЦ, а также ряда других крупных промышленных объектов, как в СССР, так и за рубежом. Под его руководством была построена Жигулёвская ГЭС, на момент пуска в 1958 году крупнейшая в мире, началось строительство Асуанской высотной плотины.
    Знал немецкий, турецкий[7] и английский[33] языки. Был весьма крупным человеком, его рост составлял 195 см, а вес 117 кг, из-за чего он испытывал определённые бытовые неудобства. Так, его пальцы не помещались в номеронабиратель телефона, и стандартные диски приходилось заменять на другие, с более широкими ячейками[34]. Другой проблемой была обувь, которую Комзин по много часов ежедневно проводивший на стройках, снашивал очень быстро и которую купить было сложно из-за 47-го размера ноги[34]. Шофер Комзина на строительстве Куйбышевской ГЭС Николай Бурцев рассказывал, что часто возил обувь начальника ремонтировать в лагерь, где заключённые смеялись, предлагая купить новую обувь в складчину. «Вообще, любили его: он же был тут в самое тяжелое время и пробыл до конца…» — вспоминал Николай Семизоров[4]. С именем Комзина связывают появление праздника «День строителя»[17], установленный в 1955 году.

    Комзин, Иван Васильевич

  65. David Marjanović says

    Obviously, Egypt does need electricity, but.

    The lake is also filling up with mud much faster than apparently expected…

  66. Meanwhile, another controversial dam on the Nile is in the works:

  67. About the original post.

    It is translationese of course, but I am not sure that translationese is bad and… Consider a Russian child.

    Эшелон is a technical and from the perspective of a child, largely bookish word.
    Раут is a bookish and historical word.

    You learn them from books, or lessons or films or from anywhere but your own life – importantly, alonside with some words that you only find in translations from French, and some words that you only find in translations from Japanese and so on.

    Then how did these two get into Russian books? They are not really Russian. Raut still sounds foreign and was used by the author exactly because it smels tsarist Russian – where, in turn, it only gained popularity because it was very English.

    They will not enter English, of course – unless Russian parties become fashionable in English-speaking countreis and even then the word won’t be “rout”. * They will remain in translations from Russian.

    But the experience of an English reader of such a translation is … identical to the experience of a Russian child. Is that bad?

    *I once heard Party Like A Russian by Robbie Williams and immediately thought that the guy actually sang before oligarchs. Or what else could inspire that other than such an experience? Then I read about the song in Wikipedia and was pleased to find that I was right:)

  68. Эшелон is a technical and from the perspective of a child

    Who cares about the perspective of a child? An adult reader knows exactly what it is, and an adult English-speaker should have as close an experience as possible to that of a Russian adult reader.

  69. “An adult reader knows exactly what it is”


  70. Certainly an adult Soviet reader; I suppose by now the younger generations have forgotten all that unpleasant stuff.

  71. Yes, you are right. But I think is confusing even for a lexicographer.

    1. it evolved. 2. synchronously at the peak of its populariry it was used as:

    a. precise term (more than one) b. jargonism c. colloquially.

    3. you would expect professionals to think that some colloquial usages are “erroneous”, because there is quite a range of usages alongside with quite a range of terms.

  72. Bathrobe says

    This is what “dam” means to me….

    Farm dam

    There is even a Wikipedia article at Dam (Agricultural reservoir)

    According to Wikipedia, “The term is found widely in South African, Australian and New Zealand English, and several other English dialects, such as that of Yorkshire.”

  73. David Eddyshaw says

    “Dam” means “lake, reservoir” in the local English of northern Ghana, too.

  74. Damy delyatsya na dam, ne dam i dam no ne vam – A bearded* joke.

    “Ladies can be subdivided into 1. ladies 2. not ladies…” – and here the superficual reading collapses and the alternative comes to the forefront:
    “Ladies can be subdivided into 1. I will agree to have sex 2. I will not agree to have sex 3. I will agree to have sex, but not with you”.

    Dam is
    – acc. pl. of dama
    – 1st person future of “to give [it]” – which means “to agree to have sex” when applied to a lady.

    P.S. I do not know how ladies classify gentlemen, but I am sure they do.

    * bearded (about jokes) – “old”

  75. marie-lucie says

    About “échelle – échelon”

    French “échelle” means “ladder”, but I am surprised at the English and Russian meanings of what started as “échelon”, originally a diminutive, which basically means “rung” of a ladder. Apart from this concrete meaning, the word is used in an administrative, military or similarly hierarchical context to refer to each step on the metaphorical “ladder” that constitutes a career. With a semantically “middiling” sort of context, there is the verb “s’échelonner” which describes the constitution of a ladder-like series of “steps” in a basically horizontal sequence, such as signs along a highway regularly indicating distances, or even street lights along a long straight street, punctuating street crossings at regular intervals. The recent appearance of modern windmills in wide open landscapes can also be described with “s’échelonner”, as the windmills appear at regular intervals.

  76. Bathrobe says

    “Dam” means “lake, reservoir”

    The common denominator with a dam across a river is that the farm dam is constructed by excavating a basin and building up an earthen wall on the downstream side. The dam then collects water that drains from surrounding land or from a small gully.

  77. The Russian military term is exactly a step in a sequence. Before reading on the Internet about the history of the Russian word as applied to trains I tried to formulate my (vague) understanding for myself, just to measure the depth of my ignorance.

    It is not easy, because it is a word I heard often as a child (WWII was very widely represented in media back then) and rarely hear today. My current idea derives from examples like “to send an échelon after échelon to the front line” (I will use the French spelling).

    I do not understand it as “to send one loud iron thing after another loud iron thing” (train after train). I have always understood it as sending units of troops (possibly in trains), a wave after wave.

    For me it is not a ‘special train’ (one treated specially somehow) but a train with reference to its capacity to carry a certain quantity. “A cup of tea” names the vessel but means a quantity. Échelon names a quantity but means the whole thing: a train loaded with it.

    I also associate it with the context of sending (see “send” in the example above) a large amount of something in an organized effort: soldiers to the frontline, aid or supplies as famine relief, refugees or evacuated people. Two further associations are:

    – “military context.” Not necessarily: see above. But “large-scale sending of something”, be that relief, supplies or evacuated people is a miliatary-like activity.

    – “WWII and before.” Not necessarily: I do not hear the word today, but maybe when I was a child they would send aid in échelons… I am not sure.

    After this I googled it.

  78. First about its motivation.

    There are words like “toothbrush”. Poeple invent them, because there are objects that need names.

    Échelon is not such a word. Its prototype is a unit of troups in movement. It moves after the previous one and before the next.

    A similar unit still exists today: the military need to plan relocation of troops (how large are groups? how many today, how many tomorrow?), to organize it (where will you get transportation for them?) and every such unit (that usually does not coincide in size with a regiment) also needs a commander.

    This is your toothbrush. Without it you never feel a need to call anything an “échelon”. The word would not have arisen. If it was common once, it can be forgotten. This is what is happening to the word today (ouside of the military).

  79. A couple examples where it refers to trains:

    1. there is a usage “an échelon with [troops, …]” which grammatically suggests a reference to a container (cup) rather than the contained quanity. I am familiar with it. Despite the grammar, I still understand it as a virtual unit similar to “a party” rather than a direct reference to the physical thing with wheels that moves it. But:

    2. From a dictionary: “Снова бригадиры, пахари, конюхи и косцы по первому зову родины,с ложкой за голенищем, с парой чистого белья и куском мыла в заплечном мешке, отправятся в город к железнодорожным эшелонам.”. Literally: “And again foremen, plowmen, stablemen and mowers on the first call of the motherland, with a spoon in a bootleg, with a pair of clean underwear and a piece of soap in a knapsack, will set off in the city to railroad échelons.” (1954, a novel “describing the life of a Soviet village after the war”).

    Unambigously a physical train, though again in the context of moving “large groups of people in organized effort” to where they are needed.

    No, I am not familiar with this usage:/ Maybe I was familiar with it once. Or maybe it only existed in around WWII.

    What happened, I think is that the country observed many échelons (in the sense: troops) moving during the civil war. That is when the word could became familiar to many people. That period also saw development of railroad transportation (particularly, troops that time were often but not always moved by trains).

    The extensions:

    1: [a unit] -> [a unit meant to be carried by a train] -> [a unit carried by a train] -> [a unit carried by a train with the trian itsels] -> [the train itself]
    2. [a unit of troops] -> [a load of something else sent in a similar manner].

    could have happened then. But then there was WWII and the country saw many more échelons.

  80. This is what is happening to the word today (ouside of the military).

    Is it, though?

    В современных условиях важнее, чем когда-либо в прошлом, применить несколько средств против каждой угрозы. На примере антивирусной программы можно рассмотреть, как использовать комбинированные приемы для формирования исчерпывающей эшелонированной обороны против вирусов и других вредных программ.

  81. I will correct myself then. Without the technical meaning of “échelon” (a unit of soldiers moved/moving together) you never feel a need to call a train so.

    Эшелонированная оборона is defence subdivided in several defence lines.

    I tried to look up the English term in Wikipedia and… English Wikipedia redirects me to “military” form “Defence (military)”. It seems I do not know what is the English word for “defence”:(((( WTF?

  82. What do we mean when we refer to “multi-layer” security? Why are we sure it’s the right way to approach cybersecurity? At first, it may sound too simple, like a naïve “more is better” approach that says two copies of antivirus software on an endpoint are better than one.

    Multiple layers of defense
    Because potential Internet security risks can occur at a variety of levels, you need to set up security measures that provide multiple layers of defense against these risks. In general, when you connect to the Internet, you should not wonder if you will experience intrusion attempts or denial of service attacks. Instead, you should assume that you will experience a security problem. Consequently, your best defense is a thoughtful and proactive offense. Using a layered approach when you plan your Internet security strategy ensures that an attacker who penetrates one layer of defense will be stopped by a subsequent layer.

    Your security strategy must include measures that provide protection across the following layers of the traditional network computing model. Generally, you need to plan your security from the most basic (system level security) through the most complex (transaction level security).

  83. John Emerson says

    “Dam” = “reservoir”: if I remember Hobson-Jonson correctly, in Anglo-Indian English, “tank” = “reservoir”.

  84. John Emerson says

    The etymology of “tank” is worth looking up. It seems adequately Anglo-Saxon, but it traces either to Portuguese or to Gujarati, or maybe from Portuguese via Gujarati,

  85. The OED (updated June 2014) says of the military term “Specific use of tank n.¹, adopted as a designation for tracked armoured fighting vehicles with allusion to the resemblance of the vehicle’s box-like metal hull to a large cistern or reservoir for liquids, in order to obscure the purpose of these machines during their development and manufacture.” Unfortunately the entry for tank n.¹ “In India, A pool or lake, or an artificial reservoir or cistern, used for purposes of irrigation, and as a storage-place for drinking-water” dates back to 1910, but AHD says:

    Partly from an Indic source such as Gujarati ṭāṃkhī, cistern, and ṭāṃkhī,ṃ, reservoir, or Marathi ṭāṃkeṃ, cistern, reservoir (all from Prakrit ṭaṅka, ditch, reservoir, of unknown origin) and partly from Portuguese tanque, reservoir (variant of estanque, from estancar, to dam up, from Vulgar Latin *stanticāre; see STANCH¹).

  86. “This is what is happening to the word today (ouside of the military).
    Is it, though?

    Ретропоезд «Воинский эшелон» осмотрели около 25 тысяч человек
    Тюменцы встретили военный эшелон «Мы – армия страны, мы – армия Победы»
    Более 12 тысяч человек встретили «Поезд Победы» в Новокузнецке

    It seems it is. Can you imagine a web site called “Web Site” (as a part of historical reenactment of the Internet)? It is only possible when the word is not really current (but, again, it still exists as a term)

  87. PlasticPaddy says

    Starokuznetsk is located in the NovokuznetskiyOsinnikskiyMezhdurechenskiy rayon, Kemerovskaya Oblast.
    1. What a humiliation for starokuznetsk!
    2. The rayon has a great name. But maybe it is a little too short, considering its importance….

  88. The third Russian word for плотина is запруда, by the way.

    …where пруд is an artificial lake/pool formed by what Bathrobe said: “building up an earthen wall on the downstream side.” with “excavating a basin” sometimes. Пруд “collects water that drains from surrounding land or from a small gully”.
    Often these were made in parks in rich усадьба-s.

    запрудить [a stream] is to block it.

    I call my nearby пруд a пруд and its 40 meters long concrete dam “plotina”, reserving “zapruda” for smaller stuff. Anythign that blocks a stream, no matter how tiny is zapruda, I think.

  89. Just got to this in the Aitmatov novel (WWII has recently started):

    И пошли эшелоны через Боранлы-Буранный на запад с солдатами, на восток с эвакуированными, на запад с хлебом, на восток с ранеными. Даже на таком глухом полустанке, как Боранлы-Буранный, сразу стало ощутимо, как резко переиначилась жизнь…


    И ни конца, ни края — откуда только черпали эту неисчислимую людскую рать, эшелон за эшелоном проносились на фронт днем и ночью, неделями, месяцами, а потом годами и годами. И все на запад — туда, где схватились миры не на жизнь, а на смерть…

  90. I do not understand it as “to send one loud iron thing after another loud iron thing” (train after train). I have always understood it as sending units of troops (possibly in trains), a wave after wave.

    From Чапаев (1923):

    Три звонка… Свисток… Эшелон трогается, — и вот еще долго ему вдогонку мчатся партиями и в одиночку отставшие красноармейцы, повисая на подножках, ухватываясь за лесенки и приступки, взбираясь на крыши…

  91. “Олег Дорман рассказывал:
    – Я был учеником Семена Львовича Лунгина. Однажды мы сидели на кухне у него дома и писали сценарий. В это время зашла его жена – Лилиана Лунгина, та которая перевела со шведского Малыша и Карлсона и которая корпела над очередным переводом в комнате.
    – Мальчики, – огорченно сказала она, – у меня там герой идет по аэропорту и держит в руке гамбургер. Я не знаю, что это такое.
    – Похоже на макинтош, – сказал Лунгин, – плащ, наверное, какой-то.
    – Хорошо, – обрадовалась Лилиана, – напишу, что он перекинул его через руку.
    Через несколько минут она снова вернулась и убитым голосом сообщила:
    – Он его съел”.

  92. Nice story 🙂

  93. Yes, I enjoyed it.

  94. David Marjanović says

    So a Macintosh is neither an apple nor an Apple – what is it?

  95. Trond Engen says

    And the banker never wears a mac, very strange.

    This is from one of those new (post XVII century) songs,

  96. Trond Engen says

    I must have managed to delete “In the pouring rain”. Very strange indeed.

  97. Little children laugh at you behind your back.

Speak Your Mind