What’s a Lyska?

I ran across the Russian word лыска [lyska] on this page, where one of the photos shows a станок (machine-tool) for producing flat surfaces, including lyski (“Обработка плоскостей, лысок, уступов”). Naturally, I wanted to know how to translate it, but it turned out to be missing from all my bilingual dictionaries, including the three-volume one that usually has even the most obscure technical terms. Mind you, I know what it is; Wiktionary defines it as “flat section on cylindrical, conical or spherical parts of a component, usually parallel to the axis” [плоский срез на цилиндрических, конических или сферических участках детали, как правило, параллельный оси], which is clear enough. You can see an image in the third section of this illustrated glossary. But I want to know what you call it in English. Having exposed the limitations of my effete bourgeois education in the humanities, I’m hoping one of my readers will be able to help me in my quest.


  1. Wouldn’t this be a ‘flat’ or a kind of detent? Google Image Search seems to show this exact thing when prompted with the query ‘shaft flat’. In any case, the on-line version of Multitran is a semi-crowdsourced multilingual dictionary which Russian translators contribute to, and ‘лыска’ is in there.

  2. You appear to be correct, and I thank you!

  3. Just as I got distracted for a minute perusing multitran for other meanings of the word… 🙂

  4. Going through German gives the following results:
    lyska is translated as 1) Anflächung -> English “plateau formation” and as 2) Abflachung, for which the following English translations with the marking “technical” are given: “flat”, “flattening”, “bevel”, “machined flat”. A bevel is clearly something different, so this may mean that this is one of the cases where we laymen expect a more esoteric term than the one actually used (“flat, flattening”). But maybe someone with more technical know-how than me (certified two left hands) can weigh in on that.
    EDIT: And I see that I’ve been ninja’d while posting this, and that the term is indeed “flat”. Good to receive confirmation!

  5. Boy, that Multitran is a great site; I’ll add it to the sidebar.

  6. including lyski

    Shouldn’t that be lyskas in English?

  7. Shouldn’t that be lyskas in English?
    Do you also say “alumnas”?

  8. Do you also say “rhinoceroi”?

  9. I’d never used Multitran before, so I eagerly looked up knurl. I only know the word in the machining sense, but as far as I can tell, Multitran (Russian at least) goes overboard with what seems to be every possible translation to every archaic sense of the word as well.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    Do you also say “rhinoceroi”?

    I say “rhinocerotes”, like all right-thinking persons.

  11. It’s in my copy of the Russian English Polytechnical dictionary, edited by B.V. Kuznetsov, Moscow Russian Language Publishers, 1980.
    It just says: flat.

  12. Damn, another dictionary I should have but don’t! Thanks for confirming the translation. (I must say, I find the word “flat” very odd in this sense. My native-speaker intuitions are all befuddled.)

  13. No English word for this came to mind immediately, and after browsing various engineering and mechanical and hobbyist websites, it seems that people describe it as a flat spot or slot on a shaft or axle, a flat cut-out, a flattened end, and so on. I’m not convinced that even the specialists would call it simply a ‘flat.’

  14. David Marjanović says

    I’m left wondering if плос- is a cognate of flach.

  15. Googling for ‘shaft flat’ (the two words, without double quotes), brings up several examples of people calling it a flat, as well as some where they just describe it (‘a flattened end’). See, for example, https://softsolder.com/2011/03/20/thing-o-matic-flatting-motor-shafts/ where you can learn to make your own flats.

  16. – I find the word “flat” very odd in this sense.

    Lyska literally means “little bald spot”.

    Not sure if it’s more intuitive than “flat”

  17. In Polish, łyska means ‘coot’ (Russian лысуха); cf. “as bald as a coot”. I have no idea if we have a technical word for the “flats” of a shaft or a nut.

  18. I’m left wondering if плос- is a cognate of flach.

    That seems to be the standard assumption – Vasmer has it as the most probable etymology and Derksen as the only etymology .

  19. Lyska literally means “little bald spot”.

    Not sure if it’s more intuitive than “flat”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “intuitive”; to me, the problem with “flat” is that it’s so simple-minded a term. It’s like calling a soccer ball a “round” or a skyscraper a “tall.” Lyska, on the other hand, is a well-formed and specific Russian word; it doesn’t matter what it literally means, it sounds like a term for something. “Flat” just sounds dumb (to me, that is; obviously if you’re used to it it just sounds like a normal word for something).

  20. Julian Tuwim has a wonderful short story, “Слесарь” – http://www.vilavi.ru/raz/tuwim/proza.shtml
    Original Polish: “Ślusarz” – http://wiersze.doktorzy.pl/slusarz.htm

    Apologies in advance if this ends up as a duplicate, but it looks like the blog has eaten my previous attempt at posting this comment because of a Russian quote, omitted this time. I hope this one isn’t marked as URL spam.

  21. That’s delightful, and very short! A sample will give the idea (a plumber has been called; he speaks first):

    — Фершлюс надо разогнать.

    Быстрота диагноза понравилась мне, и я, не сморгнув, спросил:

    — А зачем?

    Слесарь поразился моему любопытству, но после первой реакции удивления, выразившейся во взгляде поверх очков, кашлянул и сказал:

    — Потому что дроссельклапан не в аккурат отрихтован и люфтит.

    — Ага! — сказал я. — Понимаю! Значит, если бы дроссельклапан был в своё время отрихтован в аккурат, то сейчас бы не люфтил и не надо было бы разгонять фершлюс.

    — Конечно! А теперь из-за этого пуфер придётся раззенковывать, шабровку ему дать, чтобы штендер законтрить.

    I assume all those ridiculous-sounding technical terms are simply German words plugged into Polish sentences.

  22. I assume all those ridiculous-sounding technical terms are simply German words plugged into Polish sentences.
    Yep. The only one that isn’t clearly German is zakryptować.

  23. I thought I can outsmart it by submitting a simple comment that will get through and then edit it. No luck. Sorry for the spam. I wanted to say it comes from German die Krypta

  24. As usual, I apologize for the inscrutable whims of the software. If I could fix it, I would. (And if anyone has trouble with a comment, feel free to e-mail it to me and I’ll post it for you.)

  25. David Marjanović says

    Interestingly, Schlosser is “locksmith” rather than “plumber”.

  26. Lyska sounds like, and for the main part is, a dog’s name. Technical terms in Russian should sound German-like, because they largely are
    Edit: I see you’ve got the idea already.

  27. But Russian слесарь is not a plumber. That is, not necessarily. It is someone who works with metals and things made out of metals without heavy machinery. Locksmith is a sort of archetype.

  28. a dog’s name

    After all, there are only two letters different between Lyska and Laika.

  29. @ D.O: That’s also what a German Schlosser; does, so while the literal meaning is “locksmith”, the word also means “fitter, metal worker”. But it doesn’t normally mean “plumber”, while in Russian one can say слесарь – сантехник.

  30. In Denmark as well it was sheet metal workers (blikkenslagere) who branched out from doing various forms of weatherproofing and fittings to indoor plumbing, They may have produced hinges and latches in finer qualities than the blacksmith could, but they were never locksmiths. Nor layers of lead roofs (blytækkere).

  31. In present-day Polish ślusarz means only ‘locksmith’; we would call a plumber hydraulik. But formerly the same artisan with the same toolbox could take care of broken locks, leaking pipes and malfunctioning fixtures, and ślusarz could refer to such a “general metalworking fixer”.

    Julian Tuwim’s sketch is an evergreen classic; I used to know it by heart. The subtly (and intentionally) anacoluthic sentence Ślusarz był blady i nienawidził mnie ‘The plumber was pale and hated me’ is very familiar in Poland and may serve as a model for similar expressions.

    The Russian translation is near-perfect, except that люфтит is too short and too plain-sounding in comparison with ryksztosuje (Ger. rückstoßen ‘recoil’).

  32. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    Łyski? No, thanks, I’m driving.

  33. Trond Engen says

    Blikkenslager is another obviousy German word.

    Working in Norwegian construction industry for more than 20 years I have never understood rørleggere “plumbers” (lit. “pipe layers”) as a branch of blikkenslagere, unlike those installing ventilation ducts and those installing e.g. aluminium wall panels. Those making roof fittings and gutters call themselves blikkenslagere to this day.

  34. anacoluthic sentence

    Surely zeugma rather than anacoluthon? “You are free to execute your laws and your citizens as you see fit.”

  35. If you go back 200 years, pipes were made by pulling a flat strip of metal (Blech) through a die to form a tube and welding the seam, so that’s the connection. When seamless steel pipes came in they just started to use those.

  36. Łyski? No, thanks, I’m driving.

    Łyski z lodem.

  37. Trond Engen says

    Yes, I get the connection. It just never occured to me. Craftspeople are often very aware of the historical affinity between crafts, but no plumber (or tinsmith) has ever told me that plumbers are a branch of tinsmiths.

  38. Surely zeugma rather than anacoluthon?

    Yes, I suppose it is a kind of zeugma. The Russian translator decided to split it into two sentences, sacrificing the comic effect for the sake of stylistic correctness: “The plumber was pale. The plumber hated me.”

  39. Actual anacolutha used or mentioned on Languagehat:

    “A government audit found that the federal government had furtively passed out tens of millions of dollars to friendly advertising companies involved in antiseparatist publicity efforts deeply offended Quebecers.” —New York Times

    “In Polish, the formal name of the genus Artemisia is bylica, and A. absinthium is bylica piołun to botanists, but “everybody else” (by which I mean people who can tell one plant from another), piołun may be applied to any species of Artemisia.”

    Two comments — I hate the spelling “Quebecers” almost as much as Safire did, and is it really any species, including tarragon?

  40. No, sorry, not really any. I was thinking specifically of common mugwort (A. vulgaris), which is the plant popularly called чорно́биль in Ukrainian. Tarragon is known under its international name, estragon.

  41. Often found in the company of Vladimir.

  42. @ Uwe: Sure, Krypta exists a loanword in German, but it doesn’t really belong to the other terms that all have some relation to plumbing or at least are somehow terms used in metalworking / home fitting / machinery repair. And krypta also exists in Polish, so I felt that zakryptować isn’t really one of the technical pseudo-terms loaned from German in that piece.

  43. The Polish text linked above is slightly corrupt here and there. For *tender, read śtender (= Ständer). For *kryptować, read krypować (= krippen).

  44. David Marjanović says

    *facepalm* Maschinenschlosser “someone trained to do metal-fixing-type activities in the construction, maintenance etc. of machines”.


    I’ve never encountered the verb, but the noun Rückstoß indeed designates the recoil of firearms and sometimes other devices.

    Blikkenslager is another obviousy German word.

    Not very High, though (“sheet-metal beater” would be *Blechschläger).

    Now that I think of it, Spengler seems to have the same range of meanings in those places where it’s the word for “plumber”.

    (German words for “plumber” have almost as much regional variation as those for “butcher”. At least there is a most widespread one, Klempner, but I’m for instance used instead to the remarkable pseudo-French Installateur… with -[ʃt]-.)

  45. Trond Engen says

    David: Not very High, though

    I should have said Low German. We got a lot of our crafts terminology from Nedersaksen. You can recognize them on tone 1 pitch. 1snekker “joiner” and 2snekker “type of boat (pl.)” is a minimal pair.

    (“sheet-metal beater” would be *Blechschläger).

    Some here say blekkslagær (= blikkslager), which I think must be nativized. Not sure if its an old parallel form or if its irreverence-by-colloquialism.

  46. @Piotr: Oh, that solves it. I had wondered about Tender – the word exists, but it means “tender” (in the procurement sense and in the nautical / railway sense), so it didn’t really fit.
    @ David: Installateur is actually the preferred word of the professional plumbers’ associations. I use Klempner. According to the map in the “dtv Atlas zur deutschen Sprache”, Blickenschläger is (or was, these maps reflect usage in the early 20th century) used in parts of North-Western Germany and Schleswig-Holstein, which would be right for a loan into Danish. Austria seems to be Spengler territory.

  47. Trond Engen says

    Me: You can recognize them on tone 1 pitch.

    No, you can’t. This is mainly Urban Norwegian, and even there there ‘s too much analogical levelling and jumping between the classes for it to be a safe indicator. Many dialects (and Swedish) place all in the tone 2 (inherited) category.

  48. David Marjanović says

    Austria seems to be Spengler territory.

    Some of it (still?) is.

  49. Even though I’ve lived in the States since I was 10, and I’m now 47, I had no idea that станок would be called a machine-tool in English, though I was well acquainted with this word from my childhood. I wonder if it has to do with the cult of the factory worker in the Soviet Union. The image of the worker at his станок , both during peace and wartime, was pretty prevalent. I’m curious if others would readily know what a machine-tool would look like in English or their native languages, other than Russians.

  50. Even though I’ve lived in the States since I was 10, and I’m now 47, I had no idea that станок would be called a machine-tool in English, though I was well acquainted with this word from my childhood.

    I didn’t either; I had to look it up, and “machine-tool” still doesn’t convey anything to my mind, whereas станок is very familiar to me from all my Russian reading. It’s definitely a cultural thing, somewhat comparable to the GES/dam situation discussed here.

  51. In German, станок can be translated either as Werkzeugmaschine (“machine tool”), as Werkbank “workbench”, or as Drehbank “lathe”. In German Socialist literature, mostly Werkbank and Drehbank are (were) used when depicting the stereotypical worker.

  52. In Danish usage a værktøjsmaskine is a machine with interchangeable tooling, able to drill and cut and rout without moving the workpiece — also the big automated CNC machines, superannuating the glorious working class heroes of the revolution. A ‘machine tool’ sounds more like a big spanner for working on machines…

    But it looks like a станок can be any hand operated tooling that needs to be mounted on a work bench — can it be the work bench itself as well?

  53. It can indeed; a столярны станок is a joiner’s bench, and a рабочий от станка is a bench worker.

  54. And colloquially it can be used for work in general: обратно к станку ‘back to work.’

  55. столярны станок is a joiner’s bench

    I’d call it a stolyarnyi verstak (again, the Cyrillic isn’t allowed through).

  56. Cyrillic isn’t allowed through
    put a URL into the “Website” field, it may help.
    Примерно так.

  57. For me machine tool is a transparent compound: a tool (most likely not a manual one) for machining metal parts: that is, cutting or shaping them.

  58. machine-tool is called in Russian металлорежущий станок. (literally metal cutting tool)

    other types of equipment, for example, ткацкий станок (loom) will not be called machine tools in English.

    the word станок apparently was used originally to translate German term Werkstatt which can’t be adequately translated into English either (usually it’s translated as “workshop”, which is misleading, because in English it refers to a room or premises where work is being done, but in German it refers to individual worker’s stationary workplace with equipment. )

  59. But surely Werkstatt is ended up as Russian верстак, a workbench.

  60. Then I give up.

    The word is impossible to translate into English then

  61. German term Werkstatt which can’t be adequately translated into English either (usually it’s translated as “workshop”, which is misleading, because in English it refers to a room or premises where work is being done, but in German it refers to individual worker’s stationary workplace with equipment.)
    The original (earliest attestation I can find in Grimm is from ca. 1400) and standard meaning of Werkstatt is exactly the same as English “workshop”; e.g. the definition of the Duden: Arbeitsraum eines Handwerkers mit den für seine Arbeit benötigten Geräten “working room of a craftsman including the tools needed for his work”. According to Grimm, the meaning you quote is a rare, specialised usage, that also seems to be obsolete (attestations in Grimm range rom the 17th – 19th century, and FWIW it’s a usage I never encountered before reading your post.) The contemporary designation of what you describe is Arbeitsstation (a calque of English “work station”). So translationg Werkstatt as “workshop” is correct.

  62. David Marjanović says

    FWIW it’s a usage I never encountered before reading your post

    Me neither.

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