Found in translation

October 20, 2006

Some great new excuses I did not include in an earlier post after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been overheard joking about the virility of his Israeli counterpart, who is accused of multiple rape.
First excuse: Mr Putin’s spokesman said the joke was not meant to be overheard
Second excuse: Come on, Russkies you can do better than that.  The spokesman again: “Russian is a very complicated language, sometimes it is very sensitive from the point of view of phrasing. I don’t think that the proper translation is able to reflect the meaning of the joke.”

What Putin apparently said was: “What a mighty man he turns out to be! He raped 10 women – I would never have expected this from him. He surprised us all – we all envy him!”
The Russian media have been quick to try and defend their nation’s president, speculating that Mr Putin simply wanted to express support for Mr Olmert. So “I envy your President raping ten women” is diplomatic parlance for ” I think you’re doing a good job.” And I, naively thought ‘diplomatic’ language worked the other way round. Anyway, always ready to help a world leader out of a hole,  I dug into this business of translation a bit (I’m not a Russian speaker). The word for ‘rape’ (насиловать) can also, according to an online dictionary, mean ‘gorilla’; ‘jam one up’; ‘shake somebody down’, ‘snag’. ‘Woman’ (женщина) also has the meaning of ‘frail’; ‘furniture’  or ‘bit of mutton.’ So I imagine Putin really said something like ‘He’s a gorilla who really shook up the furniture’ or ‘there is a snag with his piece of mutton’. I’m quite prepared to believe this as I know how tricky a language Russian can be. I once sat in on a lesson conducted for British military intelligence people where the instructor explained a new word by saying: ” This word has two meanings. One, underpants. Two, Unconditional surrender.” Don’t mess with Russian translations, that’s my conclusion.


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