Some Peculiarities of Russian

Dear reader,

Almost three years after the post of the same name, and almost a decade since I started this blog, I have a pleasure to announce that Some Peculiarities of Russian (ISBN 979-8-6244-6814-6), the first ever book by yours truly, beautifully illustrated by Tamara Kulikova, finally hits Amazon shelves! Available in paperback from Amazon stores in Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Spain, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.

который час?

There are two common ways of asking “What time is it?” in Russian: «Который час?» (literally, “Which hour?”) and «Сколько времени?» (“How much time?”). When I were a lad, they taught us in school that the correct way is the first one, even though it may sound a bit old-fashioned now.

But, as we know, it is not enough to ask: it also could be nice to know what the answer means. There are a few curious things about telling time in Russian. One is, both cardinal and ordinal numbers are used: cf. «десять часов» (ten o’clock) and «десятый час» (the tenth hour). Another is, the ordinal number H+1th is used to name the hour between H:00 and H:59. For example, «десятый час» (10th hour) means any time between 9 and 10 o’clock. We use exactly the same logic when we give the name 20th century to the 19xx years. Yet I found that both English and Spanish speakers get confused with “Russian” way of naming hours.

In her memoirs, the Russian writer Teffi describes the dialogue between entrepreneur Guskin (Гуськин) and herself:

— Ну конечно. Новое дело. Опоздали на вокзал!
— Быть не может! Который же час?
— Семь часов, десятый. Поезд в десять. Все кончено.

Тэффи, «Воспоминания»

Guskin is so worried that they would miss the ten o’clock train that he runs to Teffi’s place at seven o’clock in the morning. Him saying «Семь часов, десятый» (when for anyone else it is only восьмой) adds to the comic effect.

Nine o’clock is девять часов. If we want to be precise, we say «девять часов ровно», “nine o’clock sharp”. We can safely drop the word час when it is clear that we talk about time:

— Сейчас ровно девять.

There are also two ways of telling hours and minutes. One is completely straightforward: 9:10 is «девять часов десять минут» (nine hours ten minutes). This is the “official” way of telling time, such as you can hear on the radio. The cardinal numerals for both hours and minutes are in nominative; the nouns час and минута, when in plural, change to genitive or accusative, as discussed elsewhere.

Another one is shorter but potentially confusing: «десять минут десятого», literally “ten minutes of the tenth” [1]. Here the cardinal numeral (minutes) remains in nominative but the ordinal one (hour) is in genitive. Which is kind of logical as these minutes belong to that hour.

For any number of minutes M between H:00 and H:30 we can use the “short” formula «M минут H+1-го». For 15 minutes, there is a special name, четверть (quarter), and for 30 minutes, половина (half). So 9:15 is четверть десятого, “quarter of the tenth”, and 9:30 is половина десятого, or полдесятого, “half of the tenth”. The German speakers will have no difficulties dealing with it, as they use halb zehn, “half of ten” for 9:30. However, in Spanish the same time will be las nueve y media “the nine and a half”, while in English we use “half past nine” (Brits say just “half nine”).

After H:30, the “long” way remains the same but for the “short” way we have to count backward from our “target” hour, H+1. So, 9:40 will be “long” «девять часов сорок минут» (nine hours forty minutes), or “short” «без двадцати минут десять» (ten without twenty minutes). Between H:30 and H+1:00, mentioning минуты is optional, so most people will just say «без двадцати десять» (ten without twenty). This is very similar to Spanish las diez menos veinte and, indeed, English “twenty to ten”. Of course, 9:45 will be «без четверти десять» (ten without quarter). Curiously, now the target hour is in nominative but the minutes are in genitive (the preposition без invariably requires the genitive).

When the hour is already known from the context, one can dispose of naming the hour and only talk about minutes:

Я должен прийти к девяти <часам>
На работу свою.
Но сейчас уже без десяти <девять часов>,
А я только встаю.

The “short” way of telling time exists only between one and twelve (0 < H < 11), so in case of ambiguity we have to indicate the time of the day: утро (morning), день (noon or afternoon), вечер (evening) or ночь (night), once again, in genitive. For example, 09:00 is девять часов утра (nine in the morning), 12:00 — двенадцать часов дня (twelve noon), 15:00 — три часа дня (three in the afternoon), 21:00 — девять часов вечера (nine in the evening), 24:00 — двенадцать часов ночи (twelve o’clock at night), 03:00 — три часа ночи (three in the morning). 12:00 is also known as полдень (midday) and 24:00 as полночь (midnight); the time after midday and after midnight could be specified with (sounding a bit archaic) пополудни and пополуночи, respectively. In all “short” time expressions the words часа/часов are optional, so we can say четыре утра, двенадцать ночи and so on. For one o’clock, however, the word час is obligatory; on the contrary, the word один (one) is not used. Thus 01:00 is «час ночи» and 13:00 is «час дня».

Russian English Spanish
час one o’clock la una
два часа two o’clock las dos
(ровно) девять часов nine o’clock (sharp) las nueve (en punto)
девять часов утра nine in the morning las nueve de la mañana
двенадцать часов дня; полдень twelve noon; midday las doce de la mañana; mediodía
три часа дня; три часа пополудни three in the afternoon las tres de la tarde
девять часов вечера nine in the evening las nueve de la tarde
двенадцать часов ночи; полночь twelve in the night; midnight las doce de la noche; medianoche
три часа ночи; три часа пополуночи three in the morning las tres de la madrugada
четверть четвёртого quarter past three las tres y cuarto
половина четвёртого half (past) three las tres y media
без четверти четыре quarter to four las cuatro menos cuarto

Everybody who lived in Soviet Union should remember the standard message broadcast daily at 15:00 Moscow Time on the radio:

Передаём сигналы точного времени. Начало шестого сигнала соответствует пятнадцати часам московского времени. [Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, Beeeeeep!] Говорит Москва. В столице пятнадцать часов, в Ашхабаде — шестнадцать, в Ташкенте — семнадцать, в Караганде — восемнадцать, в Красноярске — девятнадцать, в Иркутске — двадцать, в Чите — двадцать один, во Владивостоке и Хабаровске — двадцать два, в Южно-Сахалинске — двадцать три, в Петропавловске-Камчатском — полночь [2].

In this famous message, the names of the cities of the former USSR where the times were listed are given in prepositional case (предложный падеж) and preceded by в (in), therefore Караганда → в Караганде, Владивосток → во Владивостоке, etc. while the numeral (or, in case of полночь, a noun) is in nominative.

To indicate at which time or when something is happening, we also use the preposition в (variously translated as “at”, “on” or “in”). This time, however, в requires accusative case. Luckily, for masculine inanimate noun such as час, that means no change of form from nominative, so there won’t be any change in the expressions of time discussed above, e.g. три часа дня → в три часа дня.

o’clock preposition numeral noun
1 в один час
Acc / m Acc / m / s
2 в два часа
Acc / m Gen / m / s
3–4 в три, четыре часа
Acc Gen / m / s
5–20 в пять — двадцать часов
Acc Gen / m / pl
21 в двадцать один час
Acc / m Acc / m / s
22 в двадцать два часа
Acc / m Gen / m / s
23–24 в двадцать три, двадцать четыре часа
Acc Gen / m / s

Let’s see what’s happening with feminine nouns such as минута, четверть and половина:

minutes preposition numeral noun
1, 21, 31, 41, 51 в (x) одну минуту
Acc / f Acc / f / s
2, 22, 32, 42, 52 в (x) две минуты
Acc / f Acc / f / pl
3, 4, 23, 24, 33, 34, 43, 44, 53, 54 в (x) три, (x) четыре минуты
Acc Acc / f / pl
the rest в пять, шесть, etc. минут
Acc Gen / f / pl
quarter в одну четверть
Acc / f Acc / f / s
half в одну половину
Acc / f Acc / f / s
1, 21 без (двадцати) одной минуты
Gen / f Gen / f / s
the rest без двух, трёх, четырёх, etc. минут
Gen Gen / f / pl
quarter без одной четверти
Gen / f Gen / f / s

Now we can combine the hours with minutes: в одну минуту первого; в два часа двадцать две минуты; в четверть четвёртого; в десять часов десять минут; в половину одиннадцатого (or пол-одиннадцатого); (в) без пяти пять; (в) без одной двенадцать and so on [3].

Can we use в together with expressions like «десятый час»? Yes we can, but here we have to use yet another case, and a rather unusual one: locative (местный падеж). By now the Russian locative has almost completely merged with prepositional case, however there is a group of nouns where one can see the differences in declension between prepositional proper and locative after the prepositions в and на. So, первый час → в первом часу, второй час → во втором часу etc.

Во втором часу,
Принцесса в лесу.

Генрих Сапгир, «Принцесса и Людоед»

To set the boundaries of a period of time, we use prepositions с or от (“from”, “since”) and до (“to”, “till”), all followed by genitive, for instance: «у меня классы с десяти до полвторого» (I have classes from ten to half past one).

«Игра на музыкальных инструментах от 5 часов дня до 7 часов утра воспрещается».

Вопросы любви и смерти не волновали Ипполита Матвеевича Воробьянинова, хотя этими вопросами по роду своей службы он ведал с девяти утра до пяти вечера ежедневно с получасовым перерывом для завтрака.


  1. They never say «десять минут десятого часа», “ten minutes of the tenth hour”.
  2. By some reason, time for the last city on the list was given as «полночь» rather than more formal «ноль часов» (zero hours). As most Soviet citizens were reminded that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky even exists only at this particular time, the city acquired a joking reputation of a place of eternal midnight.
  3. The combination of prepositions в без sounds rather awkward; here в can be omitted without any change of meaning.

See also: ¿Qué hora es?

давайте познакомимся

Ланцелот. Как тебя зовут?
Кот. Машенька.
Ланцелот. Я думал — ты кот.
Кот. Да, я кот, но люди иногда так невнимательны.

We start learning a foreign language with easy stuff. Really easy stuff. Say, introducing ourselves. Let’s assume that we all speak in “complete sentences”, that is, the ones containing both subject and predicate — even though we can do without them very well in real-life introductions [1]:

“Liz. Nice to meet you.”
“You too.”

But I am sure your teacher will insist on complete sentences, so let’s try not annoy them, in whatever language [2]:

  1. — I’m Liz.
  2. — Je m’appelle Isabelle.
  3. — Me llamo Isabel.
  4. — Ich heiße Lise.
  5. — Меня зовут Лиза.

Whoa, wait a minute, you say. Are these really the same?

Of course not. The literal translation of the French sentence [2b] will be “I call myself Isabelle”, where we find a form of the reflexive verb s’appeler “to call oneself”. Likewise, in Spanish [2c], me llamo (first person singular of the reflexive verb llamarse) means “I call myself”, except there is no “I” in this phrase. It is possible to put the personal pronoun there, for the sake of “completeness”: Yo me llamo Isabel, but it is not really necessary.

The German version „Ich heiße“ also can be translated as “I call myself”, except there is no “myself” in the sentence [2d]: the verb heißen, although not reflexive, already means “to call oneself”.

«Меня зовут Лиза» [2e] superficially looks similar to “Me llamo Isabel”, or, at least, this was what I thought when I first heard the “Me llamo” construction. But no. There is no reflexive verb in [2e]. Instead, we have a “normal” transitive verb звать. The literal translation would be “They call me Liz”. Except there is no “they” either. And thus, no subject. But is it then a complete sentence?

Yes it is. We can’t add subject to it without changing its sense. «Они меня зовут Лиза» implies that it is only a specified group of people (они) who call me so (while my real name could be different).

So what is complete sentence anyway? I’m afraid this is the moment to delve into Russian grammar a bit deeper.

First, we need to make distinction between complete/incomplete and two-member/one-member sentences. Two-member sentences (двусоставные предложения) are those boring classical ones with both subject and predicate. One-member sentences (односоставные предложения) have either subject or predicate but not both. For instance, nominal sentences (назывные предложения) have at least one subject (подлежащее) but no predicate:

Зима!.. Крестьянин, торжествуя
На дровнях обновляет путь…

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.

Чудное море! Чёрное море!
О, этот блеск плюс плеск близкой волны!

Sometimes, nominal sentences consist of just one word (so-called sentence word):

Лето. Жара. Мухи.

In Russian, there are several classes of one-member sentences that only have a predicate (сказуемое) but no subject. For example, impersonal sentences (безличные предложения), which also could be composed of single word:

Темно. “It’s dark.”
Вечерело. “It was getting dark.”
Холодает. “It’s getting cold.”

And yet they are compete, self-sufficient sentences.

In indefinite-personal sentences (неопределённо-личные предложения), the agent is either not important or unknown. The predicate is a verb in third person plural.

Мне позвонили. “I got a call.”
Его уволили. “He was fired.”
Говорят, что кур доят. “They milk chickens, they say.” (Don’t believe every thing you hear.)

«Меня зовут Лиза» belongs to this class too. One can also say «Меня зовут Лизой». What happens here? The name is changed from nominative (Лиза) to instrumental (Лизой). Some argue that using the instrumental case is more correct, or even the only correct. The reasoning here, I imagine, is as follows. The nominative case answers the questions кто? (who?) and что? (what?). Let’s ask Liz:

    Кто Вас зовут?

No, that’s wrong. We already know that in this situation “who” is irrelevant — that’s why they omit “they” from the sentence. The proper way to ask is

    Как Вас зовут? *

This, however, is the domain of the instrumental case which, in a schoolbook, answers the questions кем? (by whom?) and чем? (by what?) but also как? каким образом? (how?). On the other hand, it could be that the nominative in [2e] is in fact the vocative which, by the way, is called in Russian звательный падеж:

    — Меня зовут: «Лиза!»

As the vocative form is identical to nominative and nobody hears the punctuation marks, we just stick to nominative. But, as I said, both forms are correct, it’s a matter of personal taste.

Кавалергард, генерал, сам крупный богатый помещик, и зовут его Павлом Петровичем… [Inst.]

Меня зовут Алексей Васильевич Турбин… [Nom.]

Instead of звать, one can use называть, кликать, величать, the meaning is the same:

В некотором селе жили два соседа: Иван Богатый да Иван Бедный. Богатого величали «сударем» и «Семенычем», а бедного — просто Иваном, а иногда и Ивашкой.

Меня называли орлёнком в отряде,
Враги называли орлом.

Яков Шведов, «Орлёнок»

Веди нас к старшему, какого Александром Анисимычем кличут!

Михаил Шолохов, «Поднятая целина»

More informal, colloquial variant is «Меня звать Лиза» (or «Меня звать Лизой»). This is an example of infinitive sentence (инфинитивное предложение), which sometimes is considered a type of impersonal sentence.

— Как звать-то? — спросил поп, благословляя.
— Фёклой зовут.

Михаил Зощенко, «Исповедь»

Just like French and Spanish, Russian has reflexive verbs, viz. зваться and называться, which mean “to call oneself”. Why can’t we use them?

Я — поэт, зовусь я Цветик.
От меня вам всем приветик.

Николай Носов, «Приключения Незнайки и его друзей»

Я называюсь Колобком, я всем и каждому знаком.

These are complete two-member sentences, with subject (я) and predicate (зовусь, называюсь). Here too, one can put the name in either nominative or instrumental. Цветик seems to prefer former, Колобок latter.

In normal everyday Russian though you won’t hear introductions like «Я зовусь Лиза» or «Я называюсь Лиза». The verb называться is extremely common and is used in connection with the names of objects, living beings, places, organisations, works of art — in short, everything but personal names.

Заведение называлось «Улыбка». Я улыбнулся и пошел дальше.

If this verb is ever placed next to the name of a person, it is done for a somewhat comic effect:

Человечек был буфетчиком в Варьете и назывался Андрей Фокич Соков.

Так что я сейчас называюсь гвардии ефрейтор Вознесенский и служу при майоре Вознесенском связным.

Валентин Катаев, «Сын полка»

The verb зваться can be used to talk about somebody else’s personal names:

Итак, она звалась Татьяной.

«Евгений Онегин»

Звался он Луи Второй…

Леонид Дербенёв, «Всё могут короли»

A beautiful poem by David Samoylov makes use of both reflexive (звалась) and transitive (звали) verbs and, curiously, has names (of winters) in both nominative and instrumental:

Давид Самойлов
Названья зим

У зим бывают имена.
Одна из них звалась Наталья.
И были в ней мерцанье, тайна,
И холод, и голубизна.

Еленою звалась зима,
И Марфою, и Катериной.
И я порою зимней, длинной
Влюблялся и сходил с ума.

И были дни, и падал снег,
Как тёплый пух зимы туманной.
А эту зиму звали Анной,
Она была прекрасней всех.

Another common way to introduce ourselves is similar to the English one. «Я — Лиза» is an almost literal translation of “I am Liz”, except there is no “am”. In modern Russian есть, the present tense form of the verb быть “to be”, is normally omitted.

— Тише, молчать, — отвечал учитель чистым русским языком, — молчать или вы пропали. Я Дубровский.

А. С. Пушкин, «Дубровский»

Голубков. Как? Вы русский? А я вас принял за француза. Как я рад!
Антуан. Так точно, я русский. Я — Грищенко.

Булгаков, «Бег»

— Я — Швондер, она — Вяземская, он — товарищ Пеструхин и Жаровкин.

Булгаков, «Собачье сердце»

In the last quote, Mr. Schwonder introduces not only himself but the rest of his entourage.

Interestingly, the future forms of быть such as будешь and especially будете and будет, can be present when asking about one’s name (origin, occupation etc.):

Бунша (Милославскому). Я извиняюсь, вы кто же такой будете?
Милославский. Кто я такой буду, вы говорите? Я дожидаюсь моего друга Шпака.

Булгаков, «Иван Васильевич»

If it sounded slightly old-fashioned already in the last century, the Strugatsky brothers predicted that by the 23rd century this particular use of будет will die out completely, as illustrated by the misunderstanding between 20th– and 23rd-century interlocutors, respectively:

— А отец ваш, извините, кем будет?
Кем будет? Наверное, так и останется мелиоратором.

Братья Стругацкие, «Попытка к бегству»

“And your father, I beg my pardon, who might he be?”
Who will he be? Most likely, he will remain a land ameliorator.”

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Escape Attempt

So, both two-member and one-member sentences can be complete (полные предложения). Also, both two-member and one-member sentences can be incomplete (неполные предложения). This happens when some formally necessary member(s) such as subject, predicate or object are omitted but the meaning of the sentence is clear from the context or situation.

Женя. Вас как зовут?
Надя. Надя.
Женя. Меня Женя.

Here, only the first sentence is complete (although, as we know, it’s one-member). The rest are incomplete and their meaning cannot be understood out of context.

Let’s start again.

    — Давайте познакомимся.

As mentioned before, Russian reciprocal verbs can lose all elegance in English translation. For example, познакомиться is “to introduce oneselves to each other”, so «Давайте познакомимся» is “Let’s introduce ourselves to each other” or “Let’s get acquainted”. No wonder English speakers never say anything like that before embarking on actual introductions.

This is how the dialogue [1] goes in Russian:

— Я Саша.
— Лиза. Очень приятно.
— Взаимно.

By now you know that one-word sentence «Лиза» could be one of several things. It could be either incomplete one-member sentence «Меня зовут Лиза» or (also incomplete) two-member sentence «Я Лиза». It even could be a complete (one-member) nominal sentence that uses vocative: «Лиза!» In the end, it doesn’t matter: your name in nominative will suffice.

— Максудов, — сказал я с достоинством.

Булгаков, «Театральный роман»

— Изя Кацман, — представился он бархатным голосом. — Мусорщик.
— Сельма Нагель, — лениво отозвалась Сельма, протягивая руку. — Шлюха.

Братья Стругацкие, «Град обреченный»

— Гроссмейстер О. Бендер! — заявил Остап, присаживаясь на стол. — Устраиваю у вас сеанс одновременной игры.


* I prefer «Как Вас зовут?» to «Как тебя зовут?» because it is more polite: you really have to know another person’s name before even thinking of switching to ты or “тыкать”.

blends, melds, portmanteaux

The Oxford Dictionary defines portmanteau as

  1. A large travelling bag, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts.
  2. A word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others, for example motel or brunch.

It was Lewis Carroll, or rather Humpty Dumpty, who first used the word in the sense (2):

“Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

Curiously, the word portmanteau (1) is derived from French portemanteau (“coat stand”), which is a compound, rather than a portmanteau (2), of porte (“carry”) + manteau (“coat”). Clearly coat stand is rather different from a suitcase, so French use mot-valise, “word suitcase” (a relatively recent back-translation from English) in the sense portmanteau (2). Confused? I prefer to use much shorter words, blend or meld, this latter itself a blend of melt and weld.

The Wikipedia’s list of portmanteaus (or portmanteaux, if we use the faux-français plural form) includes Benelux, Britpop, Interpol, Medicaid, sysadmin and so on. These are in fact not portmanteaus but syllabic abbreviations, where there is no word part overlap at all. Nor does Brexit belong to this list, although Grexit (from which the word Brexit was probably derived) does. Syllabic abbreviations used to be de rigueur in 20th-century German (Gestapo, Stasi) and Soviet-era Russian (agitprop, proletkult, Mosselprom etc.) which can explain why these somewhat went out of fashion. The word Ostalgie (blend of Ost and Nostalgie) perfectly summarises that complex feeling (yes, we do miss it, but not really) peculiar to the ex-Eastern Bloc citizens.

To my taste, the best melds are those where the phonemic overlap is maximal and the change to each lexeme is minimal, as in adorkable, bromance, hepeating, pregret, sexting, textpectation and, of course, chocolack. They also happen to be humorous. Philip Hensher noted that misunderestimated, an accidental (as is the case with many Bushisms) masterpiece,

is one of George W Bush’s most memorable additions to the language, and an incidentally expressive one: it may be that we rather needed a word for “to underestimate by mistake”.

According to Russian Wikipedia, word blending (known as контаминация — a horrible word, let’s never use it) is not typical in Russian. One might speculate that Russian, with its rich arsenal of prefixes and suffixes, is doing just fine without blends. On the other hand, Korney Chukovsky wrote in his book «От двух до пяти» (From Two to Five) that it is extremely common in children’s (Russian) language. In Chukovsky’s view, children modify the new/difficult words to make them meaningful, for instance

Maybe. However, I simply can’t believe that the young author of the wonderful word отмухиваться was not aware of the meaning of отмахиваться. A single word for «отмахиваться от мух», “to wave flies away”, is practically begging to be created — and so it was. I totally agree with Chukovsky that children’s word creation is not any different from “folk” one (cf. спинжак = спина + пиджак or хрущоба = хрущёвка + трущоба).

As for “literary” Russian, there are plenty of examples of melds too. Velimir Khlebnikov was designing words such as грезитва, жарири, лебедиво and пушкиноты full-time. Nabokov introduced шлепоток и хлебет, Brodsky invented Верзувий, Vysotsky gave us пороговно, Yuri Entinтрубадурочка, Yuri ShevchukЕдиночество, Andrey Knyshev came up with остролог, парторгия, псевдонимб, генеральный секрецарь… And did you know that Ilf and Petrov used to publish their stories under the pen name of Ф. Толстоевский (F. Tolstoyesvsky)?

Кот отмухивается // The cat is waving away the flies

See also: Portmanteau words taboo game

epigrams and epitaphs

First published 25 January 2019 @ Listen, Learn, Read

by Robert Burns and Samuil Marshak

Rabbie Burns, I fancy, was not exactly the nicest person in the world. Maybe that’s why I just love his epigrams and epitaphs. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which is which. I guess he really wished for some of his epigrams to become epitaphs. In the end, his wish was granted.

Marshak certainly took a lot of liberties with Burns’ epigrams. I think that did them a lot of good. By doing away with proper names, Marshak put these short poems beyond time and place. For example, Epigram On Miss Davies has a subtitle: “On being asked why she had been formed so little, and Mrs. A — so big”. Marshak just called it «Девушке маленького роста» (“To a girl of short stature”). Likewise, On Andrew Turner became «О происхождении одной особы» (“On origin of a certain person”), and so forth.

Happy 260th birthday, Mr Burns.

Robert Burns Роберт Бёрнс, перевод С.Я. Маршака

Epigram On Rough Roads

I’m now arrived — thanks to the gods! —
Thro’ pathways rough and muddy,
A certain sign that makin roads
Is no this people’s study:
Altho’ I’ m not wi’ Scripture cram’d,
I’m sure the Bible says
That heedless sinners shall be damn’d,
Unless they mend their ways.

О плохих дорогах

Я ехал к вам то вплавь, то вброд.
Меня хранили боги.
Не любит местный ваш народ
Чинить свои дороги.
Строку из Библии прочти,
О город многогрешный:
Коль ты не выпрямишь пути,
Пойдёшь ты в ад кромешный!

Epigram On The Laird Of Laggan

When Morine, deceas’d, to the Devil went down,
’Twas nothing would serve him but Satan’s own crown;
“Thy fool’s head,” quoth Satan, “that crown shall wear never,
I grant thou’rt as wicked, but not quite so clever.”

Надпись на могиле честолюбца

Покойник был дурак и так любил чины,
Что требует в аду короны сатаны.
— Нет, — молвил сатана. — Ты зол, и даже слишком,
Но надо обладать каким-нибудь умишком!

On Andrew Turner

In se’enteen hunder’n forty-nine,
The deil gat stuff to mak a swine,
An’ coost it in a corner;
But wilily he chang’d his plan,
An’ shap’d it something like a man,
An’ ca’d it Andrew Turner.

О происхождении одной особы

В году семьсот сорок девятом
(Точнее я не помню даты)
Лепить свинью задумал чёрт.
Но вдруг в последнее мгновенье
Он изменил свое решенье,
И вас он вылепил, милорд!

On Commissary Goldie’s Brains

Lord, to account who dares thee call,
Or e’er dispute thy pleasure?
Else why, within so thick a wall,
Enclose so poor a treasure?

О черепе тупицы

Господь во всем, конечно, прав.
Но кажется непостижимым,
Зачем он создал прочный шкаф
С таким убогим содержимым!

Epitaph On “Wee Johnie

Whoe’er thou art, O reader, know
That Death has murder’d Johnie;
An’ here his body lies fu’ low;
For saul he ne’er had ony.

Эпитафия бездушному дельцу

Здесь Джон покоится в тиши.
Конечно, только тело…
Но, говорят, оно души
И прежде не имело!

On Wm. Graham, Esq., Of Mossknowe

“Stop thief!” dame Nature call’d to Death,
As Willy drew his latest breath;
How shall I make a fool again?
My choicest model thou hast ta’en.

Эпитафия Вильяму Грэхему, эсквайру

Склонясь у гробового входа,
— О смерть! — воскликнула природа,
Когда удастся мне опять
Такого олуха создать!..

On John Bushby, Esq., Tinwald Downs

Here lies John Bushby
honest man,
Cheat him, Devil —
if you can!

Надгробная надпись

Прошел Джон Бушби честный путь.
Он жил с моралью в дружбе…
Попробуй, дьявол, обмануть
Такого Джона Бушби!

On Elphinstone’s Translation Of Martial’s Epigrams

O Thou whom Poetry abhors,
Whom Prose has turned out of doors,
Heard’st thou yon groan? — proceed no further,
’Twas laurel’d Martial calling murther.

Переводчику Марциала

О ты, кого поэзия изгнала,
Кто в нашей прозе места не нашёл, —
Ты слышишь крик поэта Марциала:
“Разбой! Грабёж! Меня он перевёл!..”

Epitaph On Wm. Hood, Senr., In Tarbolton

Here Souter Hood in death does sleep;
To hell if he’s gane thither,
Satan, gie him thy gear to keep;
He’ll haud it weel thegither.

Эпитафия церковному старосте, сапожнику Гуду

Пусть по приказу сатаны
Покойника назначат
В аду хранителем казны, —
Он ловко деньги прячет.

On James Grieve, Laird Of Boghead, Tarbolton

Here lies Boghead
amang the dead
In hopes to get salvation;
But if such as he
in Heav’n may be,
Then welcome, hail! damnation.

Эпитафия владельцу усадьбы

Джемс Грив Богхед
Был мой сосед,
И, если в рай пошёл он,
Хочу я в ад,
Коль райский сад
Таких соседей полон.

Epitaph For James Smith

Lament him, Mauchline husbands a’,
He aften did assist ye;
For had ye staid hale weeks awa,
Your wives they ne’er had miss’d ye.
Ye Mauchline bairns, as on ye press
To school in bands thegither,
O tread ye lightly on his grass, —
Perhaps he was your father!

Надпись на могиле сельского волокиты

Рыдайте, добрые мужья,
На этой скорбной тризне.
Сосед покойный, слышал я,
Вам помогал при жизни.
Пусть школьников шумливый рой
Могилы не тревожит…
Тот, кто лежит в земле сырой,
Был им отцом, быть может!

Epigram On Miss Davies

Ask why God made the gem so small?
And why so huge the granite? —
Because God meant mankind should set
That higher value on it.

Девушке маленького роста

На то и меньше мой алмаз
Гранитной тёмной глыбы,
Чтобы дороже во сто раз
Его ценить могли бы!

Epigram At Roslin Inn

My blessings on ye, honest wife!
I ne’er was here before;
Ye’ve wealth o’ gear for spoon and knife —
Heart could not wish for more.
Heav’n keep you clear o’ sturt and strife,
Till far ayont fourscore,
And while I toddle on thro’ life,
I’ll ne’er gae by your door!

Трактирщице из Рослина

Достойна всякого почёта
Владений этих госпожа.
В её таверне есть работа
Для кружки, ложки и ножа.
Пускай она, судьбой хранима,
Ещё полвека проживет.
И — верьте! — не промчусь я мимо
Её распахнутых ворот!

Epigram To Miss Jean Scott

O had each Scot of ancient times
Been, Jeanie Scott, as thou art;
The bravest heart on English ground
Had yielded like a coward.

Мисс Джинни Скотт

О, будь у скоттов каждый клан
Таким, как Джинни Скотт, —
Мы покорили б англичан,
А не наоборот.

Lines Written Under The Picture Of The Celebrated Miss Burns

Cease, ye prudes, your envious railing,
Lovely Burns has charms — confess:
True it is, she had one failing,
Had a woman ever less?

К портрету известной мисс Бёрнс

Полно вам шипеть, как змеи!
Всех затмит она собой.
Был один грешок за нею…
Меньше ль было у любой?

банки из-под варенья

Что остаётся от сказки потом,
После того, как её рассказали?
What remains of the tale
After the tale was told?

Tamara asked, “Is there a way of saying «банка из-под варенья» in English? Or Spanish?”

No, there isn’t. (Yes, I checked with Spanish speakers.)

In Russian, «банка варенья» (without any preposition) means “a jar of jam” while «банка из-под варенья» means “an empty jar which formerly contained jam”. Here, из-под points to the former use of the jar as a container. (Yes, in Russian it is also possible to say «банка для варенья», that is, jam jar).

Of course, this is not only about jam jars. In English, an (empty) beer bottle (“a bottle designed as a container for beer”) is clearly different from a (full) bottle of beer; a wine glass (“a type of glass that is used to drink and taste wine”) is not the same as a glass of wine. The same story with their Russian equivalents: «пивная бутылка» vs «бутылка пива», «винный бокал» vs «бокал вина». In Russian, we use adjectives (пивная, винный) to indicate the purpose of a container. Likewise, in English, we use words beer and wine as adjectives by placing them before the nouns. This still doesn’t provide an elegant way to translate, say, the lines by Bulat Okudzhava:

В склянке тёмного стекла из-под импортного пива…
In a dark glass bottle of for which previously contained imported beer…
In a dark-glass imported-beer bottle…


Why did we talk about that in the first place? Because of a Russian meme: «Банки из-под варенья никогда не бывают пустыми». It could be roughly translated as “jam jars are never empty”.

Google it. In many cases, it is attributed to Lewis Carroll. In fact, it comes from Алиса в стране чудес, the Soviet-era musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, released in 1976 as a double LP. It was created by Oleg Gerasimov (1929—1997), actor and director of Moscow Art Theatre (МХАТ), and contained songs by Vladimir Vysotsky (1938—1980). Both Gerasimov and Vysotsky were among the voice actors in the play. I was introduced to it in 1977 by my cousin and, after a few listenings, knew it by heart (as, I’m sure, did millions of Soviet citizens). For me, it was also the first encounter with Carroll’s story.

Back to our meme: What did Carroll actually say about the jar?

She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled “ORANGE MARMALADE,” but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody underneath, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.

To my great disappointment, jars are never mentioned again. OK, I thought, maybe the theme of jars was further developed by Russian translators. The play was based on work by Nina Demurova. Here:

Пролетая мимо одной из полок, она прихватила с неё банку с вареньем. На банке было написано «АПЕЛЬСИНОВОЕ», но увы! она оказалась пустой. Алиса побоялась бросить банку вниз — как бы не убить кого-нибудь! На лету она умудрилась засунуть её в какой-то шкаф.

Well, this is quite faithful to the original. Just in case, I had a look at another Russian translation of Alice that was widely available in the USSR at the time, viz. that of Boris Zakhoder:

С одной из полок Алиса сумела на лету снять банку, на которой красовалась этикетка: «АПЕЛЬСИНОВОЕ ВАРЕНЬЕ». Банка, увы, была пуста, но, хотя Алиса и была сильно разочарована, она, опасаясь ушибить кого-нибудь, не бросила её, а ухитрилась опять поставить банку на какую-то полку.

Finally, I checked out the version by Vladimir Nabokov:

Она падала вниз так плавно, что успела мимоходом достать с одной из полок банку, на которой значилось: «Клубничное варенье». Но, к великому её сожалению, банка оказалась пустой. Ей не хотелось бросать её, из боязни убить кого-нибудь внизу, и потому она ухитрилась поставить её в один из открытых шкафчиков, мимо которых она падала.

Nabokov took the liberty to replace orange marmalade with strawberry jam, probably because he doubted that a seven-year-old girl (or any Russian reader) would fancy orange marmalade. Nevertheless, once again, this passage is the first and last time we hear about jars. We only can conclude that the maxim of never-empty jars was created by the play authors. Russian Wikipedia lists a number of other discrepancies with Demurova’s translation attribited to Gerasimov and Vysotsky.

What’s it all about? According to CliffsNotes (CliffsComplete Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland),

The jar in and of itself is only a jar. Placing a label on it that reads “ORANGE MARMALADE” might indicate that the object we call a jar contains a substance called marmalade. However, this jar contains nothing, rendering the label deceptive. The label would more accurately read “Empty.”

Yes, that would be more accurate but not 100% accurate. Now it is technically possible to clean and evacuate a jar (which formerly contained marmalade, jam etc. etc.), say using a vacuum pump. But it still won’t be completely empty, completely free of its past content, of its past story.

«Так что же остаётся, когда съедена банка варенья? Что останется, когда спета песня?»

So what remains when a jar of jam is eaten? What will remain when the song is sung?

Alice, you may recall, asks a lot of questions.

some peculiarities of Russian

This post is based on a presentation prepared by Tamara for her Spanish class.

Many people believe that Russian is a difficult language to learn. While it isn’t difficult for me, and shouldn’t be that difficult for speakers of any Indo-European language anyway, there are several important differences the Spanish (as well as English) speakers should be aware of. She also used some examples from Finnish, just to put things into perspective.

а. Alphabet

Modern Russian uses a variant of Cyrillic alphabet with thirty-three letters. These include ten vowels, twenty one consonants, hard sign ъ and soft sign ь. It looks like this:

Even though it may appear a bit frightening, I recommend to learn the Cyrillic alphabet as soon as you start learning Russian. Reading Russian in transliteration will only confuse you. For example, the character y is often used instead of two rather different letters (and sounds): the vowel ы and the consonant й. It is also used to indicate the “softening” of consonants (see below). As a result, the words you pronounce won’t sound anything like Russian.

б. Sounds

Some sounds in Russian present a difficulty for Spanish and/or English speakers.


  • Е: after a consonant, pronounced as /e/ or /ɛ/; in all other cases (at the beginning of a word, after a vowel, after the hard and soft signs) pronounced as /je/ or // in Spanish yerba /ˈjeɾ.βa/ or English yes /jɛs/.
  • Ё: after a consonant, pronounced as /ö/, like in German mögen; in all other cases pronounced as /jo/, as in Spanish cuyo /ˈkujo/ or English yolk /joʊk/.
  • Ы /ɨ/. There’s nothing like this sound in either Spanish or English. Just listen: 🔊. A commonly suggested trick to reproduce the sound of ы is to bite a (clean) pencil or pen so to spread the corners of your mouth while saying //, as in cheese /tʃiːz/.
  • Э: /ɛ/ like in English pen /pɛn/.
  • Ю: after a consonant, pronounced /ü/; in all other cases pronounced /ju/ as in Spanish yuca /ˈju.ka/ or in English yoo-hoo /ˈjuːˌhuː/.
  • Я: after a consonant, pronounced /æ/; in all other cases pronounced /ja/, as in Spanish cuya /ˈku.ja/ or English yard /jɑːd/.
  • Spanish has only five vowels, /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/, which always sound the same, stressed or not. There are more vowels in Finnish but they also always pronounced the same way, irrespectively of stress. As for English, they do not even know how many vowels there are, let alone which ones to use. The only thing everybody seems to agree is that most unstressed vowels in English are reduced to schwa /ə/. Vowel-wise, Russian is somewhere in between these two extremes. The stressed vowels always sound as expected. Unstressed а and о are usually pronounced as something between /a/ and /o/; unstressed е, и, э and я, between /e/ and /i/; unstressed у and ю, between /o/ and /u/. The good news is that even if you pronounce all vowels Spanish (or Finnish) way, you still will be understood.


  • Б and В: /b/ and /v/, respectively. Unlike Spanish, there is always a clear distinction between these two sounds.
  • Г: normal /ɡ/ as in Spanish guerra /ˈɡera/ or in English get /ɡɛt/; in Southern Russian dialects, often pronounced /ɣ/ as in Spanish lago /ˈla.ɣo/.
  • Ж /ʐ/, similar to /ʒ/ in Portuguese janeiro /ʒaˈnejru/, French jour /ʒuʀ/ or English measure /ˈmɛʒə(r)/.
  • З /z/, same as /z/ in English zoo /zuː/ but not Spanish zurdo.
  • Р /r/ (rolled r), same as /r/ in Spanish perro /ˈpero/.
  • Х /x/, same as /x/ in Spanish ojo /ˈoxo/ or in Scottish loch /lɔx/.
  • Ц /t͡s/, as /ts/ in English nuts /nʌts/ or in Italian pizza /ˈpit.tsa /. This sound is not normally found in Spanish.
  • Ш /ʂ/, similar to /ʃ/ in Portuguese caixa /ˈkajʃa/, French chic /ʃik/ or English sheep /ʃiːp/.
  • Щ /ɕɕ/, which is not a combination of ш and ч in spite of being often transliterated as shch. It is similar to /ʃʃ/ in Italian uscita /uʃˈʃita/.

з shouldn’t be a problem for English speakers, ditto р and х for Spanish speakers.

  • Most Russian consonants come in two variants, “hard” and “soft”. The “softening” of Russian consonants before vowels е, ё, ю, я is often transliterated in English with letters y or i, which makes learners to pronounce, say, a phrase “Юля, я тебя люблю” (“Julia, I love you”) as /ˈjulja ja tiˈbja ljubˈlju/ instead of /ˈjulæ ja tiˈbæ lübˈlü/. The “softening” achieved with the soft sign ь alone is practically impossible to transliterate. You just have to listen and speak!
  • The consonants ж, ц and ш are always hard (even if followed by soft sign), й, ч and щ are always soft.

On the other hand, Russian does not have /ð/ and /θ/ sounds so common in English and in Peninsular Spanish, as in Madrid /maˈðɾi(θ)/. And there is no /w/ sound, so when transliterating English names, one has to decide whether to use в or у. For example, “Watson” could be transliterated as either Ва́тсон or Уо́тсон.

в. Declension

  • Modern Russian has six grammatical cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional. This sounds like a lot, as neither Spanish nor English have cases. But this is only two more cases compared with German (with which Russian shares four cases) and same number as Latin. Compare that with Finnish (15 cases), Hungarian (18) or Tsez (64) and stop complaining. Here’s how the word дом (house) will change in all six cases:

    case singular plural
    Nominative дом дома́
    Genitive до́ма домо́в
    Dative до́му дома́м
    Accusative дом дома́
    Instrumental до́мом дома́ми
    Prepositional до́ме дома́х

    And here’s what Finnish can do with their house (I didn’t bother with the case names):

    talo house
    talon of (a) house
    talona as a house
    taloa house (as an object)
    taloksi to a house
    talossa in (a) house
    talosta from (a) house
    taloon into (a) house
    talolla at (a) house
    talolta from (a) house
    talolle to (a) house
    talotta without (a) house
    taloineni with my house(s)
    taloin with (a) house
  • Russian has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Cf. Spanish (masculine and feminine), and English (traces of).
  • Russian nouns, pronouns, adjectives, present and past participles, and numerals are subject to declension: they change their endings to indicate number, gender and case.
  • In Russian, there are three noun declensions conveniently named “first”, “second” and “third”.
  • Adjectives, present and past participles, and ordinal numerals have to agree (in number, gender and case) with nouns and pronouns.
  • Russian cardinal numerals два (two), три (three) and четыре (four) make the count noun to change differently compared to plural, as if they were “not quite” plural:

    singular один дом one house
    “few” два до́ма two houses
    “few” три до́ма three houses
    “few” четы́ре до́ма four houses
    plural пять домо́в five houses

г. Verbs

  • In Russian, there are only three tenses: past, present and future. (Some linguists go even further and say that Russian has only two grammatical tenses: present-future and past).
  • In the present and future tenses (or present-future), there are two conjugations; like in Spanish, each has six different forms: 1st singular, 2nd singular, 3rd singular, 1st plural, 2nd plural, 3rd plural.
  • In the past tense, there is no difference between 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but the verbs are number- and gender-specific.
  • There are no such things as perfect, imperfect or pluperfect tense. Instead, most verbs come in two flavours, imperfective (несовершенный вид) and perfective (совершенный вид).
  • There is only one type of verb “to be”: быть (unlike Spanish ser and estar). This verb is hardly ever used in present tense, so some apparently complete sentences do not contain a verb, for example «Я — русский», “I (am) Russian”.

д. Articles

  • That’s easy: Russian does not use articles. (Nor does Finnish.)

deep and inscrutable singular name

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey —
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter —
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum —
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover —
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

want harmony, go talk Sanskrit

Look at the English language. The words that express peaceful harmony are so few, so pale, so flaccid, while the words that express disgust, dismay, revulsion constitute a vast and delicious vocabulary. “You’ve got bubblegum for brains, you jackass, you douchenugget, you are so average, did you eat dumb flakes for breakfast? Go sit on your thumb, you feeb, you nincompoop, you fathead” — it goes on and on and on. Shakespeare is loaded with insult from our rich Anglo-Saxon heritage. It’s a language for people who don’t like each other. You want harmony, go talk Sanskrit.

Garrison Keillor, When it’s over, maybe Trump should move to Nebraska

words they say

Based on a True Story

“Good morning, children.”
— Gutmonin.
“Today, we are gonna talk about Hallowe’en.”
— Helluin!

Well it was clear from the very start that these children don’t want to talk. They want to shout. But I have a secret weapon: colouring pages. Hallowe’en-themed, as it were.

— Quiero una araña.
— Quiero un murciélago.
— Quiero una calabaza.
“No, no, no.”
— ¡Araña!
“Here’s the deal: you have to speak in English to me.”
— Quiero…
No quiero. This is a spider. This is a pumpkin. This is a bat. All right?”
— ¡Bat! ¡Bat!
— ¡Batman!
“Not Batman. A bat.”
— ¡Espayder!
“No ‘Espayder’. Spider. Spy-Der. Spider.”
— ¡Espayder!
— Quiero spider.
No quiero. ‘Can I have…’”
Quen ay jav
“‘…a spider’.”
— ¡Espayder!

What did I get myself into? Can anybody hear the difference between ‘a spider’ and, well, ‘espayder’?

— Quiero bat.
— Quiero espayder.
— Quiero los todos.
— Quiero pis.
“Please go.”

The colouring pages are finally distributed.

— ¿Puedo colorear?
— ¿Puedo recortar?

Mind you, only the most polite ask this. The others have already taken hold of the crayons, felt-tip pens and scissors.

There is a pair of kids who never do what I ask. Instead of colouring, they cut things out, or glue the worksheets to the walls. One of the favourite activities is to cut out something (say, a bat) and stick it to the blank A4 paper sheet. Fifteen minutes later, the result is exactly the same as the original worksheet but a lot more crumpled and covered with glue and some unidentified dirt on both sides.

The others really like colouring and showing me their work.

— Mira, que bonito. (About their own pictures.)
— Mira, que feo. (About the neighbour’s work.)
— Mira, que botas muy chulas. (Points on her welly boots.)
— Tengo mocos.

My very first day in this class, one three-year old girl was looking at me intently for about twenty minutes. Then she said, very seriously:

— Eres guapo.

Later that month, we did some sort of Hallowe’en presentation, where I was supposed to be a vampire. I was dressed in black, had a (mostly white) face paint and a grey hair wig. Most of three- and four-year-olds were scared of me, which I judged to be a success. Not this girl though. She came close and asked me:

— ¿Quién eres?
“I am, er, a vampire, don’t you see?”
— Eres guapo.

Now and then, I show them the videos. Music videos and animations. And now they make requests.

— ¡Mana Mana!

I don’t know how much English they learned from that particular song, but everybody loves it. They crowd around my laptop.

— ¡No veo!
— ¡Que no veo!
— ¡No veo!
“Guys, can you please step one step back? Then everyone could see.”
— ¡No veo!
— Álvaro me ha empujau.

Until I started to work in school, I was convinced that the most popular given names in Spain are Juan and María. Nope. I don’t even have a single María. But there are lots of Álvaros, Brunos, Martinas and Saras.

— ¡Se ha acabau!
— ¡Otra!
— ¡Otra vez!

When I introduced them to Simon’s Cat, they ignored it. At first. Then, about a month later, a request arrived.

— ¡Un gato chino!
“You what?!”
— ¡Un gato chino!
“Do you mean Simon’s Cat?”
— ¡No, un gato chino!

By now, Simon’s Cat is one of their firm favourites.

— ¡Se acabó!
— Es muy corto.
— ¡Otra!
— ¡No veo!

There is one five-year old boy who is not interested in anything the others are doing.

— Estoy aburriendo.
— Estoy aburrido.
— Quiero algo divertido.
— Quiero algo volando.

I like it when they give me clues what to do next.

“Good morning, children.”
— Gutmonin!

I point at the blackboard where I did stick seven A4 paper sheets evolving towards a flying machine.

“Today, we are going to make a paper airplane.”

I find all twelve of them standing under number 7.

— ¡Quiero eso!
— ¡Quiero un avión de papel!
“No, no, no. We all are going to learn how to make a paper airplane. Everybody take a sheet of paper…”

And so it starts.

“…and fold it like this…”
— ¿Me ayudas?
— ¿Me lo doblas?
— ¿Me lo haces?

And this is just a half of the class. There is no way I am making 25 paper airplanes in one hour.

That was a stroke of genius, I admit it freely. Seven months later, only a handful of them learned this craft. But it provided me with another weapon.

— ¡Quiero un avión de papel!
“In English, please.”
— Es que no sé como decir.
“Ask Hugo, he knows.”

A minute later:

— ¡Plan! ¡Plan!
“What plan?”
— ¡Plane!
“Plane what?”
— ¡Quiero a plane!
No quiero. ‘Can you make…’”
— ¡A plane!
— ¡A plane!
— ¡A plane!

Now the teachers tell me: you know, your planes fly really far!

Yes, I know.

Apart from teaching in a classroom, I take turns to supervise them during the recess. Or before. Or after.

“Can you please put on your coats.”
— ¡Has dicho una palabrota!
“Did I?”
— ¡Has dicho ‘puta’!

Oh my. I have to be careful with these things.

To be fair, very few of them hesitate to use swearwords, especially in my class. In the beginning, they did not realise I know all this lexicon.

— Álvaro me ha empujau.
“Oh no, not him again.”
— ¿Puedes guardarlo? (Gives me a toy.)
“Claro que sí — oops, yes of course.”
— ¿Puedes atar mis cordones?
“Sure I can. And a magic word?”
— ¡Fuerte!

They do ask lots of questions, these kids. Mostly in Spanish.

— ¿Tienes novia?
— ¿Tienes bebés?
— ¿Por qué no hablas español?
— ¿Por qué llevas coleta?
— ¿Por qué andas en chanclas?
— ¿Cuántos minutos faltan? (Till the end of the class, that is.)
Can I go to the toilet please?


By midday, they drain all my energy. But sometimes they ask or tell me something that makes it worth it.

— ¿Cómo sabes todas estas cosas?
“Because I was paying attention when in school.” (It’s a lie, I didn’t.)
— Toma, esto es para ti.
“It is beautiful, Daniela. Thank you.”
— Quiero ser tu ayudante.
“Do you really? Can you help me to tidy up then?”
— Can you make a plane for me? Please?