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Моё любимое слово (русское, конечно!)

Written By: katie_k on November 17, 2008 3 Comments

So just because I can’t miss an opportunity to share my favorite words (really and truly one of my favorite things to do), here is my favorite word in Russian: бессмысленный. Even just looking at it makes me happy. However, the reason I like it is the way it sounds. In English it would sound something like this: bismyslenny. (I tried to write it in IPA and it got very confusing, if someone knows how to write it phonetically, please do it!). As for meaning, it has the various translations of “senseless, pointless, meaningless”. One of those great words that sound beautiful in a different language and are kind of depressing when you know what they mean. I first learned it in Russian 4 at Berkeley; it’s in the V puti textbook in the poem by Alexander Blok. I’ve put it in here for anyone who can read the original.
* * *

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи еще хоть четверть века -
Все будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрешь - начнешь опять сначала
И повторится все, как встарь:
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.

-Александр Блок, 10 октября 1912

I guess one reason I liked it when I saw it in this poem is because the line “Бессмысленный и тусклый свет” is such an odd combination of words. How can light (свет) be pointless, or is light simply senseless since it is not animate, or is it because the light is dim (тусклый) and there is no meaning to light if it does not illuminate? It raises a lot of literary questions, but in any case, it became my favorite Russian word. (Previously my favorite Russian word was сочинение – “composition”, which we had to write every chapter, but it was oh so fun to pronounce!)

So there’s my favorite word, in Russian. However, I have a few more things to say about favorite words.

One, various members of my family have learned Russian words that they like (none of them speak Russian). I taught my mom how to say сочинение (approximately “sochineniye”), but she liked Божья коровка (pronounced “bozhe korovka”, and meaning literally “God’s little cow” but actually the name for “ladybug”) better. However, this was too hard to remember in Russian, so she just uses the phrase “God’s little cow” in English when she wants to make reference to the Russian words. The actual Russian word that she can say and does remember is птичка (ptichka, meaning “little bird”). So even though she doesn’t speak the language, she has favorite words in it.

Second, I don’t have a favorite word in French. I don’t really know why. Maybe I just like the language too much as a whole to identify parts of it that I like better. (I say this as I struggle with advanced Russian grammar; reading in French is bliss after working with cases and verbs of motion!)

And lastly, there is my favorite word in English, and I am very proud of it. Again, it is because of the way it sounds, not particularly because of its meaning. You have to say it quickly though for it to be pronounced the way that makes me laugh (and it does make me laugh, seriously). Thus, my favorite word in English is (and no I’m not joking): chicken.

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3 Responses to “Моё любимое слово (русское, конечно!)”

  1. Mark Kaiser on: 18 November 2008 at 7:06 pm

    When I was studying Russian as an undergraduate, I, too, was struck by the sound of a word and it has remained a favorite for me: паук /pauk/ ‘spider’. For some reason the two juxtaposed vowels, with a long -a- (as in father) followed by the ooooo with puckered lips, struck me. Imagine my delight when I went mushroom hunting with Russian friends and heard them call out to each other “ау”, thereby signaling where they are and asking others to respond. The sound generates a delightful verb, аукать ‘to say ау’.

    As for English, I’ve always remembered (also from my undergraduate days) the name of local very small grocery store called Superette: a prefix, a suffix and zero root, with the prefix and suffix canceling each other out. A nihilistic word if ever there was one.

  2. Natalia Peterson on: 16 March 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Here is a joke for you right for the topic. Just about the great Russian language.
    Девушка просит молодого человека:
    - Ну скажи мне какое-нибудь теплое слово…
    - Фуфайка!

  3. Craig on: 15 February 2010 at 11:35 am

    My favourite word in Russian was always “конечно”. Haha.

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