View Full Version : Seeking simple warning phrase in Russian

Joanna Hoyt
03-25-2016, 03:44 AM
Id greatly appreciate help from a native/fluent Russian speaker.

Im writing a story set in a Massachusetts mill town in the anti-immigrant hysteria of the First Red Scare in 1920; I have a character who speaks no Russian and needs to pass on an urgent warning to a group of people who only speak Russian. She asks a friend who speaks both Russian and English but cant deliver the message in person how to say I'm a friend of Kseniya's. Get out of here, hurry, the police are coming for you, or some kind of simple and relatively easy-to-pronounce words to that effect. What does her friend tell her to saywritten out in Roman characters?

At present I have, "Ja Kseniya v drugom. Perejti. Speite! Policii! Which at least conveys that she really doesn't know Russian... But I think it could use some improving.

Any help greatly appreciated. Thanks for taking time to read this.

03-26-2016, 03:16 AM
I'm neither a native Russian speaker, nor fluent, but you've had no responses so far, so I'd like to suggest that if you want 'simple and easy to learn and say', you skip the 'I'm a friend of' in favour of 'Kseniya says...'. Google translate gives 'Kseniya gorovit ...'. Presumably, the local Russian immigrants know Kseniya, and would have some faith in his/her word. As to the rest of a message, I only know a few words of Russian so I'm not sure what you've got there, except for 'policii' but 'pogrom!' would, I suspect, encompass a warning to run.

I hope somebody who actually knows something comes along soon, if only to tell me that 'Google translate' is not a reliable source.

03-26-2016, 09:35 AM

I'd suggest "Ya Kseniyi podruga. Ona velela skazat' vam: ubiraytes' otsyuda, vas politsiya ishchet."

(I'm Kseniya's friend. She asked me to tell you: get out of here, the police are looking for you.)

The apostrophe in skazat' and ubiraytes' is necessary, because it signifies the so-called "soft sign" ь, the thirtieth letter of the Russian alphabet.

If you think thi is too long, let me know and we can modify it. (I'm not a native speaker, but Russian language was compulsory in schools when I was a kid, I started learning it when I was eleven, and I love it.)

Joanna Hoyt
03-26-2016, 11:50 PM
Thank you very much! That's very helpful and quite usable.

04-05-2016, 01:44 AM
Couple thoughts--sorry I'm late to the thread. I teach Russian and am not a native speaker, though I've studied it since age 13.

Google translate is not automatically bad, but like any translating feature, you have to almost know the answer to realize when it's screwing you up. There is only one solution: check with a native speaker. It's astonishing how many people don't do this, not merely in books, but in LIFE. ONLY a native speaker (and ideally, more than one) can give you true idiomatic renderings. It's one thing if you need a character to shout a single word (though even then, you never know), but trust me, it's a minefield that can be navigated only with that native knowledge. Any translation into language X is best done by a native speaker of X. I only translate from Russian to English in an official capacity, not the other way around. Only a true bilingual--and they are rare--can come close to doing both. Most people will only have professional facility in one.

If you still need a read, I can easily ask a friend for their opinion. When I use Russian in my own books, I always double check with my native informants. It's the kind of thing that would bother me forever if I got it wrong.

If you remember the "reset button" incident in 2009 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_reset), that was a ridiculous example. It was so high-profile that State should have double-checked. The REALLY stupid part of it is that they have LOTS of native Russians working there! I've met them at conferences. It would have taken two seconds to slip down the hall and confirm the word. Makes you want to scream when the resources are there, but people don't take advantage of them.

As to the inclusion of the soft-sign marked with apostrophes, yes, it is correct, but you have to decide on readability issues. Anybody trained in Russian transcription knows what they mean, but they look like typos to the rest of US readers. It's like the way some translators decide to render the name Семен as "Semen," which is correct according to LC transliteration, but of course is laughable to US readers. Can anyone really expect undergrads to keep a straight face when reading about Semen's adventures? Of course not, it's utterly stupid. So that name is more likely to be rendered as "Semyon," which, if you put the stress correctly in the second syllable, is much closer to the Russian pronunciation.

So many complications :)

T Robinson
04-05-2016, 01:57 AM
No Russian at all. Just say "Nyet!"

04-05-2016, 04:37 AM
How about another but related question. I would like for a character who speaks great English, but has a Russian background to say a phrase in English that is actually a Russian proverb, idiom, cliche kind of thing. I want something roughly equivalent to "spilled the beans", or "let the cat out of the bag", or "let the genie out of the bottle", something along those lines. Any ideas?

04-05-2016, 04:48 AM
You could go with выболтать секрет (vyboltat' sekret), проговориться (progovorit'sia) or прибалтиваться (pribaltivat'sia), but none of those have the flavor of a rich idiom because they're really just verb forms. The standard reference is Lubensky's Dictionary of Idioms (http://www.amazon.com/Russian-English-Dictionary-Idioms-Revised-Edition/dp/0300162278), though that's probably more than you want to get into. There are lot of Russian proverb sites out there, and a lot of those phrases are excellent and rich, especially if they come from peasant idiom. "Пословицы" are proverbs, and Russian wikiquote has a huge list, but they don't translate any of them, unfortunately.

My favorites are ones which have their own counterpart, but weird enough to make them fun, like "too many cooks spoil the broth" in Russian is "у семи нянек дитя без глаза" (u semi nianek ditia bez glazu), or "with seven nannies a child will be without eyes." Gruesome :)

04-05-2016, 05:10 PM
It's a bit removed from what you're looking for, but you could try "раскрыть свои карты", which means "to show one's hand", whether willingly or not.

04-06-2016, 03:17 AM
It's a bit removed from what you're looking for, but you could try "раскрыть свои карты", which means "to show one's hand", whether willingly or not.

So Tocotin. Is that how it would be said, 'To show my hand' or 'to show your hand'? Maybe something like "Well, showed my hand. Too late to go back now. My guy is going to be saying it to himself in English (so the reader can follow with out being Russian) but I would like for it to have an east European feel, especially for any reader who might actually recognize the phrase.

04-06-2016, 06:55 PM
The literal meaning is "to show one's cards", so I guess he could say "Oh shit, I let them see my cards... but there's no going back now".

There is one more phrase that you might like. In Russian it's "dierzhat' za pazukhoi" держать за пазухой, which means "to have something up one's sleeve", or "in one's bosom", literally "behind one's shirt". It can also have the meaning of keeping secrets, hiding something. Maybe you could use it? "I showed them what I have in my bosom, now there's no going back" – it does sound slightly off... It is also definitely Eastern European. We have a similar expression in Polish, which is why I suddenly remembered the Russian one.

04-14-2016, 04:13 AM
I like that... thaks Tocotin!

04-22-2016, 08:38 AM
I used it, Tocotin. I think it looks kinda cool there...