29 April 2010

F---ed Up English in Russia

Shame on me, I do not speak Russian (yet).  This forces my friends and colleagues to commit an unnatural act:  They speak English in my presence to ensure that I am included in the conversation.

Naturally, this unnatural act - namely English dialog amongst folks who would normally speak Russian to each other - leads to, shall we say, interesting linguistic situations.  For instance, after being irritable in a meeting, a colleague sent an apology email to the attendees stating:
Sorry I was a little bit turned on in the evening because of [stressful, work-related] activities.
I asked my colleagues how he could be possibly turned on with five pasty nerds spouting geeky gobbledygook for an hour.  In fact, my colleague intended to say that he was "stressed," or "frazzled."  "To be turned on" is a near transliteration of a Russian expression that indicates a stressful state; happily, this transliteration translates into chuckles.

Another English-related phenomenon in Russia is the casual use of strong language on publicly worn T-shirts.  The F bomb ("fsck" to Linux and UNIX fans) is a popular adornment, worn publicly and with impunity.  It does not even turn heads because, to foreign speakers of English, there is no context by which the vulgarity of the word can be measured.  Not surprisingly, lack of linguistic awareness diffuses the F bomb.

I have witnessed quite a few creative uses of the F bomb, the most memorable of which was a the following T-shirt inscription:
F--- you,
you f---ing f---.
The above phrase is rather remarkable because three words (really two words and a variation) form a complete, grammatically correct, five word English sentence.  An analog sentence would be:
Go home,
you hapless lad.
As you can see, there is a verb (go), an object (home), a subject (you), an adjective (hapless), and a noun (lad).  This is yet another example of an interesting linguistic situation - and a testament of the flexibility and the f---ing unfortunate international reach of the F bomb.

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