Monday, March 24, 2008

Gaining something in translation

A Russian woman just told me she came from Vladivostok City. Nothing special, just small talk about Saipan's weather being better than the cold place she came from.

Only, it seemed odd that she had to add 'city'. I guess I thought Vladivostok was on the short list: if you've heard of Russia, you've heard the name.

Then again, North Americans and, in my experience, Marianas Americans are abysmally ignorant about geography. I was probably hearing a conversational short-cut to avoid, sigh, having to explain it. Again.

About ten years ago I met a Russian who said he was from Novgorod*. City. Now, 'gorod' means 'city' in Russian. He knew that, obviously, but thought I wouldn't.

This in turn reminded me of blithely talking about North and South Vietnam, when, roughly, ‘nam’ means 'the south'. So we were helping South Vietsouth fight North Vietsouth. Sometimes words gain something in translation.

* Actually, it's Veliky Novgorod, The Great New City, or was about a thousand years ago.

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