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06 March 2012

Common Mistakes #4, #5 and #6: Don’t cry for me, Mr Putin!

The Voice of Russia website once again comes out top of the ratings for instructive misuse of the English language. The story that is on everybody’s lips today is what might have been headlined: “Mr Putin’s Big Blub”. But it appears to have been ignored by the Voice of Russia. I think I know why. It seems to me entirely likely that the emotion which overtook the President-elect on Sunday night, so strongly that he could not restrain himself, had something to do with the way he feared his victory would be reported by the English department of the country’s official international news portal. That might explain the Voice of Russia's deafening silence on the only aspect of the election which has made international headlines in the broadsheet and tabloid press alike.
     Everyone knows the expression: if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Since it is rude (and possibly illegal) to laugh at state institutions in Russia, most people who read the paragraph below will think it best to have a “Putin moment”, as I gather we should now call it, rather than a good hoot. But should the President-elect be bound by that convention? Perhaps he ought to remember what Eva Perón said about Argentina in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical biography of her.
     Incidentally, the song was banned in the Philippines during the period of Ferdinand Marcos’s power vertical. One can only assume he preferred to be surrounded by laughter. If so, he would have felt at home in certain sections of the editorial department of the Voice of Russia, which published this passage yesterday in an article headed Observers Acknowledge Legitimacy of Presidential Elections:
“The activity of Russian citizens made a great impression on foreigners. The latter say that this is solid proof that the political self-consciousness of the Russian people is growing…. The instalment of webcams at the polling stations was a novelty this time. After the protest rallies of the opposition, which repeatedly stressed that numerous violations were registered during the latest elections to the State Duma, the Russian government made its utmost to ensure the transparency of the presidential elections in the country.” (italics added)
     The Common Mistakes (CM) in that passage are as follows:
     CM #4: “self-consciousness” can mean a simple consciousness of self, but in this context it means nervousness or lack of self-confidence. I suspect the writer intended exactly the opposite and wanted to say: “the political self-confidence of the Russian people is growing”.
     CM #5: “instalment” means a part payment of a mortgage, a hire-purchase contract or something similar. You can talk about the instalment of a bishop, or the Grandmaster of a Masonic Lodge, but never of a piece of apparatus. What the author ought to have said was “the installation of webcams…”
     CM #6: “made its utmost” is, I suspect, simply a mistranslation of the Russian word, делать. It is a very common mistake. The Russian word means both “make” and “do”, while in English those two ideas have different words attached to them. The author ought to have written: “the Russian government did its utmost to ensure…”


  1. Thank you again (yes, I am still reading).

    CM# 4 has a more accurate translation as "political self-conscience". However, I believe, it is closer to a meaning of "political literacy'.

    Both "Political self-consciousness" or even 'self-conscience' are illiterate uses even in Russian though. It was used all the time only as "national" self-consciousness.

    I believe Gorbachev gave Russian people both politics and the term "political self-consciousness". All Soviet leaders are known for their outstanding contribution to the Russian language.

  2. CM# 4 The latter say that this is solid proof that the men's sense of themselves is growing….

  3. Sorry, I didn't get the point of CM#4. For example, the entry for "self-conscious" in Merriam-Webster contains "b : intensely aware of oneself : conscious (a rising and self–conscious social class)". One of the two definitions of "self-consciousness" by wiktionary.com says: "The awareness of the self as an entity". Could someone please explain why exactly "political self-consciousness" is incorrect in this context? Would "political awareness" be more suitable?

    Thank you

  4. Yes, and even better: "political self-awareness". "Self-consciousness" in ordinary usage today means nervousness, lack of confidence, feeling that you stick out like a sore thumb, don't blend in with the general mood of society, etc.