Sunday, July 27, 2014

Corporal Widow.

Nikolay Gogol.
(Daguerrotype photo, 1845)
Russian Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to the new extension of the EU sanctions with the head of the FSB security service and the president of Chechnya now on the list. (TASS report in Russian here, smoothed out English version here, BBC, without the colourful expressions, here)

The language of the MID comments is so flowery that it comes close to Nikita Khrushchev's legendary Mother of Kouzma, or Kuzkina mat' ("кузькина мать").

In one paragraph the diplomatic riposte uses a very slangy drug-world expression сесть на иглу, literally 'to sit on the needle', meaning to become addicted to intravenous drugs. This is used to describe the EU's seeming willingness to take as truthful the information coming from the US and Kiev.

Even more confusing might be a reference to "унтер-офицерская вдова", the non-commissioned officer's widow, or the sergeant's widow. It is a well-known Russian phrase, "унтер-офицерская вдова сама себя высекла" — 'the sergeant's widow flogged her herself.' It comes originally from Gogol's The Inspector-General, the 1836 satirical comedy describing corrupt and inept officials in a provincial town.

In the play, a lying Governor suggests that a complaining NCO's widow lies herself and improbably claims that it wasn't him who ordered her flogged but the woman flogged her herself. As often happens with quotes it became detached from the original and is now used in the meaning 'to punish oneself.'

Here is the original quote from The Inspector-General:

Гоголь, "Ревизор", Действие IV, Явление XV:
Городничий. Унтер-офицерша налгала вам, будто бы я ее высек; она врет, ей-богу, врет. Она сама себя высекла.

(The Government Inspector, Act IV, Scene XIV, translated by Arthur A Sykes, 1892)
GOVERNOR. The sergeant's wife lied when she told you I flogged her—it's 
false, yei Bohu, it's false. Why, she flogged herself ! 

(The Inspector-General, translated by Thomas Seltzer)
GOVERNOR. The officer's widow lied to you when she said I flogged her. She lied, upon my word, she lied. She flogged herself.

LE GOUVERNEUR. — La femme du sous-officier vous a menti, menti, j'ai ne l'ai pas faire fouetter. Elle s'est fouettée elle-même.

Read the Russian version of this post here.

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