July 01, 2002

The Enobling Deception

The Enobling Deception

Cheating, deceit and lies are vices as familiar to Russia as its folklore and culture. Of course, no one likes to be cheated, but there is cheating, and then there is cheating. As Pushkin once proclaimed, “Тьмы низких истин нам дороже нас возвышающий обман.” (“The ennobling deception is more dear to us than the dark, base truths.”)

In Alexei Tolstoy’s fairytale Buratino, a translation of Pinnochio, the heroes Fox Alisa and Cat Bazilio cheat the hapless wooden puppet Buratino after luring him into the Field of Miracles in the Country of Fools (Поле чудес в стране дураков). The two rascals have advised Buratino to bury his golden coins under a tree, and then water the buried treasure so that it will grow to an even greater treasure. Buratino falls for the scheme and Bazilio and Alisa sing, while digging up Buratino’s money after he has gone, “На дурака не нужен нож, ему с три короба соврёшь и делай с ним что хошь” (“You don’t need a knife to rob a fool – just tell a big lie and do whatever you want with him.”)

Given this cultural “heritage,” it should be no surprise that we have many derivations for the word хитрый (cunning, perfidy, guile). The noun is хитрость (ruse, cunning, ingenuity) and there is even a proverb praising this “virtue”: Хитрость – второй ум (Cunning is your second mind). There are also some useful diminutive suffixes (-ец and -инк), with which you can declare that someone’s eyes are с хитрецой (have a little ruse in them) or с хитринкой.

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