March 01, 2003

Of Fish and Cockroaches

If you have trouble telling the difference between a форель and an осетрина, or between селёдка and сёмга, the following may help.

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, there is a chapter titled “Lobster Quadrille.” In it, The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon tell Alice that a whiting is called a whiting because it “does the boots and shoes.” Alice finds out that, under the sea, shoes are done with “whiting” instead of “blacking” and made of “soles and eels,” and that “no wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.”

In Nina Demurova’s able “transculturation” of Carroll’s book, the whiting became треска (cod), about which it is said: Рыба она так себе, толку от неё мало, а треску много. Как начнёт трещать – хоть вон беги. The wordplay is on the verb трещать, which means to crackle, but it also means to jabber. So a translation might be: “As a fish, she is not much, you get very little from her, but she jabbers a lot. And as soon as the jabbering starts, you want to run away.” Notably, you can also use трещать¸ to describe a headache: “У меня голова трещит.”

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