March 01, 2021

Dealing with Stress

Dealing with Stress

One of the important landmarks along the road to Russian language proficiency is the first time you proudly say Я написал статью and watch all your Russian friends and colleagues collapse in helpless laughter. The problem is not the verb or case ending or even word order: it’s the stress. You’ve just announced in not very correct Russian that you’ve urinated on your article.

Now, maybe it was a lousy article and deserved what it got, but chances are you wanted to say я написал статью (I wrote an article). As for what cats, dogs and babies do, that’s написать: Кошка написала на кровать.

These confusing words are called омографы (homographs), that is, words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently, in Russian usually due to where the stress falls. The subject came up this winter when Alexei Navalny telephoned a man who appeared to be one of the team who poisoned him, and the man explained that they had spread a deadly nerve agent on Navalny’s трусы (underpants). Here the comedy — the very dark comedy — is that трусы are underpants but трусы are cowards. Some foreigners following events in the media were rather puzzled. Where did they put the poison?

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