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Words new to me: less common senses of случайный

July 31, 2013

The noun случай and adjective случайный can mean ‘random chance’ or ‘incident’ or ‘case,’ as in ‘just in case’ or ‘in that case,’ as well as ‘by chance, by accident, incidentally.’ Also ‘occasion, opportunity.’ On top of that, I recently learned from Languagehat that в случае can mean ‘in favor (at court).’ Dal’ gives a sense that was already old in the nineteenth century, mostly using the plural случаи, of a kind of list of honors used to keep score in the old noble pecking order of местничество. Also in Dal’: случайный as ‘convenient,’ as in “Не случайная ныне пора” (=неудобная для чего) and “Не случайно мне было зайти” (=недосужно или неспопутно). Here’s another sense:

“We were just gossiping about you, doctor, and saying the worst things,” said Zarnitsyn, offering the doctor his hand.

“And what else can you have to do at your gatherings than gossip,” replied the doctor, shaking the hands offered him as he passed. “Please, Petr Lukich, do introduce me to your daughter.”

“Zhenichka! This is our doctor. I advise you to get into his good graces, he’s a most essential and sluchainyi man.”

“Principally to the dead, with whom I have had constant business for five years running,” said the doctor, bowing familiarly to the girl, who answered him with a sisterly bow.

— А мы здесь только что злословили вас, доктор, — проговорил Зарницын, протягивая врачу свою руку.

— Да чем же вам более заниматься на гулянках, как не злословием, — отвечал доктор, пожимая мимоходом поданные ему руки. — Прошу вас, Петр Лукич, представить меня вашей дочери.

— Женичка! — наш доктор. Советую тебе заискать его расположение, человек весьма нужный, случайный.

— Преимущественно для мертвых, с которыми имею постоянные дела в течение пяти лет сряду, — проговорил доктор, развязно кланяясь девушке, ответившей ему ласковым поклоном. (Leskov, No Way Out, book 1, chapter 12)

If you follow the link in the Russian text, you’ll see that N. I. Totubalin’s commentary defines случайный here as ‘enjoying general trust and respect.’ I suspect this is a metaphorical extension of the ‘in favor (at court)’ sense, which Dal’ glosses as ‘О человеке, кто в милости у начальства, в силе; любимец, наперсник, временщик,’ but here in Leskov it’s not the literal authorities with whom the doctor is in favor, but the начальство of public opinion.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 26, 2013 11:19 am

    My native speaker’s intuition (not that I should rely on it) tells me that Dal’s definition makes sense: it’s a person elevated through sheer luck, by chance; someone who just happens to be a big shot’s favorite at the moment. This meaning seems completely obsolete – not a trace of it in modern Russian, it seems.

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