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Game show language questions

July 6, 2019

I’m going to break a rule I made for myself not to post about not posting. It turns out that blogging, for me at least, goes better with being a homemaker than with teaching, and not only because there’s less time. Work has me reading books about Russian artists and twenty-first-century novels, as well as watching more Russian TV than I did while studying abroad, and most of that doesn’t fit here.

But a question on a game show about an idiom I think I learned from Olga N. made me want to come back. As you’ll see, it gave the contestants no trouble (and was disparaged by the host as too easy), but someone thought it was hard enough to be worth asking, which is one of those reassuring reminders that native speakers don’t know everything.

The idiom is бабушка надвое сказала ‘grandmother said doubly,’ used to mean something isn’t clear, isn’t certain, could be either of two things. I don’t think I knew it before reading Olga N.’s “Martha” (Марфа, 1876), unless I heard about it from Languagehat (who posted on similar phrases). The full proverb the team had to complete makes it easy to understand and remember: бабушка гадала, надвое сказала: либо дождик, либо снег, либо будет, либо нет ‘grandmother was telling fortunes and said it two ways: it’ll be either rain or snow, and it either will fall or it won’t.’

9 Comments leave one →
  1. languagehat permalink
    July 6, 2019 8:13 am

    That’s pretty funny, and I think of it as an “easy” idiom too — I can’t remember when/where I first encountered it. Where in the clip does it occur? I’m not going to watch the whole hour to find out.

    • July 6, 2019 9:51 am

      It’s from 12:44 to 13:25. And yes, its easier than some, but without гадала I didn’t get why бабушка was involved.

  2. languagehat permalink
    July 6, 2019 9:57 am

    Thanks, and now that I see the exchange, it’s not so easy — I don’t think I would have gotten it just from “либо дождик, либо снег, либо будет, либо нет.”

  3. July 6, 2019 10:14 am

    Good to see you back! If you ever want to expand your blog beyond the 19th century, you would definitely have an audience!

    • July 7, 2019 1:00 am

      Thanks! That’s a thought—maybe someday, if I start to feel more at home with the new and recent books.

  4. languagehat permalink
    July 31, 2019 3:01 pm

    I’m reading Pisemsky’s Мещане (not very good, but interesting as a picture of Moscow life in the mid-1870s) and just got to an unexpected and welcome break from the tedious plot about whether Darya Osipovna is a millionairess or a bankrupt; three people in the Английский клуб have an argument about the Balkan crisis (which I’d just been reading about in Anna Karenina and Дневник Писателя). And wouldn’t you know it, one of the characters says:

    — Но еще восторжествуем ли мы?.. Бабушка надвое сказала: либо дождик, либо снег, либо будет, либо нет!.. – не уступал Янсутский.

    • July 31, 2019 3:12 pm

      Wonderful! I’ve been trying to decide whether to read Мещане and Масоны now that I’ve finished the four earlier Pisemsky novels—given your impression of Мещане, I may go back and read the early short works I missed instead.

      • languagehat permalink
        July 31, 2019 3:16 pm

        I highly recommend it. Мещане isn’t worthless, but it’s a sad falling-off from his great works of the 1850s.

  5. languagehat permalink
    July 31, 2019 3:01 pm

    (sorry, Domna, not Darya)

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