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How Do You Say ‘Hillary’s Gaffe’ in Russian?

Anyone with a basic sense of the language could have told Clinton her failed attempt at a gag was a dud.

by
Oleg Atbashian

Bio

March 8, 2009 - 12:24 am
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Did you know that if you translate “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” into Russian, it becomes “the vodka is agreeable but the meat has gone bad”? Literal translations can be tricky that way.

It seems that no translators were harmed in the manufacturing of Hillary Clinton’s “reset” button, which she presented to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.

“We worked hard to get the right Russian word,” Clinton addressed Lavrov in a deliberately slow voice, as if talking to a special-needs child. “Do you think we got it?”

“You got it wrong,” Lavrov answered in fluent English. “This says ‘peregruzka,’ which means overcharged.”

Well, it looks like somebody used a cheap electronic translation program. But it could be worse. I once came across a website that advertised its automated translation service with an example of a label from a jar of pickles, informing Russian consumers that it contained condoms.

Talk about food safety! That’s what you get when you translate “preservatives” without as much as a human touch.

Incidentally, Hillary Clinton’s linguistic episode in Geneva also clarified the translation of the Obama administration’s term “worked hard,” which in plain English means “did half-assed job.”

News reports would make us believe that Hillary’s philological mishaps ended right there. Not so. After the two top diplomats stopped laughing, Clinton quipped: “We won’t let you do that to us, I promise.”

That may have sounded sharp in English, but in Russian it came out even goofier than the wrong label on the red button.

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