Posts Tagged ‘Obama’


October 19, 2014

 I have translated this blog recommended by my friend. The Russian original is at the address:

This morning my daughter, a well-known rolling stone, returned from Poland. To my question about her travelling experience she told me, quite emotionally, about “gorgons”, by which she referred to her travel companions in the train compartment. As regards the “gorgons”, the characteristics was Tanya ‘s own opinion, but I usually trust her estimate of other people.

All the way in the carriage the companions were grooving first on “caddish” Poles.Then they switched over to “sticky-fingered” Ukrainians. When the train was approaching the Byelorussian border, they remembered “shameless” Byelorussians. My daughter (a wise thing!) was keeping unperturbed silence. With all the nationalities picked to the smallest pieces, the patriots started asking each other ruefully: “Why doesn’t anybody love us, the Russians?”

Finally, they took a notice of their compatriot who was staying away from their convivial discussion. They decided to amend the situation and chose what they thought to be a sure-fire theme.

“Hey, sister, what do you think of Barack Obama?”

In cases like that I usually disregard the talk, bury myself in a book and accept what is going on as an inevitable evil, or I puff up in a way a blowfish does. As for my daughter, she only gave a beaming smile and said, “Why Obama? We are Russians, aren’t we? Let’s talk about Pushkin…”

Silence prevailed in the compartment.

Translator’s Note: Pushkin’s great-grandfather, a Black African, was kidnapped and brought to Russia as a gift for Peter the Great.



October 25, 2012

Most bilingual dictionaries define the American slang “shuck and jive” as something like “misrepresentation, deception, eyewash, cock-and-bull story, etc.” (that is, when you translate the foreign part of the definition back into English). If to be limited by the limitations of two-language dictionaries, a learner of English may not understand why President Obama’s team could be sensitive to Sarah Palin’s words when the latter accused him of “shuck-and-jiving” while handling the attack in Benghazi ( ). Chris Matthews, an anchor at the television show Hardball, said that this expression has a “particular ethnic connotation.” I made a brief search through some monolingual dictionaries and encyclopaedias to find that “to shuck and jive” originally referred to the intentionally misleading words and actions that African-Americans would employ in order to deceive racist Euro-Americans in power, both during the period of slavery and afterwards. The expression was documented as being in wide usage in the 1920s, but may have originated much earlier. “Shucking and jiving” was a tactic of both survival and resistance. A slave, for instance, could say eagerly, “Oh, yes, Master,” and have no real intention to obey. Or an African-American man could pretend to be working hard at a task he was ordered to do, but might put up this pretense only when under observation. Both would be instances of “doin’ the old shuck ‘n jive.”
It has been adopted into non-Afro-American speech, with a reference to behavior adopted in order to avoid criticism, e.g. In order to keep my job, I had to do the shuck and jive! It is this, more extended meaning of the word that the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate meant when she responded to the accusation:

there was nothing remotely racist in my use of the phrase ‘shuck and jive’—a phrase which many people have used, including Chris Matthews, Andrew Cuomo, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to name a few off the top of my head….In fact, Andrew Cuomo also used the phrase in reference to Barack Obama, and the fact that Mr. Cuomo and I used the phrase in relation to President Obama signifies nothing out of the ordinary. I would have used the exact same expression if I had been writing about President Carter, whose foreign policy rivaled Obama’s in its ineptitude, or about the Nixon administration, which was also famously rocked by a cover-up. I’ve been known to use the phrase most often when chastising my daughter Piper to stop procrastinating and do her homework. As she is part Yup’ik Eskimo, I’m not sure if this term would be deemed offensive when it’s directed at her or if it would be considered benign as in the case of Chris Matthews’ use of it in reference to Rachel Maddow. Just to be careful, from now on I’ll avoid using it with Piper, and I would appreciate it if the media refrained from using words and phrases like igloo, Eskimo Pie, and “when hell freezes over,” as they might be considered offensive by my extended Alaska Native family.” ( )


I consulted my daughter, who had lived in the U.S.A. for quite some time, about how the Americans use the expression “shuck and jive”. She said that there was nothing offensive if this word combination was used either in an “only-black” or “only-white” community. However, in a white person’s talk referring to an Afro-American, the expression could acquire some “undesirable connotations” and should, probably, be avoided within the framework of political correctness.

A finishing detail: when African Americans heard former President Bill Clinton call Barack Obama a “kid”, that was seen as an insult. Mr. Obama was a 46-year-old man who was a United States senator. It was remindful of grown black men being called “boy” during the Jim Crow era. Seemingly, no harm was done, but … the context has meaning.


May 17, 2012

Today I read a  linguistic joke. The joke looks rather hairy. It may have been applied to different presidents in different countries. However, the current Ukrainian president, known for putting his foot in his mouth too often, seems to be candidate No 1 for being in the center of the joke. Although, it may be no joke at all… Just sad truth.

In 2010 President of Ukraine Victor Yanukovych was given some Basic English conversation training before he visited Washington and met President Barack Obama… The instructor told Victor Yanukovych, “When you shake hand with President Obama, please say ‘how r u’. Then Mr. Obama would say, ‘I am fine, and you?’ Now, you should say ‘me too’. Afterwards we, translators, will do the work for you.’ It looks quite simple, but the truth is… when Victor met Obama, he mistakenly said ‘who r u?’ (Instead of ‘How r u?’.) Mr. Obama was a bit shocked but still managed to react with humor: ‘Well, I’m Michelle’s husband, ha-ha…’ Then Victor Yanukovych replied ‘me too, ha-ha….’ Then there was a long silence in the meeting room.


March 29, 2012

The presidents of the US and Ukraine Mr. Obama and Mr. Yanukovych met at a two-day summit on nuclear security in the capital of South Korea, Seoul. It was interesting to see readers’ comments on the meeting. The meeting lasted about 4 minutes. It looks like the presidents didn’t sit down to discuss things. One of the readers sarcastically writes that the meeting might have taken place near a men’s room – implying that during President Yanukovych’s visit to Strasbourg about a year ago Yanukovych’s bodyguards didn’t let Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Torbjørn Jagland into the men’s room because at that moment the Ukrainian president was there.

Another reader says that he has got a shorthand record of this meeting: YANUKOVYCH: “I am is a profffesor.” OBAMA: “Ok, ok…” (another implication: Yanukovich doesn’t speak English or any other foreign language besides Russian, and he is notoriously famous for spelling his scholarly rank “professor” with double “f”).

On a serious note, though: the presidents discussed the nuclear security and the U.S. President expressed gratitude for Ukraine’s cooperation in this matter. But he also drew Yanukovych’s attention to the fact that trials in Ukraine are being held selectively, the political opposition is persecuted and the opposition leaders are imprisoned. Obama’s observation about the trials and the opposition was not mentioned in the Ukrainian official report about the meeting.

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