Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Maybe Alla wasn't misleading me after all

When I started learning Russian at home, I noticed that Alla taught me a lot of words with diminutive endings. I became concerned that I would find myself talking like a six-year-old, and started reviewing all the nouns I knew to make sure I knew the "normal" version of any words I suspected to be diminutive.

I talked this over with a friend who embarrassed himself in a Russian grocery store in Boston when he asked for something by a diminutive name and got a guffaw from the clerk. His wife explained, "Oh yeah, that's just our word for it."

Yesterday I was really surprised, then, when the guy in front of me asked for a plastic a bag. (They charge for plastic bags here, and we all try to remember to bring bags with us so we won't have to buy more of them.) The guy said "I'd like a bag," using the word "paketik," which is diminutive and means "little bag." This is a common usage.

Not sure if the guy was being cute or specific, the clerk asked him, "Malenky?" The -inky ending is also diminutive, but it's required here because this is the word for "small," and she had two or three styles of bag to sell.

The guy answered with one word, "belinky." This is the diminutive version of "white," and I might have translated it "cute, little and white."

Yes, I was surprised.

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