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Russian Language/An unusual choice of words to convey that something is difficult to believe


Уважаемый господин Борягин,

Thank you for being willing to answer questions! The article on aviation, for which I am working on a translation, has an opening paragraph with a WEIRD  expression. Presumably, the writer is acknowledging here that at first glance, the technological idea he is talking about appears ridiculous. The person who wrote the article appears to be assuming that we all know who Baron von Münchhausen was, and that we all know who Rudolf Erich Raspe was. The writer appears to be assuming that, if the intention is to talk about tall tales and outlandish claims, then we who are reading will all understand his metaphor concerning von Münchhausen and Raspe. It seems a very strange thing for a writer to assume. When you take a look at it, sir, is this business about von Münchhausen and Raspe really some kind of Russian idiom that you know about, but that I don't know about? It seems so strange to me!

The opening text reads:

"Если бы 30 лет назад кто-нибудь сказал, что будет носить в кармане собственный телефон размером с пачку сигарет, его подняли бы на смех. мюнхгаузен - человек хороший, но это к господину Распе. Однако вполне возможно, что уже в самое ближайшее время в кармане можно будет носить и личный аэродром (надувной, не смейтесь!), который станет весьма серьезным дополнением к собственному вертолету или самолету с колесным шасси. Эту разработку считают одной из самых неожиданных находок хх века."

Now, I've had to translate that somewhat loosely -- given that I've spent some years studying this stupidly abandoned aviation technology that the writer is talking about. After breaking my translation into two paragraphs, I get something like this:

"If thirty years ago somebody had said that the day would come when you'd carry in your pocket your own phone the size of a pack of cigarettes, that would have raised a laugh. Maybe, you'd have said, the famous storyteller Baron Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Münchhausen was a good man to hear a tall tale from in his day. But the ridiculous idea of a cell phone would have seemed to you to be in a class by itself. You'd have said that the idea might have been good enough for that rogue Rudolf Erich Raspe -- but that as for you, you'd never believe it.

Even so, it's quite possible that in the very near future, you'll carry around your own airfield as though it were in your pocket. And don't laugh, but it will be inflatable! In time, there'll be a chance of having this feature as an optional replacement for the wheeled landing gear on your private helicopter or plane. This design is considered one of the most surprising discoveries of the twentieth century."

Now, sir, does that look approximately correct to you?

Thanks very much for all your time and attention.

Dear Julian,

The text that you quoted does not appear to be technical in any respect but rather an easy narration for a lazy reader. Baron Münchhausen is indeed a popular literary character, familiar to any Russian speaker born or raised before Perestroyka. Below is a link to a Wikipedia article about him.

The common rules of translation require to translate such references without hesitation like any other name. However, a footnote with a translator's brief explanation would be reasonable for the sake of foreign readers not familiar with Soviet movies and books for children.

Kind regards,

Ivan Boryagin

Russian Language

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Ivan Boryagin


Any intelligent questions are welcome.


I am a linguist with nearly 20 year experience as translator.

Honours in Literature

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