Thursday, February 25, 2010

"We're Aching You On!"

This billboard says, "Folks from our neighborhood: Moscow–Vancouver. Cheer on our team!"

Every once in a while, a random Russian word or expression hits you in the face. Somehow, it can so adeptly capture the very essence of the culture. This week, the word in question is "болеть."

According to Collins, this is the definition of the verb:

болеть, -ею
болеть (+instr ) to be ill (with),
болеть (impf) за +acc to be a fan of (-ит 3sg) (-ят 3pl ) (подлеж, руки итп) to ache

Those of us who have learned Russian as another language are very familiar with the first uses of the verb. "Я болею." ("I'm sick). "У меня болит головa." ("I have a headache," or, literally, "I have a head hurting.")

The Olympics, however, have introduced me to a whole other usage for this common Russian word: "Я болею за наших спортсменов." It's the same "I'm sick" from above, but you add on "for our athletes" and the entire meaning changes! "I'm sick" suddenly becomes, "I'm cheering for..."

Or does it?

Americans "cheer" for their teams. Or we "root" for them. But "ache"? "Suffer"? "Make ourselves ill"? Talk about extreme fans. Oh, no, wait... They're not "fans" in Russian. Russian fans are called "болельщики," or "people who are sick." The word can even mean "addict"!

While watching the Olympics with a bilingual Russian friend the other day, I brought this up. Until then, he had never stopped to consider the double meaning of the word... And you know what? It made him smile! There is something so poetic, so "true" about the tendency of the Russian soul to suffer...

Just look at this headline:

Вся Москва этой ночью отчаянно болела за нашу сборную. ("All of Moscow grimly rooted for our team tonight.")

See what I mean? When you pair "болеть" with the adverb "oтчаянно," the effect is intense! That adverb can be translated as simply "desperately"... but it can also mean"like in grim death"!

Unfortunately for Russian "болельщики," these Olympic games are providing them with more opportunities to feel pain than ever before...


Here are some examples from the press for those of you who'd like to see more:

"Рошетт поддержали миллионы болельщиков и Лайсачек." ("Millions of fans and Lysacek supported Rochette.")

"Тренер сборной России по хоккею извинился перед болельшиками." ("The coach of the Russian hockey teams said he was sorry to fans.")

"Владимир Познер: Я еды болеть за Плющенко!" ("Vladmir Posner: I'm headed to cheer on Plushenko!"

In this article about the current state of sport in Russia, Спорт в России пал "смертью храбрых" ("Sports in Russia Have Become the Death of the Brave"), you really get the double sense of the word. The author goes on to say:

«Болеть» за наших было и есть сплошное расстройство: спортсменов жалко (они на финиш совсем никакими приходят), еще жальче коллег-журналистов, которым по долгу службы положено позитивно живописать этот срам. "Cheering" for our athletes has been and is a non-stop mess: you feel bad for the athletes (they cross the finish line absolutely out-of-sorts), and you're even sorrier for our journalists who are obligated to put a positive spin on this defeat."


Annie said...

So, I do have a Russian soul; that strikes me as such a perfect use of language. I honestly cannot bear to watch some games or contests because I am TOO overcome.

I cry listening to Olympic coverage on the radio!

Anonymous said...

So, I guess, I do not have a Russian soul. Could never understand the idea of Bolelshiki, but I am not a big sport fan anyway.
I actually nearly cried listening to the Olympic coverage yesterday on my radio station too.

garnet said...

Ha, ha! This explains why I've never been able to get into sports. They are obviously too painful for me.