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The Psycholinguistic Pathos of Everyday Life 8 (Russian Proverb)

Since living in Manhattan (unlike Los Angeles, to take a marked contrast) necessarily involves walking, Y-H-B often finds himself perambulating in his neighborhood and observing the pedestrian scene, including that of miscellaneous persons walking their dogs. These canines, in their turn, swivel about on their leashes and, whenever possible, engage each other through reciprocal barks, sniffing of hind quarters, and other untoward behavior. These sidewalk encounters typically cannot be obviated by human walkers, intruding willy nilly as they are wont to do on one’s consciousness as well as on one’s private space.

This morning an encounter of just this sort provoked the disinterment of a very pithy Russian proverb in Y-H-B’s brain, to wit: свои собаки грызутся, чужая не приставай, literally meaning ‘if someone else’s dogs are nipping at [squabbling/quarreling with] each other, one’s own [dog] oughtn’t pester [= mix in]’. This proverb also happens to be the title of one of the most prominent Russian dramatist A. N. Ostrovsky’s plays (1861, subtitled “Pictures of Moscow Life”). The transferred meaning of the proverb is: ‘stay clear of other people’s quarrels’. Good advice.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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