One word at a time

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In a perfect world, every time I visit my in-laws I’d pick up at least 10 new Russian words. And by pick up, I mean perfectly cement them in my brain forever and ever. While we’re at it, there also wouldn’t be a constant refrain of “why don’t you guys have a car / baby / house / boat yet?” (The boat inquiry being from the 21-year-old cousin; when he was 16, it was a Ferrari so it appears he’s losing faith in our future wealth.)

But my plan usually goes out the window after the first 15 minutes and by the time we leave, I’m convinced my brain has taken enough of a beating that it’s actually jettisoned words to survive. Once I thought I solved the issue with pen and a Very Important Piece of Paper- and then the paper disappeared ; )

This time, though, I did it. Got a whole new word and while it’s not the most useful word year-round or outside of insanely cold climates, it’s a keeper for sure. Have you ever noticed how the circumstances surrounding a word can make it memorable?

Scene: sitting at the table with D’s Mom, drinking tea. There’s a plastic vase of roses on the table and a single purple tulip tucked away in the center of the bouquet.

Me, eyeing the tulip: Почему у тебя один…..ммм…..эээ…. tulip? тюлип?

Her: Что???

This is one of those fun cases when Russian deviates a little from Latin- the flower’s not a tulip, it’s a tulpan, тюльпан. Meanwhile, there is a tulip-sounding word in Russian that (of course) has nothing to do with flowers at all. If there’s one thing we all know about this language, it’s that there just aren’t enough words to describe various winter jackets 😛 so here’s the тулуп, pronounced just like “two fruit loop”:


Have to say, this actually looks cooler than the шубы that the university assigned to us in Siberia. We looked like escaped Wookies in those things. Go on and have a good laugh!


How to define this kind of jacket? Google calls the тулуп a sheepskin jacket. D said it’s a шуба with the fur inside instead of outside. His mom, who was born at the end of WII, proclaimed it “the reason we won the war”. If you want one for winter 2016, $235 will get you a stylish тулуп straight from Moscow (although this model definitely has a much more approachable demeanor).

Sometimes I wish I could inhale vocabulary lists and get the words to stick, but that’s like cold calling for the brain: “Thanks, but no thanks.” It’s random conversations like this one that lead to random words that help glacially-but-effectively build up my mental dictionary. Barring another winter in Siberia, the тулуп is not likely to be a big part of my life, but I’ll take every single word I can get in Russian. One word down, only one hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine left to go!

How about you? Do you have any success with vocab lists? Have you ever had a conversation that revealed a memorable new word?


PS: If you’re still wondering about the tulip mystery, it was a single Mother’s Day stem mixed in among a birthday bouquet. Mother’s Day, birthdays, and день победы… the in-laws have a lot of celebrating going on right now!

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