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Mar 29, 2021
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"You just don’t know what to say": What phrases Gorbachev made the translator sweat

Gorbachev’s translator shared what phrases from the former Soviet leader made him sweat during official international events. “You just don’t know what to say,” he admits, recalling the love of the ex-head of the USSR for aphorisms.

Pavel Palazhchenko, personal translator of the first and last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, noted that the speech of the Soviet leader was sometimes difficult to translate, since he often used Russian idioms. He writes about this in his book “Profession and Time. Notes of a Translator-Diplomat”.

The most difficult thing is when suddenly there is a word like “snowdrop”, “grayling”, or “birch”, the translation of which you do not know, and do not know how to say, – recalls Palazhchenko.

Sometimes even American translators tried to come to the aid of their Soviet colleagues when they found themselves in difficult situations. Once Gorbachev puzzled the translator, saying that the country “cannot be broken through the knee.” To translate this aphorism, Palazhchenko used the English expression break the back. And the words of the Soviet diplomat Yuli Kvitsinsky, who mentioned the “donut hole”, were translated by the translator as the hole of the donut, using a product more understandable for Americans.

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