Challenges of Interpreting Medical Terminology

“Sometimes, interpreting the doctor’s medical jargon can feel like trying to understand the lyrics of the popular rapper, Lil Wayne.” I came across this statement while preparing to work on this article. If you think the sentence belongs to a patient or another interpreter, you are wrong. This sentiment was written by Richard C. Senelick, MD, after his experience of accompanying his wife to a doctor (if you are interested, the link to his blog is below). The US population has a very low “health literacy” and Dr. Senelick advices medical professionals to become ‘medically bilingual,’ that is, learn to speak both medical jargon and plain language”. Of course, until that happens, we have a lot of work to do plus, of course, convert the message into another language—low or high register— depending on providers’ speech.

In my piece I am going to outline two categories of medical terminology that present a plentitude of challenges for interpreter in medical settings.

I. American English* terminology that does not have exact equivalent in a target language. Its groups include (but are not limited to) the following.

Medical legal documents
The contemporary US legal system is as complex as its healthcare system and both of them are differ from the way things are done in other countries. There are certain terms that sound not only unfamiliar, but almost scary to the LEP patient, especially if he/she belongs to an older generation, are visiting or recently immigrated. Here are just a few examples:

advance directive – legal documents that describe a patient’s treatment preferences and designate a surrogate decision-maker in the event that the person should become unable to make medical decisions for him or herself. AD’s generally fall into two categories: those that designate surrogate decision makers (power of attorney for health care, healthcare proxy) and those that designate care instructions (living will, POLST, pre-hospital DNR)

power of attorney for health care – this is a document in which you designate someone to be your representative, or agent, in the event you are unable to make or communicate decisions about all aspects of your health care. In the most basic form, a health care power of attorney merely says, “I want this person to make decisions about my health care if I am unable to do so.”

health care proxy – a health care proxy (also known as a durable power of attorney for health care, medical power of attorney or appointment of a healthcare agent) is a document that lets you to appoint another person (a proxy or agent) to express your wishes and make health care decisions for you if you can not speak for yourself

living will – a written document that specifies what types of medical treatments are desired under specific circumstances. The most common statement in a living will is to the effect that: “If I suffer an incurable, irreversible illness, disease, or condition and my attending physician determines that my condition is terminal, I direct that life-sustaining measures that would serve only to prolong my dying be withheld or discontinued.”

POLST – Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment. A legal form, filled out by a patient with his or her physician, that instructs healthcare personnel as to what degree of interventional treatment the patient wants toward the end of his or her life

pre-hospital DNR – a legal document, signed by a patient and his or her physician, whose purpose is to instruct Emergency Medical Services personnel NOT to resuscitate a patient if the patient’s heart stops

do not resuscitate order (DNR) – a doctor’s written instruction not to attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on a specific patient in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest

damages – harm to the patient resulting from a medical mistake, expressed in monetary terms

Medical insurance and billing terminology
Helping the LEP patient navigate conversations about medical coverage and billing is no less of a test then talking about legal matters. The majority of native speakers of English get confused when they read their health insurance policy. Making a phone call or visiting billing department can be intimidating and frustrating for an LEP patient. That’s why working with an interpreter who is familiar with key terms or is trained to clarify unknown words can be critical for providing quality care to all patients.

copay – a cost sharing mechanism in group insurance plans where the insured pays a specified dollar amount of incurred medical expenses and the insurer pays the remainder

deductible – the amount you owe for health care services your health insurance or plan covers before your health insurance or plan begins to pay

exemption – most people must have qualifying health insurance or pay a fee. But people who qualify for a health coverage exemption don’t have to pay the fee. Exemptions are granted based on certain hardships and life events, health coverage or financial status, membership in some groups, and other circumstances

high-risk pool plan (State) – for years many states have offered plans that provide coverage if you have been locked out of the individual insurance market because of a pre-existing condition. High-risk pool plans may also offer coverage if you’re HIPAA eligible or meet other requirements. High-risk pool plans offer health insurance coverage that is subsidized by a state government. Typically, your premium is up to twice as much as you would pay for individual coverage if you were healthy

cost sharing reduction (CSR) – a discount that lowers the amount you have to pay for deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. In the Health Insurance Marketplace, cost-sharing reductions are often called “extra savings.” If you qualify, you must enroll in a plan in the Silver category to get the extra savings

guaranteed issue – a requirement that health plans must permit you to enroll regardless of health status, age, gender, or other factors that might predict the use of health services. Except in some states, guaranteed issue doesn’t limit how much you can be charged if you enroll

capitation – a fixed payment that a patient makes to a health insurance company or provider to recoup costs incurred from various healthcare services. A capitation is different from a deductible or co-pay

utilization limit – the limit per year for coverage under certain available healthcare services for Medicare enrollees. Once a patient passes the utilization limit for a service, Medicare may no longer cover them

Titles of medical professionals
The next group of medical vocabulary deserves a large article on its own. How many of us stumble after provider greets the patients and says something like “My name is Mary, I am an APN”? The first step of course it to know what APN stands for and the second one is to be able to interpret in in terms that would make sense to the LEP patient. In the best case scenario, your country has professional with exactly same level of education and job responsibilities. If not, you need to be prepared!

APRN – Advance Practice Registered Nurse – a nurse with post-graduate education in nursing. APRNs are prepared with advanced didactic and clinical education, knowledge, skills, and scope of practice in nursing

CNS – Clinical Nurse Specialist – an expert clinician who works in a specialized area of nursing practice. Specialty areas can be identified by: • population (e.g., adults, geriatrics, women, etc)

CCRN – Critical Care Registered Nurse

PA – A Physician Assistant is a licensed health professional who practices medicine under the supervision of a physician. A P.A. provides a broad range of health care services including diagnosis and treatment of illness

resident – A resident, or house officer, is a physician (one who holds the degree of M.D., D.O., or MBBS, MBChB, or BMed) who practices medicine (usually in a hospital or clinic) under the direct or indirect supervision of an attending physician.

fellow – a fellowship is the period of medical training in the United States and Canada that a physician or dentist may undertake after completing a specialty training program (residency). During this time (usually more than one year), the physician is known as a fellow. In general, a fellowship is the path to becoming a specialist of some sort. For example, cardiologist, nephrologist, gastroenterologist, etc.

hospitalist – physicians whose primary professional focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their activities include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.

Medical slang
On the opposite spectrum of high register medical terminology is medical slang which uses acronyms and informal terminology to describe patients, other healthcare personnel and medical concepts. English has tendency of coining new words by turning nouns into verbs and visa versa. There are also a lot of shortening of long words and abbreviations in medical slang.

The patient coded, or just “code” – a life-threatening event occurred that required the attention of the hospital’s emergency response team

bagging – manually helping a patient breathe using a squeeze bag attached to a mask that covers the face

tox screen – toxology screen – testing the urine for the level and type of drugs in a patient’s system. Rarely, it can also be a test of blood that may give an idea of the dose the patient ingested.

frequent flyer – a frequent flyer is a patient who visits the ER often, usually because they have no other place to receive care

b.i.d. – bis in die (Latin) – twice daily. As in “taking a medicine twice daily”, often seen on prescriptions. In the same way, t.i.d means three times a day and q.i.d. means four times a day.

BP – blood pressure

CC – chief complaint

II. The Second category consists of LEP patient’s language terminology and concepts that do not have exact equivalent in American English language or American culture. Most likely you will need to act as clarifier to a provider or as a cultural broker between patient and provider. This kind of competency is based on profound knowledge of culture and familiarity with beliefs of its people. To illustrate my point I will use examples from Russian language and Soviet and post-Soviet culture that I know myself. Unfortunately I am not familiar on a deep level with similar concepts in other societies which definitely limits my article. If you would like to share examples from other cultures, it would be very much appreciated!

Medical diagnoses
There are two very common Russian diagnoses that always raise the doctor’s eyebrows – сердечно-сосудистая дистония (ССД) and вегето-сосудистая дистония (ВСД). My Russian colleagues and I have continuing discussions on what would be the best way to interpret them. Both of those terms represent a collection of symptoms that vary from person to person and are not always measurable as they are related to the emotional state of a patient (fatigue, high or low blood pressure, heart and/or abdominal pain, apathy, shortness of breath, weakness, etc). The literal translations of the diagnoses sound like “cardio vascular dystonia” and “vegetative vascular dystonia” (I also found term “vasoneurosis” for the later) but they don’t say much to an American provider.

Remedies and treatments
Homeopathic folk remedies are present in all of the world cultures and it is not unusual to interpret for a patient who talks about remarkable benefits of drinking herbal teas, consuming plant roots or berries. All we need to do it is to be well prepared and come up with correct name of a plant in a target language. But how about remedies or treatments that are basically procedures and require more descriptive approach from us?

Not so long ago, the western word was amused by “cupping” practices of some athletes during 2016 Olympic games in Rio. That is actually a traditional way to deal with cold and flu symptoms in post-Soviet countries. Another customary way to treat those illnesses is to dip the feet or even the legs up to the knee into a bowl or bucket with hot water (you can add few table spoons of dry mustard if you want an extra kick) and hold them there as long as possible. As soon as you are done, put on warm socks (cotton or wool) and lay under the warm blanket. A direct rendition of “парить ноги” (“steam your feet”) will definitely puzzle an American provider, so an interpreter would need to take time to explain procedure and its purpose to the listener.

Did you hear about душ Шарко – “Sharko shower” (“Charcot’s douche”) for treatments of a gout? It was also used for weight loss, muscles relaxation, improvement of blood circulation and as a remedy for depression. Sharko shower was a popular hydro massage procedure. From 8.5-10 feet away patient was showered with two compact high pressure (1.5-3 atmospheres) jets at the same time, from top to toe. The contrast effect (one the jets was about 104 F and another one was 68 F) and the strength of the stream were believed to be the most beneficial. Because side effects included bruising it was not recommended before or during beach season.

Common beliefs
Right next to this group is another one consisting from common believes that are traditional in LEP culture but sounds very foreign to an English speaker. Technically they are not medical terms but they are significant for understanding patient’s message to a provider and I would like to mention this group here. If LEP from post-Soviet republic tells doctor “my low back hurts, because I was sitting by the window last night, the door was open and there was a cold draft,” an English-speaking provider might wonder how the draft and the low back pain are connected. But the situation is very clear to a Russian interpreter: being exposed to a draft (especially in hot weather or after taking a shower) is the obvious reason for inflammation of joints, ovaries and or even the appendix in the LEP mind.

Sitting on a cold surface (brick, stone, metal bench during cold seasons) or drinking cold fluids are believed to be the cause of pain or inflammation as well. The sentences like “It was getting chilly outside but I was sitting on swing for too long. Now my uterine appendages are in pain” or “I drank milk straight from the refrigerator and had itchy throat the next day” will make sense to a provider if interpreter conveys the believe behind those phrases.

The goal of this article was to take a look at and invite discussion about two significant categories of medical terminology that are related not only to medicine and linguistics, but also to the legal systems, social and cultural contexts, and scientific developments.. Better classification and unification of terminology across the languages will improve our performance, provider and patient experiences working with interpreters and move us up as professionals.

* American English – just “English” further

List of sources is available by your request

You got an interpreter. Now what? У вас есть переводчик. Что теперь?

Итак, у вас есть переводчик и языковые барьеры вам больше не помеха. Что теперь или чего же ожидать (и не ожидать) от общения с профессиональным переводчиком?

Устный переводчик

– представится, назовет свое имя и работодателя, если он или она работает на агентство;

– будет иметь бейдж – элемент униформы в виде карточки или значка, предназначенный для предоставления информации о его носителе;

– напомнит о принципе конфиденциальности и сообщить о любом конфликте интересов, который ему или ей известен;

– не будет давать вам советов, ставить диагноз или задавать вопросы о состоянии ваших дел или здоровья; вмешиваться в отношения сторон или сообщать о своем мнении;

– не будет вести разговоры ни иностранном для одной из сторон языке без того, чтобы вежливо объяснить невовлеченной стороне предмет беседы;

– будет переводить от первого лица: “Я советую не поднимать ничего тяжелого” вместо “Доктор сказал, что Вам нельзя поднимать ничего тяжелого” или “он не советует поднимать …”;

– если у переводчика возникнут проблемы с терминологией, он или она даст знать об этом вашему собеседнику и вам, а потом попросит разъяснить непонятное слово и переведет вам его значение;

– постарается не оставаться с вами наедине. Пожалуйста, не воспринимайте это как что-то личное. Причины две: 1) для процесса перевода нужно присутствие как минимум трех человек. В помещении с двумя людьми, говорящими на одном языке, для присутствия переводчика просто нет необходимости; 2) развитите личных контактов может воспрепятствовать беспристрастности переводчика и противоречит этическим принципам Устава переводчиков.

Теперь поговорим о том, кем профессиональный переводчик не является:

– вашим доверенным лицом, советчиком или арбитром;

– машиной из будущего с неограниченным словарным запасом на двух языках. Даже лучшим из переводчиков встречаются незнакомые слова и они время от времени нуждаются в консультации со справочником или специалистом;

– таксистом, медсестрой (медбратом), юристом, специалистом по страхованию или недвижимости;

– подходящей компанией для посещения близлежащего кафе или бара;

– мошенником, который переводит последовательно, а не синхронно, чтобы растянуть время и заработать больше денег.

А вот несколько просьб от имени всех устных переводчиков (надеюсь, коллеги со мной согласятся):

– пожалуйста, говорите короткими фразами, не забывайте делать паузы. Это поможет ваше сообщение с наибольшей точностью;

– помните – устному переводчику, работающему на агентство, скорее всего, не разрешается писать за вас и заполнять бланки;

– обращайтесь непосредственно к собеседнику (доктору, представителю иммиграционной службы, юристу), а не к переводчику, даже если вы совсем не понимате иностранный язык;

– не просите подвезти вас домой, но сообщите о проблеме с транспортом. Переводчик направит вас к сотрудникам учреждения, которые смогут вам помочь и переведет им ваше пожелание.

Все вышесказанное – общие правила, из которых, конечно, бывают исключения. Нанимая переводчика самостоятельно, вы можете заранее обсудить его кандидатуру, предоставление дополнительных услуг и выразить свои предпочтения.

В общем, как и у всех профессионалов, у переводчиков есть определенный круг обязанностей и правил, которым они следуют. Правила эти имеют смысл и помогают делать процесс коммуникации более гладким и продуктивным.



Doctor, I am your Interpreter

The beauty of medical interpreting lays in the remarkable unity of its goals for everyone involved. The doctor wants to understand the patient so he can help the patient get better. The patient wants to understand the doctor so she* will get better and won’t see the doctor again any time soon. The interpreter wants to facilitate smooth communication and, by the end of medical assignment, feel like now he** is better at the art of interpreting and saving lives. In real life, however, things get in the way of turning this potentially perfect picture into reality. Right now I want to talk to the person who is in charge in this situation – The Doctor.

In the US, most big hospitals have signs advising Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients about their rights and provide free linguistic assistance. They have Interpreting departments and educate hospital personnel about the roles and responsibilities of interpreters.

On the other hand, most doctors i small hospitals or private practices don’t work with interpreters very often and don’t know exactly what to expect. Here are a few points that medical personnel might find helpful:

– the professional interpreter will wear a badge and introduce himself;

-he will speak in first person in the process of conveying messages between you and the patient: “My head hurts and feet are swollen” instead of “She said her head hurts…” or “The patient says…”;

– interpreter will use 3rd person while delivering his own requests: “Interpreter needs to call the agency at the 3 hour mark”, not “I need to call my agency”;

– if the interpreter encounters an unfamiliar term, he will ask for clarification;

– the interpreter will live the room every time you do. It is necessary for preserving his impartiality. Also, if you (the English speaker) aren’t in the room with the patient, the interpreter has nothing to interpret. it jakes three to tango in our business;

– there will be no side conversations. Everything said by the patient will be interpreted to you and vise versa. Even if you ask the interpreter a neutral, “unrelated” question like “So, where did you learn English?”, interpreter will convey your message plus his own answer to the patient;

– if you rapidly talk to your student or a nurse using a technical medical vocabulary, the interpreter will give a summary of your conversation to the patient (“Doctor updates the nurse on your latest lab work results”, for instance);

– if the patient’s family members began to speak in the other language in your presence, the interpreter will let you know as precisely as possible what is going on.

On a rare occasion, the interpreter might take on the role of a cultural broker. Even more seldom he will advocate for the patient. Some cultural differences might lead to misunderstandings or even make situation dangerous to the patient.

as a provider, you can make your work experience with your interpreter more productive, if you follow these principals:

– DO talk directly to your patient;

– DO pay attention to your patient’s body language. If it looks like the patient is confused, ask if she understands everything or encourage her to repeat your instructions. Some patients are too intimidated or too shy to ask you any questions and the interpreter may step out of his direct role, but only as last resort (see above);

– DO speak in short sentences and pause often to ensure the most accurate interpreting;

– DON’T ask the interpreter to read pre-op instructions or other medical documents to a patient without any medical authorities being present. Yes, you and your stuff are very busy, but he can only interpret everything you or your nurse says (reads out loud);

-DON’T relay on the interpreter to fill out forms for a patient. The common rule at interpreting agencies is “The interpreter should’t pick up a pen.”

Professional medical interpreters strictly follow Interpreter’s Code of Ethics and the standards of practice. Here are the links to websites where you can learn more:

Oh, and one more thing: please don’t refer to us as translators. We work with speech (spoken language). A translator works with text (written language).





Нужен ли вам переводчик? Do you need an interpreter?

Ушли в прошлое времена, когда со словом “переводчик” ассоциировались только встречи глав правительства, заседания ООН и тяжелый том “Витязя в тигровой шкуре”. В США вы можете встретить переводчика в большинстве госпиталей и государственных учреждений, особенно если вы живете в большом городе. Прдположим, вам (или вашему родственнику) предстоит визит к врачу, встреча с адвокатом или сотрудником иммиграционной службы. Стоит ли вам нанять переводчика или заранее сообщить судебному, общеобразовательному или медицинскому учреждению, что вам понадобится лингвистическая помощь? Легко ответить “Да”, если вам за 70 лет, вы приехали в Америку вчера, а в школе учили немецкий. А что, если вы вполне сносно объясняетесь в магазине, выясняете отношения  по телефону со страховой компанией и отлично понимате, о чем беседуют ваши американские соседи?

Вот несколько советов, которые помогут принять решение:

– опишите состояние вашего здоровья (суть дела или иммиграционный процесс) на родном языке. А теперь попробуйте сделать то же на английском. Оцените, насколько легко и уверенно вы себя при этом чувствовали;

– найдите русскоязычную страницу в интернете с материалом, относящимся к вашей проблеме. Прочитайте и попробуйте пересказать прочитанное на английском. Обязательно сделайте это вслух – не подменяйте способность понимать текст с умением выразить его содержание на иностранном языке;

– просмотрите англоязычные статьи на тему вашего предстоящего визита и обратите внимание на незнакомые слова. Сколько их?  Ясно ли вам их значение из контекста? Загляните в словарь и убедитесь, что ваши догадки правильны.

Знайте, что существует много т.н. “ложных друзей” – слов, которые звучат практически одинаково на обоих языках, но различаются по значению. Например,

Angina – стенокардия, грудная жаба. Заболевание, которое большинство из нас называет ангиной, – quinsy, tonsillitis.

Lobe – доля, долька. Часто является частью словосочетаний или сложных слов – lobe of the lung (легочная доля), earlobe (мочка уха). Лоб по-английски  –  forehead.

Murmur – шумы (в сердце), а не выражение удовольствия по-кошачьи.

Лексикон судебных заседаний и документов полон слов, которые неясны даже тем, для кого англйский – родной. Кроме того, многие часто употребляемые единицы языка приобретают совершенно другое значение, находясь в контексте судебного делопроизводства:

Discovery – не “открытие, находка”, а “обязательное предъявление документов суду”.

Exhibit – не “выставка”, а “вещественное доказательство” или “приложение”.

Booking – не “заказ” или “бронирование” (скажем, гостиницы), а “регистрация в полицейском участке”.

Когда адвокат произносит слово “remedy”, он имеет в виду “средство судебной защиты”. Доктор употребит тот же термин как существительное “лекарство, средство от болезни” или как глагол “исправлять, исцелять”.

В большинстве случаев у вас есть полное право отказаться от услуг переводчика, если вы считаете его помощь излишней. В некоторых заведениях вам предложат подписать документ об отказе. Иногда доктор настоит на том, чтобы профессиональный переводчик присутствовал во время вашего общения с медицинским персоналом на случай, если непонимание все-таки возникнет, а также для юридической защиты интересов лечебного учреждения.

По требованию адвоката или по вашему собственному заявлению суд предоставит вам переводчика. Именно этот специалист, вызванный по непосредственному распоряжению суда, и являющийся независимой стороной в вашем процессе, будет обеспечивать коммуникацию и нести полную ответственность за точность и беспристрастность перевода. Если в день  разбирательства вы явитесь в суд с родственником, который знает английский лучше вас, или даже с высоко квалифицированным переводчиком, нанятым лично вами, вы не сможете воспользоваться их помощью.


Take Me Out to the Ball Game…so I can practice Russian!

Do  you recall an occasion when you had invested a lot of time and effort into learning a new subject or dutifully studied for the test…and then blanked out when you were asked to use the knowledge you had acquired? Even if you were not taken by surprise, you still felt lost… There might be a lot of objective and personal reasons for that. But lets talk just in terms of language acquisition. You studied your flash cards, you practiced dialogues and storytelling with your teacher. Maybe you even ventured to deliver your introduction speech in front of the mirror. Then you are abroad or with foreign colleagues and friends…and you are tongue tied because your memory or morale totally betrayed you!

Well, after hearing this kind of story again and again, I made a suggestion to take our lesson outside of traditional settings. Yes, I now teach Russian in stores, parks and other open to the public places. Students and I have met for one-on-one sessions at Walmart, European Deli, Furniture outlet and city parks. The locations for group classes are even more diverse. After we pick a topic, every participant receives list of words and phrases he or she needs to memorize before our meeting. Sometimes students have homework to do – create a short presentation in Russian, find a souvenir, prepare questions. The group session at The Columbus Museum of Art was very beneficial even for those who weren’t art fans. Students walked trough hallways and rooms listening to my comments about paintings and sculptures, answering questions about exposition and sharing their opinions in Russian. The conversation continued at the Center for Creativity where we completed a few linguistics tasks (describe a Russian painting, recognize images of Beetles in Kazakhstan sculpture, etc.).

One of the measurements of someone’s foreign language expertise if the ability to follow instructions in second (or third, fourth) language. Let’s say you can write, read and you can understand general conversation, but could you follow voice directions given to you in another language? Could you find hidden “treasure”, fold a cardboard box, assemble a crib, make a craft or …how about learning another skill – like dancing? Last July we had a ballroom dance session with bilingual professionals Alex and Anastasia (our thanks to Fred Astaire studio in Westerville, Ohio!) which was a great success. Every student left the dance floor smiling and feeling more confident in their linguistic and dancing abilities.

IMG_6857        IMG_6854

Putting your knowlege into this kind of “real life” examination from time to time boosts your confidence, shows areas for improvement and can be very motivational. Even a vast Russian lexicon and solid knowledge of grammar needs to be supplemented with conversational and speaking practice if you are planning to use your Russian for communication with native speakers.

For someone who studies Russian in college, with another teacher or on his/her own, participation in our monthly group sessions might be a good “check point.” Our groups are small (between 3 and 6 people), friendly and fun. Please contact me directly or look up Russian Bear Linguistic Services Facebook page where I post flyers for upcoming group classes.



Why is it Bear Services?

If you know Russian you could have noticed that the name of my business not only looks different in Russian (well, Cyrillic has something to do with that…), but it also has a different meaning:

Russian Bear Linguistic Services, LLC   vs
Русские Лингвистические Не Медвежьи Услуги, ООТ

Bear is one of the traditional symbols of Russia. This shaggy character lives in Russian fairytales, folk art pieces, images by Russian artists, writers and composers. The Bear dance used to be popular as a common entertainment at weddings and fairs. It is no accident that the Bear was the symbol of both the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, and it was one of the mascots for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi:


Bear represents strength and reliability in many cultures. Very rarely it is a mean, unruly personage. As a matter of fact, quite often Bear becomes a victim of people’s invasion in his daily matters. Masha and Three Bears is the Russian equivalent of Goldilocks and The Three Bears story:

 Three Bears

There is an idiomatic expression “Bear Service” in Russian language, though it carries a somewhat negative connotation. The phrase denotes unintentional disservice, or of being more harm than good. It is based on the perception of the Bear’s clumsiness and dull-witted appearance:


The expression came into Russian language in the very beginning of 19th century. Renowned fabulist I.A. Krilov retold a German poem by La Fonteyn: Bear and Gardener. In Krilov’s version, the story develops between Bear and Hermit.

There are also similar expression in other languages. For example, Chinese has the proverb (揠苗助Yà miáo zhù zhăng. Pull up sprouts to help them grow.

That’s why in the Russian version of my business name you see capitalized Не (not, non) in front of Медвежьи. I deliberately chose a company name that had some humor in my native tongue. The idea of Bear Services might rise the eyebrows of my Russian-speaking customers at first. My hope is that the moment later they will smile, reassured by the two-letter negation.

The double-meaning between my English and Russian business names also points to one of the most important principals of facilitating communication between two cultures. Professional linguists translate or interpret the concept of original message and not its verbatim transcription. When you think about the literal meanings of English phrases, such as he went broke, bite your head off, home run, etc., you can understand how word-for-word conversion could be confusing and just plain wrong. Introduction to common idioms is important part of my Russian curriculum and it is a fascinating subject on its own!

There are a lot of other phrases and metaphors that include the noun “bear” or adjectives “bear’s”, “bear-like”, “belonging to a bear”:

  •  Медвежий угол
  • Медведь на ухо наступил
  • Медвежья берлога
  • Настоящий медведь!
  • Делить шкуру неубитого медведя

Each one of them has a story and will have its own special entry on this site. To learn more, come back and keep reading my blog.

Have any questions? Ideas? Objections? Please share them with me: