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Mustering Most Memorable Quips

The Moscow Times

October 28, 1997

By Julia Solovyova

Historian and translator Konstantin Dushenko recalls making an error when translating a document from Russian into Polish after he failed to recognize a quote from Shakespeare. He discovered his mistake when he later came across the phrase in a Polish dictionary of quotations.

A realization that no such book existed in his native language prompted Dushenko, 51, to compile one himself. "I followed the steps of Benjamin Disraeli, who once said that if he wants to read a novel, he writes one himself," Dushenko said. "We didn't even have anything like China's Little Red Book that contains all the major statements by Chinese political leaders."

After four years of research, Dushenko completed Russia's first "Dictionary of Modern Quotations." The dictionary contains 4,300 entries of pithy sayings, slogans and quotations covering politics, philosophy, literature, films, songs and journalism. Focusing mostly on Russian and Soviet expressions, it provides witty snapshots of the spirit of the times at various moments in history.

Representing the current social and political climate, for example, is Viktor Chernomyrdin's favorite line, "We wanted to make things better, but they turned out just the same as ever." After mammoth remains were discovered in Siberia in the 1940s, the Soviet people began referring to their country as "Russia, motherland of elephants."

To his own surprise, Dushenko discovered that the term "sexual revolution" first appeared in Russia in 1925 and not during the '60s in the United States. He also established that the Soviet newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda was the first to dub Margaret Thatcher "the Iron Lady," along the lines of Bismark as "the Iron Chancellor" or "Iron Felix" Dzerzhinsky, the first chairman of the Soviet secret police.

When Agraph Publishing House unveiled the new dictionary to a group of specialists recently at the Biblio-Globus bookstore, a passionate discussion ensued on the attribution of certain entries. One bearded literary critic argued that "The enemy will be beaten. Victory will be ours," listed as the words of Soviet statesman Vyacheslav Molotov, actually belongs to Adolf Hitler. Another critic maintained that "War is the only hygiene of the world," purportedly proclaimed by Italian author and advocate of fascism Filippo Marinetti, originates from Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra."

Despite the controversy, the dictionary will be indispensable for anyone reading the post-Soviet press, which constantly paraphrases popular quotations. Kommersant Daily, for example, routinely refers as many as 30 popular sayings in a single story. Modern literature, too, such as Venedikt Yerofeyev's novel "Moskva-Petushki" and Timur Kibirov's conceptual poems, often cites Soviet slogans, jokes and songs.

While working on the dictionary, Dushenko came across so many political statements that he decided they required a book of their own. Last year, Agraph published Dushenko's "Russian Political Quotations From Lenin Through Yeltsin: Who Said What, Where and When."

With no comprehensive computer databases to work from, Dushenko paged through Pravda issues for the last 30 years, 50 volumes of Lenin's works and hundreds of novels and poetry books, losing much of his vision as a result of relentless reading. He also listened to recordings of radio programs, watched films, studied advertisements and interviewed people.

"For the last several years, I've been grabbing my intelligentsia friends by the collar, trying to find out where (an expression) comes from," he said.

Dushenko would like to work on the creation of an international dictionary of quotations that would clarify what he says are mistaken attributions. For instance, Russian historians have no record of the lines, "Death of one man is a tragedy. Death of a million is a statistic," commonly attributed by English -language dictionaries to Josef Stalin. Similarly, "a dogfight under the carpet," often cited in Russia as Winston Churchill's metaphor for the political struggle in the Kremlin, is unknown in the West.

While Dushenko hopes to move on to new projects such as this, his task of collecting Russian sayings, he now realizes, will never end. "Every single day, the president and Russkoye Radio add something new to the list," he said.

Russian name of book: Душенко, Константин Васильевич - Словарь современных цитат: 4300 ходячих цитат и выражений ХХ века, их источники, авторы, датировка. - Publisher: Аграф, Written in 1997. - 632 pages.


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