Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Because of the anniversary yesterday of Yuri Gagarin's extraterrestrial flight in a rocket round the earth, the BBC have been replaying their reporting of the event. This includes their translation of M. Gagarin's description of his landing (on the telephone to Nikita Khrushchev) as 'normal'. The word Gagarin used in Russian is 'normal'no', but should not be translated into colloquial English as 'normal' - in other words it is a 'false friend' - a word that sounds the same in two languages but cannot simply be transposed from one to the other. 'Normal'no' is the word that Russians use all the time every day in reply to conventional greetings which do not require anything other than a conventional reply, such as 'How are you?' or 'How's things?' The conventional reply in English is: 'Fine' or 'OK' not 'Normal'. A propos, it was Gagarin who unwittingly became the instrument for forcing the Soviets to accept the organisation that my second husband ran, the Great Britain-USSR Association, as their counterpart for UK cultural exchanges instead of their favoured pro-Soviet (even according to some, 'front')organisations such as the Friendship Societies or the Society for Cultural Relations. When Gagarin came to Britain on his triumphal first cosmonaut tour, a meeting with the Queen was mooted and eagerly accepted by the Soviet organisers. When they demurred about his visit being through the GB-USSR Association, the Queen's diary suddenly became full for the day appointed for Gagarin's visit to the palace. The message was received and from then on, a regular programme of top level exchanges was set up annually - a baroque dance which only ceased with the collapse of the Soviet government in 1989/90.

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