Is this Russian saying Russian?
August 1, 2018 10:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find out if any actual Russian has heard the supposedly Russian saying "The church is near, but the road is icy/slippery. The tavern is far, but I will walk carefully."

The original is supposed be something near: "Церковь рядом, но дорога во льду, бар далеко, но я ж осторожно пойду." There appears to be some doubt in online discussions (some Russian speakers seem to think it's Irish), but given that I don't speak Russian I'm having trouble following them. Could someone a little more in touch with Russian culture lend me a hand?
posted by Tell Me No Lies to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The word used for tavern is a direct transliteration of the English word “bar” which is used in Russian but very rarely if ever to refer to a tavern within the Russian-speaking world prior to the fall of the USSR.

It’s also a rhyming couplet written in an informal colloquial style closer to speech than literature, whereas sayings and the like do not tend to be written in such a way.

There’s a Russian language thread in the Google results that has variations on it that sound more domestically Russian and closer to a “saying” but even in that thread there’s no decisive answer or any real sources. From experience I would take that as evidence it didn’t originate in the Russian language.
posted by griphus at 10:22 AM on August 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Scratch that, I just found one of the variations in a book from 1893 so it's at least that old and the book says it's a folk saying. The version in it reads:

Хоть церковь и близко, да ходить склизко;
а кабак далеконько, да хожу потихоньку.
posted by griphus at 10:28 AM on August 1, 2018 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Thank you griphus, that was very much what I wanted to hear.

Can you suggest a better English translation than what I have? Thanks.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:00 AM on August 1, 2018

For comprehension the translation is essentially identical. The differences between the language choices are major but they still mean the same thing. I’m unfortunately not skilled enough to coherently explain what the differences actually are.
posted by griphus at 11:54 AM on August 1, 2018

It's in Dahl as well, which puts it back into the 1870s (and of course earlier, because Dahl was putting into print proverbs he'd heard on his travels through Russia).
posted by languagehat at 3:34 PM on August 1, 2018

Literal translation:

The church is near, but it's slippery to walk (there);
the tavern is a bit far, but I'll walk slowly.

The words are colloquial/diminutive, and the whole tenor of the expression is traditional, unlike the modern version you quote, which reads as if created by someone who knew the general idea but had no idea how Russian sayings work ("бар," forsooth!).
posted by languagehat at 3:43 PM on August 1, 2018

I am frankly in awe that a traditional saying from the fortune file has turned out to be authentic.
posted by praemunire at 4:48 PM on August 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: One follow-up question if people will indulge me.

I'm supposed to get this onto a poster. Would the following format be appropriate?

Хоть церковь и близко,
да ходить склизко;
а кабак далеконько,
да хожу потихоньку.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:21 PM on August 2, 2018

Yes, that's perfect.
posted by languagehat at 5:55 AM on August 3, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:32 AM on August 3, 2018

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