the word’s worth: Virtuous Vocab
Published: Aug 22, 2012 (Issue # 1723)
Afew years ago we motionless that a look at the семь смертных грехов (seven lethal sins) would be culturally didactic and personally edifying. So we slogged by гордыня (pride), алчность (greed), похоть (lust), гнев (anger), зависть (envy), обжорство (gluttony) and уныние (despondency, sloth), finding all the interesting difference and ways to be a Bad Person in the perspective of Russian culture.
Russian enlightenment also has clever ideas about being a Good Person. Russian has a long list of добродетели (virtues), a lovely word that was creatively a calque from the Greek and meant “good deeds.”
Often certain virtues are listed as the opposites of particular sins — something like devout antidotes to bad function and qualities. At the tip of the list are гордыня (pride), maybe the worst of the sins, and its conflicting — смирение (humility) — substantially the greatest of the virtues.
To the complicated ear, смирение and the verbs смирить (to humble, subdue) and смириться (to renounce oneself to something) sound like they competence have creatively meant с миром (with peace). But denunciation specialists insist that the root of the word was not мир (peace) though мера (measure). One armchair etymologist interprets the original definition this way: Смирение — это знание своей меры, умение соразмерить и осознать свое место в мире (Humility — it’s meaningful your measure, the ability to compare and acknowledge your place in the world).
That competence be a bit of folk etymology, though it’s tighten to religious and philosophical definitions of смирение that dominated the Russian dignified and cultural landscape for centuries. Смирение is скромность духа (modesty of the spirit); сознание, что совершенство, к которому человек стремится, остается бесконечно далеким (the approval that the ideal a person is essay toward stays forever distant away); or раскрытие души для реальности (opening your essence to reality).
This lofty informative value seems to have turn one of the casualties of change over the last century in Russia. In everyday speech, the word is mostly used some-more narrowly. Милиционер привёл в смирение разбушевавшихся хулиганов (The policeman got the unruly hooligans underneath control).
Of course, denunciation and culture change, and there’s zero we can do about it. But it’s too bad. It would be good if a few some-more people had old-style piety (смирение), and a few reduction people were forced to resign themselves (смириться) to an unavoidable and often unenviable fate.
Michele A. Berdy, a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, is author of “The Russian Word’s Worth” (Glas), a collection of her columns.