Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What is the meaning of the word жесть?

I have been teaching English out here in the beautiful and interesting republic of for the last while and lately, some of my students have started talking about doing some kind of a web project. I suggested some possibilities about how to get this started and I guess, they are going to do whatever their going to do.

Anyway, I have been thinking about the meaning of this one word, жесть (pronounced: zhest) because they have been using it a lot in relation to their project. I hear this word all the time but it is difficult how to explain its translation or use in English, so I thought to do a little study about it and this is what I came up with.

Firstly, If you check the dictionary, you'll find that there are two meanings associated with this word. The first is tin and the second is gesture. At one time I gave a thought that tin, if that is really what the word meant, might somehow me associated with the Wizard of Oz as in, “the Tin Man had no heart”. This because often, the word seems to relate to a bad, or at least inconsiderate things- maybe here it might mean something like “this is bullshit” in the sense that someone would complain about something, like say:

У мне столько работы только, чтобы заплатить налоги. Это - жесть!
(I have to do so much work just to pay my taxes. It’s crap.)

But then some of my students use the word with a meaning more akin to “it’s cool”. They like to say, for instance, the phrase: “Cool, tin, the best of the bests”. But to teenagers, maybe bad will always mean good.

The other meaning (gesture), can be more directly used as with this sentence from, in case you couldn't tell, an on line Russian women's magazine:

Cконцентрируемся на тех жестах которые несут в себе скрытые сексуальные сообщения.
(Let's concentrate on those gestures which carry the meaning of latent sexual messages.)

But anyway, if we are talking about the word gesture, we are then speaking most probably of the gesture of an upraised middle finger (or the Russian variation which is found in the picture of today's blog). And also most probably, this might be more in line with the real meaning because it also has application with both the good meaning scenario (we are independent/we don’t need you) and the bad meaning (this is what they think of us).

Anyway, after this I thought I might check out what the word meant to others so I googled the word and got pictures that would basically be described as a freak show. You can try it yourself, or just click HERE

So, what does it mean? To me, I guess the word’s meaning is simply a transliteration of the word Jest (a joke, a prank) and as this also might be applicable to both the positive and negative meanings, so I guess I could go with this.

More жесть soon…