09 June 2008

Post Number 170 Is Still Not About Yalta

Yesterday I learned the phrase солнечный зайчик/solnechny zaichik, which translates as the rather cloying "sunny bunny." This was the name of our relay team at the institute picnic I went on. I understood the "bunny" part, since we had two bunnies on our team ("bunny" being one of an inexhaustible store of Russian terms of endearment for small children), but what's with the "sunny"? Since there's a Zveri song with the same name, I began to suspect that it might actually mean something, and asked my advisor, who replied, "You know... like a spot of light from a mirror or something."

This probably isn't quite into the realm of Whorf and Sapir, but I had trouble grasping that definition, and am still having trouble clearly defining the phenomenon, apparently because it's something we don't have a name for in English. From her description, the spot of light you can throw onto a wall if you angle your watch face the right way is definitely a sunny bunny. But is the focused sunlight you can get from a magnifying glass also a sunny bunny? Is the spot of light on the floor from the sun shining through curtains? What about the patterns of light on the floor of a swimming pool? The spots from a disco ball? Those circles of light you sometimes get in a photograph where the sun is shining brightly?

A Google search for "solnechny zaichik" turned up photos (unsurprisingly), but also several pop songs and even a movie. It just feels cognitively weird, I guess, that this phenomenon or range of phenomena that I (and probably most other English speakers) rarely think about and have certainly never missed having a name for is so much closer to the surface of the Russian consciousness, simply because it has a name.

Also: I couldn't figure out why it was called a sunny bunny, until someone explained that it hops around like a bunny. Duh.

At least now the title of the Zveri song makes sense. Which brings me to another point: in this song, there's a line, "я хочу как в кино; там всегда хэппи энд/ya khochu kak v kino; tam vsegda kheppi end", which means "I want it to be like in the movies, where there's always a happy end." Kheppi end is a Russification of the English happy end, and one that's widespread enough to turn up in regular speech; I've heard, for example, "Она ищет своего хэппи энд"/"Ona ishchet svoyevo kheppi end"/"She's looking for her 'happy end.'" Meaning she's looking for happily ever after.

Without saying why I think it's weird, let me ask: does it strike anyone else as weird? If so, why?


Celine said...

Haha, a dirty mind is a joy forever, right? Well, in non-English languages the use of 'happy endings' is definitely not ambiguous. In Dutch it's mostly a referral to cheesy movies, the ones that always end on a light note, even if the 89 minutes before the ending are full of drama and despair. The use of 'happy endings' is very often a not so flattering way of celebrating Hollywood, besides the meaning of a happily ever after. But no, we don't mean... You know ;-)

Leslie said...

Haha, ohhh, Celine. That's not *quite* what I was referring to, although a dirty mind is a joy forever. :)

Anonymous said...

So, the prism reflections in our little bathroom are now officially "sunny bunnies." Cool. Always wondered what to call those ... They're so cheerful-looking during the spring and early summer months when the sun hits the window and the prism just right and we get to see them; it's great they have a cheerful, fun name, too. Those Russians think of everything!