‘Overloaded’ With U.S. English as the Language of Diplomacy: Izvestia, Russia
On March 6, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a button labeled ‘reset’ in English, and ‘peregruzka‘ in Russian. Unfortunately, peregruzka means ‘overloaded‘ rather than ‘reset‘, embarrassing the U.S. Secretary of State and the agency she leads on live TV.
According to Maxim Sokolov of Russia’s Izvestia newspaper, the error highlights a larger issue: that American English, ‘which is anything but an instrument that uses words with geometric precision,’ is ill-suited for being the international language of diplomacy.
“The real question, rather, is about the condition of the modern language of diplomacy, full of redundant metaphors that inevitably result in numerous interpretations. Diplomats of the past expressed themselves with much greater clarity. Initially, it was Latin (a dead language which has tried and true expressions and terms of precision – this was ideal). Later, Latin was replaced by French, about which, when this too receded into the past, a British diplomat wrote nostalgically: ‘If precision is one of the most important qualities of diplomacy, one must regret discarding one of the most precise languages ever invented by the human mind as a means of negotiation.’ … Now the American language of diplomacy reigns, which is anything but an instrument that uses words with geometric precision.”
By Maxim Sokolov
Translated by Yekaterina Blinova
March 12, 2009
Russia – Izvestia – Original Article (Russian)
The faux pas in Geneva, where Condoleeza Rice’s successor Hillary Clinton gave Foreign Minister Lavrov a symbolic button with the inscription “Overload” instead of the more appropriate word “Reset” resulted in many interpretations. In fact the Russian language is fairly complex. Russian has something called a confix, i.e., a word formed by a prefix plus a suffix, where both components necessarily exist together. For example, “re-root-ing.” Besides that, a prefix can be added to a word with a confix, which is something quite difficult for foreigners to understand. Perhaps during the preparation of the U.S. State Department’s surprise gift, a native Russian speaker couldn’t be found.
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