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<   No. 948   2005-08-31   >

Comic #948

1 {scene: a train platform in Kiev}
1 Ginny: I have to get to Moscow! How much longer will the train be delayed?
2 Train Guy: On tracks much snow. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next day...
3 Ginny: What I have in this suitcase is vital for the Soviet government!
4 Train Guy: Oh. In that case... until spring train must wait!

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The Russian language has no articles; Russian speakers distinguish between "a train" and "the train" purely by context. This also means that native Russian speakers who learn English tend to drop the words "a" and "the" when speaking English. Russian is also very forgiving of word order, and it is common in Russian to structure a sentence to begin with known information to set context and end with the revelation of any new information, rather than the often-used English formulation of giving the important information first, followed by the context. Russian also drops the verb "to be" in the present tense (as well as its inflected forms "is", "are", "am"). Thus the transformation from "There is a lot of snow on the tracks" to "On tracks much snow".

Of course in this situation Ginny and the train guy would actually be speaking Russian, not English, but I figured most of my readers probably prefer to see the dialogue in English. But in your head you can imagine that they are speaking Russian.

2014-11-08 Rerun commentary: The Hogwarts Express LEGO model comes with an engine and a carriage, which I have separated here to give the impression of two trains waiting on parallel tracks.

On reflection, I wonder if the punchline would have been better if the Train Guy had said, "Until summer train must wait!"

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Last Modified: Saturday, 8 November 2014; 02:11:01 PST.
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