Warning: Potential Spoilers of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We!

My book club recently finished reading an English translation of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, originally published in 1924 in Russian. We don't know any Russian (even its alphabet), but we were very curious how certain elements were expressed in the original. We'd be so grateful if someone, whether familiar with the novel or not, could describe the translation of these elements for us, the best they can. I imagine the full Russian text should be easy to find, somewhere online.

Since this is a fairly involved question, I'll upvote answers to any one of the below. Thanks on behalf of all of us!

  1. In the fourth paragraph of chapter ("Record") 36, the translation reads

    Only when He had stopped talking did I regain consciousness again and I saw: the hand moved ahundredton-ly, slowly crawling, a finger was fixing toward me.

    I love this invented word, ahundredton-ly. What was it in Russian? If also an invented word, does it sound similarly strange as the English word here? Or is there no strangeness at all in Russian, and the translator added his / her own zest?

  2. In chapter ("Record") 8, the English translation repeatedly mentions the "Irrational Root," i.e. what we in America typically call the imaginary root. My hypothesis is that either Zamyatin or the translator intentionally departed from mathematical correctness to use the word "Irrational" in contrast to rationality. What Russian word is used, and is it the same word used to describe the square root of -1 (imaginary)? Or the square root of 2 (irrational).

  3. In the English translation, the characters names appear to be consonants for men, vowels for women. How was this done in the Russian alphabet? (I'll give brief descriptions of each character to aid matching them up in the Russian text.) We especially wondered if there was any significance to the letter "I" and "U," given the book is called "We"; we imagine Russian pronouns would work too differently for this to have been intended; or did Zamyatin do something entirely different yet symbolic in his original?

    • D-503: Narrator and main character.
    • R-13: D-503's friend; suggested to be black; speaks gutturally.
    • S-4711: D-503's "Guardian"; follows him everywhere; "squishy" footsteps.
    • O-90: D-503's original partner; often described "pink"; innocent and devoted to D-503.
    • I-330: Leader of rebellion; disappears mysteriously; has D-503 wrapped around her finger.
    • U: Older woman; takes care of children; motherly figure to D-503.
  • As of (2), that was author's mistake. He wasn't really good in math.
    – Matt
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 8:37
  • @Matt How do you know it was a mistake? Why do you think the author meant "imaginary"?
    – Abakan
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 8:46
  • I'm closing this because as it's already obvious from the answers given when the post contains more than one question answers tend to answer one of this questions, this contradicts to what to be on-topic on SE sites.
    – shabunc
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 16:08
  • There's a literature site on stackexchange.com. Why not redirecting the question there?
    – V.V.
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 17:35

4 Answers 4

  1. The word used is стопудово, it's a adverb from a phrase сто пудов - a hundredpuds. For the time it could have well been a neologism (as those were the days of revolutionary innovations in the language), today it's a slang word meaning certainly, 100%. Generally adverbs derived from measures is a rare thing in Russian.

  2. It's a literal translation of иррациональный корень. Google gives examples of the English phrase irrational root.

  3. D-503 = Д-503
    О-90 = О-90 or just O
    I-330 = I-330
    R-13 = R-13
    S-4711 = S-4711
    U = Ю (sounds the same)

I'm not aware of the plot, but the machine-like names hint at a possibility of its being set somewhere in the future. Is that so?

  • 1
    possibility of its being set somewhere in the future. Is that so? Это антиутопия без конкретной привязки ко времени действия. Но у них на повестке дня стоит уже первое межзвездное путешествие, а кроме того, насколько помню, I-330 в одной сцене играла что-то из Скрябина, плюс есть несколько отсылок к христианству. То есть это действительно наше будущее.
    – Matt
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 8:56
  • 1
    Thanks! Yes, set centuries after the "Two Hundred Years' War" that wiped out most of the human population. Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 15:52
  1. The used word is "стопудово". It consists of "сто" (hundred) and "пуд" (a unit of weight which is about 16 kg). It sounds strange in this context. I would understand it as "very slowly and heavily". It's hard to say how strange the word itself was meant to be by the author hundred years ago because this word exists in modern (slang) Russian and means "definitely, for sure, 100%!" and it sounds normal nowadays (but as said not in this context).

  2. It's irrational as in square root of two.

  3. Latin letters are used for all characters except D-503 and U. Narrator's letter is Д which stand for "D" in Russian and U's letter is Ю which is pronounced exactly as English standalone "U".

  • (I know it's a work in progress, but to add to #2: Does that word in Russian also mean "irrational" as in describing an illogical mind?) Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 22:15
  • 1
    Yes, it is also used with this meaning.
    – Abakan
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 22:23
  • No, "иррациональный" is just the same as "irrational" in English, which is not the same as imaginary. Zamyatin simply made a mistake, because he wasn't a mathematician. The right word is "мнимый".
    – Matt
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 8:35
  • @Matt The right word for what?
    – Abakan
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 8:37
  • 2
    @Matt - I personally believe he sacrificed mathematical accuracy to be able to compare "irrational" numbers to irrational people. It would not have worked with "imaginary." I also think that he may have realized that even among educated people, not everyone would know or remember that sqrt(2) is irrational (i.e. there exist no integers p and q such that p/q = sqrt(2)). But everyone knows that sqrt(-1) is an aberration of sorts. I have no sources to justify this, but this is my opinion from having read the book. I think he is too brilliant to not know basic math (: Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 15:57
  1. No, there is no symbolism in I and U (Russian Ю), at least not in the sense you interpreted them: they cannot be read as Russian personal pronouns. For the record, the Russian personal pronouns are: I=я, you=ты (informal) or вы (formal), we=мы.
  1. I think, no translation errors here. Both irrational numbers and imaginary numbers exist, in Russian it is "иррациональные числа" (the word "иррациональный" is borrowed, it is "irratsionalnyj" in transliteration) and "мнимые числа" (the word "мнимый" is Russian, it means "imaginary", "seeming", "virtual").
  • But the problem is that almost all roots are irrational. ;) To summarise, briefly, rational, рациональные = being a fraction, дробь, irrational, иррациональные = does not fit into a fraction, like π or many others. All rational and irrational numbers are still real, вещественные числа, like distance or something. If you go to the complex numbers, комплексные числа, the real are still part of them, but there are some that are imaginary, мнимые (they have no real component). The square root from -1, also called i, is imaginary unit, мнимая единица. Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 20:12
  • That being said, Zamyatin writes «Не хочу √-1! Выньте из меня √-1!» Этот иррациональный корень врос в меня, как что-то чужое, инородное, страшное, он пожирал меня, thus he messed up with maths. Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 20:12

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