What does the expression in bold mean?

Человек, лишенный матраца, — жалок. Он не существует. Он не платит налогов, не имеет жены, знакомые не занимают ему денег до среды, ...(From Ch. 19 Двенадцать стульев)

I can see it means his acquaintences don't lend him money until Wednesday. So, what does that mean?

  • 1
    Couldn't it just mean precisely what it says? From the context you've given, I would take it to mean that his acquaintances don't do this thing that friends usually do for each other, where you can say "Hey lend me a little money till Wednesday," and they do so.
    – spoko
    Mar 29, 2018 at 20:52
  • 3
    Well, don't take my word on it alone, for sure. I'm not a native speaker or anything. I just read the passage you quoted, and it seemed to me like a possibility. Speaking as a writer, especially, I recognize that when running through a list like that it's often nice to work in a little slant rhyme (as with жены...среды). So it seemed to me like it might be one of those little throwaway details that you put in because it sounds good. But I could be entirely wrong, and loaning money till Wednesday could be a thing. Kind of like "after a little rain on Thursday," e.g.
    – spoko
    Mar 29, 2018 at 21:21
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    Bear in mind that it is an example of WRONG usage of the word занимать, which means to borrow, not to lend.
    – AlexVB
    Mar 29, 2018 at 22:42
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    Many (if not most) writers put such small details of no particular significance to make the story more lively. In "The Twelve Chairs" the authors deliberately exaggerate that technique to give the text a more comical tint, often in a somewhat paradoxical way, using words that are seemingly out of place (for example, the main character selling an astrolabe on a market, or when he compares a naked engineer to a picador, etc.).
    – Headcrab
    Mar 30, 2018 at 2:28
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    The funny thing is that одолжить деньги is also misused, but in the opposite direction. So the correct version should be одолжить-to give and занять -to take.
    – V.V.
    Mar 30, 2018 at 13:50

3 Answers 3


Знакомые не занимают ему денег до среды (his acquaintances don't lend him money "till Wednesday "(even for a short period of time)

When you ask someone to lend you some money, you usually promise to pay it back and name the day. It doesn't matter what day is mentioned. But it means that the person is so poor (having nothing to sleep on) and he can't be relied on.He won't be able to return the sum, when he promised to do it.


...мы удивляемся, как ни один предприимчивый издатель не выпустил до сих пор в свет "Самоучителя одесского языка" на пользу приезжим.
Без знания одесского языка тут вас ждёт масса водевильных недоразумений и чисто опереточных qui pro quo.
— Советую вам познакомиться с monsieur Игрек: он всегда готов занять денег!
— Позвольте! Но что ж тут хорошего? Человек, который занимает деньги!
— Как! Человек, который занимает деньги? Это такой милый, любезный...

— Ничего не вижу в этом ни милого, ни любезного.
— Это такой почтенный человек. Его за это любит и уважает весь город.
"Чёрт возьми! — думаете вы. — Как, однако, здесь легко прослыть почтенным. Начну-ка и я занимать направо и налево, чтоб меня любил и уважал весь город!"
Но при первой же попытке "занять" вы поймёте ошибку. Везде занимать значит "занимать", т. е. брать взаймы.
И только в Одессе "занять" значит дать взаймы.
— Я занял ему сто рублей...

Влас Дорошевич "Одесский язык"

  • 1
    Well, Ушаков was right, It's regional.
    – V.V.
    Mar 30, 2018 at 19:55
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    This, altthough interesting, would answer another question.
    – c.p.
    Mar 30, 2018 at 22:15
  • @c.p. to contextualize the regionality a bit, this incorrect use of занять is quite prominent in Russian sitcom Общага (The Dorm), i doubt that its script writers come from Odessa and its actors certainly do not... the citation is from a 1895 year publication, so today its regionality could originate within Russia and be unrelated to Odessa Mar 31, 2018 at 10:03
  • 1
    Still, counting both authors of "Двенадцать Стульев" are from Odessa, it is a useful to know that such usage might be "overwhelming" there in every-day-speech. Mar 31, 2018 at 12:56

Could it be that around the time the novel was written Wednesday was a common employees' payday until which people would usually borrow money, just like today they do so until monthly wage payday?

That would mean that salary could have been paid out weekly or biweekly back then. Although i personally have never heard of this.

  • 1
    Barely. It's really just as in V.V. answer: it could be any day of a week - implying "any day of the 'today + 7 days' week", thus it's basically nothing more than just "loaning for a short period of time" (less than 7 days). Honestly I wonder why any native speaker might have problems with understanding the sentence regardless of when his payday is (or if he's payed at all). Mar 30, 2018 at 19:15
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    @seven-phases-max in the context of the novel it could be seen as more straightforward, the incertitude about the actual meaning may stem from the lack of correspondent idiom in active use, if the authors used четверг it could be taken as an allusion to a familiar idiom... i'm sure the majority of readers just don't dwell on this phrase either finding a good explanation for themselves or not paying it any particular attention Mar 30, 2018 at 19:22
  • And I have a better rumor for your: They used "до среды" just because it's the shortest name of the day of a week so the whole phrase sounds more rhythmic and even slightly poetic ("жены - среды"). I.e. we could keep guessing infinitely. Though even if I think the sentence is absolutely obvious w/o any allusions, I guess you could try to find some info on if there was some common payday in 1920s (otherwise the answer sounds more like another question and/or comment rather than an answer). Mar 30, 2018 at 19:53
  • @seven-phases-max indeed it wasn't an answer but a question, just a speculation, nothing more, because ultimately since there can be no definitive answer to the question as the OP might have hoped for, speculation is what everybody has been doing so far, even respondents who are sure of the explanation they gave Mar 30, 2018 at 20:15

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