12

Математик возвращается домой очень уставший, сердитый, и говорит жене: – Какая ты у меня компактная! – Что маленькая и миленькая? – Нет замкнутая и ограниченная.

I understand the joke, but I specifically don't understand what "у меня" means in this case (I know what it means in general), and was wondering why it is necessary at all. The sentence makes perfect sense without "у меня" as well, no?

  • Even as math jokes go, that is a pretty ridiculous one (I am quite familiar with compactness). – KCd Jan 15 '13 at 2:54
  • What actually is the joke? That he's calling her compact, she believes he's calling her small and cute, but he's referring to a calculator? I'm lost! – Matt Fletcher Sep 13 '13 at 8:16
  • @MattFletcher this is one of jokes about Compactness. There is another one: "Математики компактны, потому что они замкнуты и ограничены." – Pavel Mayorov Sep 5 '16 at 10:46
  • > What actually is the joke? It is related to the mathematical idea of compactness found in expressions like this one: Компактное множество всегда является замкнутым и ограниченным. web-local.rudn.ru/web-local/prep/rj/… – Alex_ander Sep 19 '16 at 8:02
  • reminds me of "ideal shape" joke :-D – Arioch Sep 28 '17 at 20:54
24

The guy uses "у меня", because the woman is his wife, it's typical for a couple to speak that way, it brings in intimacy.

Actually, the expression is not "у меня", it is "ты у меня", "you, belonging to me", roughly "my dear". It's usually used while complimenting, prasing your spouse, like "Какая ты у меня красивая!" - "How beautiful you are, my dear!"

This expression is used in the joke to make it more funny, the expression makes the husband's words sound like a praise, but actually they are mockery.

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  • 1
    very nice explanation. Спасибо большое! – chubbycantorset Jan 14 '13 at 7:27
7

Yellow Sky provided a perfect answer for this specific phrase about the wife. I just want to start from generic meaning of у меня and then apply it to this particular case.

Only recently when I become better in English and got acquainted with French I realized how much Russian is fond of constructions with pronouns/nouns in objective cases (косвенных падежах) мне, меня, у меня, ему, его, у него where other languages would use subjective case. This constructions in Russian became an integral part of the language. For example, let's look at the simplest phrases which everybody learn first:

English: My name is Alex. or I'm Alex.
French: Je m'appelle Alex. (I call myself Alex)
Russian: Меня зовут Алекс. (One calls me Alex)

English: He is 5 years old. 
French: Il a 5 ans. (He has 5 years).
Russian: Ему 5 лет. (Kind of: There are 5 years to him.)

English: I have a sore throat.
French: J'ai mal à la gorge. (I have pain in my throat)
Russian: У меня болит горло. (Kind of: Throat hurts at me)

A common feature of all these sentences is that the subject is switched from me/him to the other thing that becomes active, or the whole sentence becomes impersonal, like It is sunny instead of The sun is shining in English. In this answer I suggest that the literal translation of the constructions у меня, у него would be 'There is smth. in my/his world of perception'.

I see two reasons of this phenomenon in Russian language. The first is mechanical: there is a developed system of grammatical cases, which is absent in other languages, and we do it just because we can. The second is probably cultural. From young age we are told Я - последняя буква алфавита (Я is the last letter of the alphabet). This is to say "do not emphasize your person too much" and literally "do not say я too much". Maybe because of this a child would prefer to say "мне хочется это пирожное" instead of "я хочу это пирожное".

Now when you see how much these constructions are embedded in Russian language, how much they are an integral part of the language I hope you understand that a Russian native speaker couldn't help saying "Какая ты у меня компактная!" Just "Какая ты компактная" would sound unnatural.

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7

Какая ты у меня contrasts woman's quality to everyone else in the context of their relationship.

The two subtle points ты у меня delivers:

  1. Demonstrates speakers perspective on the social relationship between him and the lady, he thinks of her as "his woman".
  2. Contrasts the lady to everyone else: "You, my lady, is compact as opposed to other ladies."

Yellow Sky states incorrectly that the expression "Какая ты у меня" usually leads to a compliment, which is simply not true, compare:

  • Какая ты у меня неуклюжая.
  • Какая ты у меня капризная.
  • Какая ты у меня непутевая.
  • Какая ты у меня беспокойная.

All of the examples above still deliver the two subtle points: the relationship and possession of certain quality as contrasted to everyone else.

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2

I'd be interested in native speakers' thoughts on how I sometimes try to explain this.

Consider these English phrases:

My car broke down on me.
My dog died on me.

Of course you weren't under the car when it broke down, and the dog wasn't on top of you when it died. To my ear, adding "on me" makes it more informal, and adds a note of emotional involvement (like the "social relationship" mentioned by Pycckи). It's more expressive than the comparatively flat, neutral "My car broke down."

I think this usage of у меня, у тебя, у нас is similar, with this difference: I hear this "on me" mostly in negative contexts, but у меня etc. can be used in an affectionate way (as well as condescension, as in the joke, or Pycckи's examples). You can sometimes capture this note with a possessive in English translation:

Федя у нас замечательный музыкант.
Our Fedya is a wonderful musician.

But you can also use the construction in Russian with pronouns; in these cases I've never found a good way to express that nuance of connection/relationship in English (we can't say "our he" or "my they.."!). In my translations below, it just gets lost.

..они у меня такие добрые, щедрые, талантливые, а главное, остроумные..
They're so kind, generous, talented, and the main thing - witty..

Она у нас такая красавица, а ты говоришь: рыбой пахнет! ― сказал Тарарах.
"She's such a beauty, and you say she smells like fish!" said Tararakh.
-Дмитрий Емец, from ruscorpora.ru

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