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Some time ago I took a test in which I had to translate some short texts from Russian into English. One of them contained the following sentence:

По приходу домой она закатила истерику.

My solution was this:

Upon arriving home, she had a bout of hysteria.

My translation was marked as wrong, but I'm at a loss as to why. I did research and found many similar sentences on the Internet, but couldn't figure out what's wrong with my translation. For example, I found a news article titled as follows:

Олимпийская чемпионка Каролина Севастьянова призналась, что может закатить истерику даже из-за лайка

This title has exactly the same construction as in the test - "закатить истерику." Eager to figure out the exact meaning, I read the entire article, and here is the relevant part:

— Что бы ты сделала, если бы твой парень писал другим? Очень нужен совет.

— Я не советчик в таких вопросах и мудрого ответа в этом случае вы точно от меня не получите. Я тут из-за лайка могу истерику устроить, а вы про писать другим девушкам. У меня бы без жертв не обошлось.

The girl seems to admit to suffering from delusional jealousy as well as to being psychologically unstable - even a single like added by her boyfriend under a post by another girl may set off a bout of hysteria. My understanding of "закатить истерику" and my translation of that phrase seem to perfectly fit the context in which this expression is used in that article, so I don't see what could be wrong with my translation.

The context in the test was that the woman learned that her husband had lied to her, and rushed home to confront him. I don't see how my translation is inconsistent with this context.

I humbly hope that native speakers can shed some light on this mystery.

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    It's a dictionary thing. The idea behind "закатить истерику" is not just have an uncontrollable bout of hysteria, but to simulate it or initiate it, call it intentionally, in order to punish people around, to throw tantrums fits the best. – Yellow Sky Aug 8 at 18:43
39

I suppose that your translation ‘a bout of hysteria’ is more about physiological process, which is uncontrollable. But the verb ‘закатить’ assumes a girl’s intention. So maybe ‘throw a tantrum’ would be better in this context.

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    (Russian is my native language.) This is the most correct translation. I'd note that the usage of «закатить истерику» is not necessarily implies the intent (I mean—as an action planned ahead). For instance, you can routinely say that about a child yelling in a 'mart because their parents refused to buy them a new toy: the temper tantrum here might well be sincere—as the child is not yet good at controlling their mind. – kostix Aug 9 at 11:45
  • Russian is a native language for many of us and at least me disagree ) "закатить истерику" is not necessarily "throwing a tantrum", закатить doesn't assume intention. – shabunc Aug 9 at 15:58
  • @shabunc "throwing tantrum" isn't necessary intentional either. It applies to both a mental state or emulation of one, just like our phrase. – Swift Aug 10 at 8:46
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I'm not a native English speaker, but from what I've heard, the word “hysteria” in modern English has a lot of unnecessary connotations, especially when applied to women, so perhaps your teacher meant that.

I personally would translate the phrase “закатить истерику” into English as “to throw a tantrum”, and Multitran seems to argee.

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  • Yep, Multitran ftw! – Abyx Aug 10 at 22:37
9

Throw a hissy fit is the best translation for a colloquial usage equivalent IMHO.

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7

As the other answers mentioned the issue here is either your understanding of the Russian word истерика or the English word hysterics.

In English hysterics is an archaic term for a psychological condition similar to a nervous breakdown but only applied to women. In the modern times it's mostly used as an exaggeration to describe a strong reaction such a panic or laughter.

In Russian, on the other hand, истерика is an informal, colloquial term closer in meaning to "throw tantrum", "start an argument", "start a fight (not a physical fight, a fight that couples have)", "cause a scene", etc., with an emphasis on the fact that such a scene would involve a lot of tears, shouting and possibly irrational behaviour (like throwing dishes), so it would mostly be used for women and children.

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    Kind of surprised that this is the only answer mentioned "throw tantrum" which both idiomatic English phrase and equal connotation – The Dreams Wind Aug 10 at 16:48
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I think the phrase "to cause a scene" works to some extent.

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5

Actually the closest I can think of is just "to make a scene" - it's not necessarily a hysteria (though it might look like :), it easily can be not throwing a tantrum, so it's just make a scene, which, according to English dictionaries is "make a public disturbance or excited emotional display".

In fact, we do have in Russian "закатить cцену" as well - which it quite interchangeable with "закатить истерику".

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    I like that. Note that one can't really "закатить истерику" without a live audience... So "to make a scene" gets additional benefit for its literal meaning ("show") too. – Alexei Levenkov Aug 10 at 17:11
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It's an idiom and a translation enemy. The word истерика is historically and morphologically linked to the (fictional) medical condition, but can be translated as hysteria only in context related to mental state of subject. In colloquial speech any phrase which states that someone is in that state , doesn't mean that literally and should be translated with idiom fitting to context. E.g. "throw tantrum", "caused racket", "gone livid", etc.

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My 2c: "a bout of hysteria" points to a medical condition, not a scandal. "Tantrum" is kinda childish. I like "scene" more than "scandal". Устроить скандал is close but not quite the same as закатить истерику. Scandal is flavored by broken moral principles (or even law). "Scene" has the right feeling of simply acting out. But "scene" alone is too weak and lacks gender attribute... clearly, this is about a woman. So, the best is "hysterical scene". "Cause" versus "make": cause has some accidental/unintentional connontation. I would go for make. So... here's my version -- Once home, she made a hysterical scene.

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