In the Neil Cornwell translation of Daniil Kharms' story "Clunk" I see the following sentence:

The picture is a drawing of a horse, the horse has gypsy in its teeth.

That sounds like a very strange picture: the picture of a horse with a man between his teeth... Well, that's possible with Kharms, but I still wanted to double check.

The Russian text should be as below:

Лето, письменный стол. Направо дверь. На столе картина. На картине нарисована лошадь, а в зубах у лошади цыган. Ольга Петровна колет дрова. При каждом ударе с носа Ольги Петровны соскакивает пенсне. Евдоким Осипович сидит в креслах и курит.

Could you please help me figure out if there is really a man between the horse's teeth?

  • 1
    I think "What does в зубах у лошади цыган mean?" is a much better title. I don't want to change it before the end of the site evaluation period though.
    – Olga
    Oct 8, 2012 at 19:21
  • 1
    Kharms isn't good author to learn Russian, because not many russians understand what he meant)
    – user894
    Nov 9, 2012 at 9:37

7 Answers 7


Could you please help me figure out if there is really a man between the horse's teeth?

As I read it, yes. There is non-zero probability, that this is lost idiom, but I doubt it.

  • 1
    I guess it's only Kharms astonishing us again :)
    – some user
    Aug 4, 2012 at 19:44
  • 1
    Well, Dahl mentions цыган to also mean таракан and a specific kind of apples. Now you wonder if Kharms intended a pun here or it's just a coincidence.
    – GSerg
    Aug 7, 2012 at 22:43

The translation is correct. However this may be not idiom nor a joke. It may mean that gypsy not in the mouth exactly and that he is doing something (adjusts a bridle for example) by hands between the horse's teeth.

the horse has gypsy in its teeth

  • very nice version, up-voted for the pic, but I do believe it's most probably an absurdist joke.
    – shabunc
    Aug 8, 2012 at 19:17
  • No, it cannot mean so in Russian.
    – Anixx
    Feb 20, 2013 at 13:29
  • @Anixx why do you think so?
    – hazzik
    Feb 21, 2013 at 3:23

Sure, it is written that gypsy is in horse's teeth. This is exactly what "в зубах у лошади цыган" means, no chance it could be an idiom. Well, Kharms books are full of humorous absurd things.

  • I don't have enough reputation to up-vote. Thank you very much for the clarification.
    – some user
    Aug 4, 2012 at 19:53
  • 2
    Not very absurd, it's considered that all gypsies passionate about horses. Sometimes they even steal horses. Probably, the idea of the picture based on contrast: the hourse steals a gypsy man.
    – Denis
    Aug 5, 2012 at 14:24

Selling old horses, gypsies rasped their teeth to make horses look younger. Maybe the picture depicts the gypsy rasping the horse teeth or maybe it's jolly and twisted Kharms' imagination - kind of horse revenge against crude gypsy dentist.

  • 1
    +1 for "gypsy dentist" :)
    – Aleks G
    Nov 12, 2012 at 15:16

Назывные предложения регистрируют материальность каждого отдельного предмета и его состояния как включенного в отдельный хронотоп и создающего последний. В соответствии с воззрениями Хармса, хронотоп – реальный и «художественный» – не существует без взаимодействия с материальным объектом. Каждый «предмет» обстановки словно висит в воздухе и создает свою сферу существования, независимую от других объектов или воли персонажей. Такая обстановка говорит либо о хаотическом состоянии данного вымышленного мира (до сотворения Космоса), либо о его состоянии после мифического «конца света». Даже на картине изображена инверсированная реальность – цыган в зубах у лошади. (с) Дроздов К. «Тюк» Даниила Хармса: ритуал и коммуникация (мифология абсурда)

  • 1
    This is a nice excerpt. Could you please translate it? It is considered a good tone to answer English questions in English. Thanks!
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 9, 2012 at 9:58
  • I will try. The author is referring to the inverted reality. It's just an artistic device. It is not necessary to translate literally. Frankly, I think it's too complicated text for learning Russian.
    – wayp
    Nov 9, 2012 at 10:06

Words ‘в зубах у лошади’ do not necessarily mean that the horse is literally holding or biting something nor something is stuck in its teeth. It may also mean the place in the front to the horse, so the gypsy may simply stand near horse head. Compare ‘в хвосте у лошади’—this means someone or something is right behind the horse, near its tail, literally.

  • 1
    have you read hazzik's answer? Do you still think your answer is providing any additional information?
    – shabunc
    Nov 9, 2012 at 8:23
  • 1
    I just wanted to stress that those phrases sometimes specify a location. And I still think I am providing additional information that may be useful for topic starter.
    – Kyle
    Nov 9, 2012 at 8:35
  • got your point. Welcome aboard! Let's make this place interesting)))
    – shabunc
    Nov 9, 2012 at 8:37
  • I disagree. The phrases "в хвосте" and "в голове", or even "в головах" are used in this sense. "В ногах" as well. However, "в зубах" never means "close to the teeth", neither do "в руках" and "в глазах", though these phrases have their own special meaning. Nov 9, 2012 at 19:52

Just let us get closer to the picture Harms is drawing. At the time he was writing, to his disposition he had set expression в головах, meaning before, now rarely used. He could not use it for a connotation of an ailing person lying in bed it conveys. He could not use перед (in front of) for the reason the gypsy would never be opposed to the horse he obviously adores.

Poets often invent new metaphors, or they are not poets. So in this case we are facing new metaphor freshly minted for this precise purpose, and never used anywhere else. Metaphors invented by the poets often have double if not triple meaning, and in this case we have very nice example of it.

  • I made an edit to the post, trying to word it better, but a lot of is still unclear. If you do not mind, write in the second part of the question what you wanted to say in Russian, and we can translate it better. By the way, RL&U allows for Russian translations as parts of questions or answers.
    – theUg
    Feb 19, 2013 at 1:45

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