I was confused by the expression "life is not a potato" in Chekhov's "My Wife". Is it a Russian saying, or merely an eccentricity of this character? And what does it mean? After all, who on earth, apart from a few beetles, does think life is a potato?
"Yes . . ." Ivan Ivanitch muttered inappropriately. "Burov, the merchant, must have four hundred thousand at least. I said to him: 'Hand over one or two thousand to the famine. You can't take it with you when you die, anyway.' He was offended. But we all have to die, you know. Death is not a potato."
Peasemarch.
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I was confused by the expression "life is not a potato" in Chekhov's "My Wife". Is it a Russian saying, ... when you die, anyway.' He was offended. But we all have to die, you know. Death is not a potato."

Can we free-wheel on this? Since we don't know what local sayings that Chekov may have been familiar with in his part of Russia, we can only speculate.
I'd go with that life or death is not something you can pick up or discard like a potato. We have no choices about holding on to life or giving up to death. We do have choices about holding on to a potato. Even a hot one.
I was confused by the expression "life is not a potato" in Chekhov's "MyWife". Is it a Russian saying, or ... when you die, anyway.' He was offended. But we all have to die, you know. Death is not a potato."

I can't see the expression "life is not a potato".

Adrian
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I was confused by the expression "life is not a ... have to die, you know. Death is not a potato."

I can't see the expression "life is not a potato". Adrian

Life. Death. You know, Nigel, in a way they are the same thing ...
John Dean
Oxford
I was confused by the expression "life is not a potato" in Chekhov's"My Wife". Is it a Russian saying, or ... when you die, anyway.' He was offended. But we all have to die, you know. Death is not a potato."

I don't speak Russian but I believe in this context "potato" means trivial matter. So life (or death) is a serious thing.
Aforethought:
I was confused by the expression "life is not a potato" in Chekhov's"My Wife". Is it a Russian saying, or merely an eccentricity of this character?And what does it mean? After all, who on earth, apart from a few beetles, doesthink life is a potato?

I don't believe it's a Russian saying, unless it's a poor translation. It's the translator's job to also convey the meaning of a particular phrase, not just the verbatim translation.
In this case, the closest word to "potato" for the American read woul have been "peanuts", but that would have spoiled the Russian color, since peanuts, at least in Chekhov's times, were a delicacy, if not unheard of, in the countryside.
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On 26 Jan 2005 12:53:54 -0800, "Arcadian Rises"

Could've been translated "small potatoes", then. "Death ain't small potatoes" might be a bit too colorful (as well as the sort of transparent obviousness that might qualify the translator for a Bulwer-Lytton award), though.

Chris Green
And what does it mean? After all, who on earth, apart from a few beetles, does think life is a potato?

I don't believe it's a Russian saying, unless it's a poor translation. It's the translator's job to also convey the ... the Russian color, since peanuts, at least in Chekhov's times, were a delicacy, if not unheard of, in the countryside.

Not just peanuts, but trifles. Life is not a trifle, nor a trifling matter. Nor is death.
But the translator has an impossible job here. The rest of the conversation has been about a potato shortage. In Russian, we are surmising, one would say "a potato-ing matter" rather than "a trifling matter". How can the translator switch from the main topic of the potato famine to the punch-line of "a trifling matter"? Impossible. He can either retain the original grim humour and translate it as "Death is not a potato", or he can abandon the grim humour and translate the punch line factually, but as a humorous non-sequitur(1) "Death is not a trifle". Neither of these translations is satisfactory, and he has offered us the one which he thinks least bad.

Richard Chambers Leeds UK.
Arcadian Rises wrote

I don't believe it's a Russian saying, unless it's a ... were a delicacy, if not unheard of, in the countryside.

Not just peanuts, but trifles. Life is not a trifle, nor a triflingmatter. Nor is death. But the translator has ... a trifle". Neither of these translations is satisfactory, and he has offered us the one which he thinks least bad.

This interpretation isn't really making it for me. Look at the immediate context: "But we all have to die, you know. Death is not a potato." From this I take it to be a meaningful comparison: potatoes, when they "die", sprout, and can be planted and produce new plants. On the other hand, when we die, we die.
Adrian
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