Не к месту: at the wrong time

The other
day I got together with some friends, and after some general catching up with
each other’s news, we started talking about mutual acquaintances, including a
friend who had behaved very badly. The
interesting bit for me — well, other than the juicy details of the scandalous
behavior — was how many words my friends had to describe inappropriate
behavior.

For
example, it was неудобно
(awkward). This is a word that can be used to describe something physically
awkward, like this: Добираться до этого сибирского города туристам
дорого и неудобно (It’s expensive and inconvenient for tourists to get to this
Siberian city.) Or it can be figuratively awkward, like this: Выйти из
зала во время спектакля было неудобно (It was improper to leave during the performance.) Or a faux pas,
like this: Нет, не знаю, женат ли
он или нет. Неудобно спросить (No, I don’t know if he’s
married or not. It didn’t seem appropriate to ask.)

Another
word for this is неловко
(clumsy, uncomfortable). It can be uncomfortable to speak: Мне неловко об этом
говорить (It’s awkward to talk about it.) And uncomfortable to say nothing: В
машине, оставшись наедине, мы неловко молчали (When we found ourselves alone
together in the car, there was an uneasy silence between us.)

Sometimes
the words or silence aren’t the problem — it’s the timing. In Russian words or
actions can be literally in the wrong place (не к месту) or at the wrong time (некстати, не ко времени), although both mean more or less
the same thing. Моя глупая тётя не к месту вспомнила про первого мужа соседки, который только что женился (My silly aunt put her foot in her
mouth recalling my neighbor’s first husband, who just got married.) Он сказал это в простоте сердца, но вышло весьма некстати (He spoke simply from the heart,
but his timing was terrible.)

Similar to
this is невпопад, which
literally means “off the mark.” It is often used when you blurt something out
at the wrong time: Все примолкли. А Зиночка сказала, как всегда,
невпопад: ― Знаете почему? (No one said anything.
And then Zina put her foot in
her mouth as usual and asked: “You know why?”) But it can also be used to
describe any action that’s out of place: Извините, если невпопад, но хочу
сделать вам подарок (I’m sorry if I’m being out of line here, but I want to
give you a present.)

Among the
slangier and rougher set you might hear западло. Западло was originally prison slang for something that broke the
convicts’ rules, but now it has entered the lexicon of the non-prison population.
It has several meanings, among which is “it’s inappropriate” — usually in the
sense of being a bit humiliating. Ей западло принимать у
меня из рук
деньги (She thought it
was beneath her to take money from me.)

Higher up
on the scandal scale are actions or words that are shameful. I personally love
to use these words because I get to channel my inner schoolmarm. For example,
there’s совестно from
the word совесть (conscience),
most effective when shouted indignantly: Ну как вам не совестно! (You ought to
be ashamed of yourself!) Or you can use зазорно, which is to be disgraceful in some way. For
example, зазорный дом is a rather old-fashioned
phrase for a house of ill repute. But you can use it to describe anything you
might be ashamed of: Ошибиться ― не зазорно, с кем не бывает (Making a mistake
is nothing to be ashamed of — it happens to everyone.)

Close to
topping the scandal scale is позорно, from позор — a
very strong word for shame, disgrace, or even infamy. If you are utterly
scandalized, you can just spit out: Какой позор! (What an
utter disgrace!) Everyone has his or her own sense of what is shameful: Когда
меня клали на носилки, я кричала — позорно кричала (When they put me on the stretcher I screamed — it was
just disgraceful.) But everyone would agree that some behavior is shameful: Когда на
них напали, они позорно бежали, теряя по
дороге убитых, пленных и
раненых (When
they were attacked, they were completely dishonorable — they ran, leaving the
prisoners, dead and wounded on the road.)

Our mutual
acquaintance didn’t behave that badly. But we still got to tsk-tsk, shake our
heads, and sigh: Как позорно! Как ему не стыдно? (That’s awful! He ought to be ashamed of
himself!)

Is there
any emotion more satisfying than righteous indignation?

Michele A.
Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter, author of “The Russian
Word’s Worth,” a collection of her columns. Follow her on Twitter
@MicheleBerdy.