Truth in Russian and American

It is always revealing when a language has more than one word to describe a concept that just has one in your own. The Russian language has two to talk about truth: pravda (пра́вда) and istina (истина). Some* analysed that specificity with today’s political goggles. A Russian friend of mine explained to me that pravda, also the name of the USSR propaganda paper, was therefore tainted. Istina is in a way the next level of truth, the fundamental truth that cannot be altered.

In English on the other hand, there is only one word, truth, closer to istina than pravda. For a French ear it seems that the truth is very highly rated for Americans. How many times do we hear the injunction “you need to tell him/her the truth!” in American movies?
It also reminded me of the entry form anyone has to fill in at the United States border. On top of the questions regarding the applicant criminal record, this question has always made the French raise eyebrows: “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage or genocide?” Can you imagine the terrorist ticking the “yes” box? So why this question? Because by ticking “no”, the terrorist committed yet another very serious crime from an American perspective: he lied.


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