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In one one Daniil Kharms' short stories, Tikakeyev “insults” Koratygin by saying:

A fine one you are!

This causes a fight between the two. When I first read this, I didn't see the “insult”, unless it's sheer irony, I still don't see it. Kharms, as you may know, is a bit “special”, to say the least, and it's possible that a compliment may also cause a fight in his stories. Does this phrase have a insulting meanin in this context? I need an explanation for the fight :)

Full text of the story appears at shops.htm in the Kharms story directory on sevaj.dk website.

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's a sarcastic comment, intended to insult, which is why the fight ensued.

As with all sarcasm, it “depends for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual”; in this case Tikakeyev implies Koratygin is anything but a good example (of whatever it is) by saying exactly the opposite of what he means. This particular remark is entirely idiomatic English.

It needs the right tone of voice to be fully effective, but the exclamation mark is helpful.

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To me, it just looks like a sketchy translation. But if I took a guess, I'd say that the sentence "A fine one you are!" is equivalent to something along the lines of "What a piece of work you are!" or similar.

Definition of "piece of work":

(idiomatic, often derogatory) A person who has a strong and unusual personality, especially one with seriously unpleasant character flaws (e.g. a nasty piece of work).

Then again, the author is noted for his weird surreal work. So, it might well be exactly what is written, and the existence of this question proves that he has succeeded.

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