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I'm reading the book "Roadside Picnic" which was originally written in Russian. In one part of the book, the translator writes:

Those egghead scientists were making progress. They've got the road hung all the way to the dump, and cleverly hung at that!

A newer translations reads:

These eggheads are making progress after all … Look, they’ve laid a route all the way to the dump, and a clever route at that!

Now, I understand that the scientists delimited the boundaries of the road, but why did the first translation read "hung the road"? I now know that "hang" means decorate, but it seems such an obscure meaning for the word, not to mention that it doesn't seem to truly make the point of what the scientists had actually done, which is delimitate the boundaries of the road, unless they did so by means of flags, balloons, etc., but then again it seems like a stretch given the context.

Why do you think the translator chose that word? I feel like I'm missing something here and I, of course, don't know what it is as I had never seen the word "hang" used in a context like this one.

If anyone cares, here's the original Russian version of the book:

Все-таки продвигаются ученые... Смотри, до самого отвала дорогу провесили, да как ловко провесили!

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    Cross-posting of ell.stackexchange.com/questions/319704/to-have-a-road-hung. The newer translation is obviously a better one! Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 18:15
  • My translation program translates that Russian using "hung".
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 18:39
  • I don't personally agree that "hang" means decorate. It only has that meaning where the decorations in question are of a kind that are hung or draped. To "hang paper" means to decorate the walls with paper, but only because applying the paper resembles hanging it from the top of the walls.
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 19:09
  • @Steve - Someone just suggested hanging decorations as a possible explanation of the odd expression 'having the road hung' - they didn't mean that it actually means decorate. Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 19:38
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    The root form of the verb просветить has the sense "illuminate, light up". I believe they illuminated the road with street lighting, lamp posts etc. in the story. It could be translated as "They got the road illuminated/lit up" (possibly in the sense "hang streetlights"). I believe it is more of a Russian translation (and interpretation) question at this point.
    – ermanen
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 10:05

2 Answers 2

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I am afraid the Russian verb провесить has nothing to do with decorating. Most dictionaries translate it as hang (some definitions include in the air). I agree it is very confusing.

In fact, the Abby Lingvo Russian dictionary (not available without registration) shows that провесить is the perfect aspect of the verb провешивать. Among its definitions there is this one:

Намечать линию расстановкой вех. = Mark the line by placing milestones.

I would have to read more from the book to see if this was the message the author intended to convey, but clearly hang is not the right verb, no dictionary seems to connect it with roads. I guess as a metaphor one could force it.

Laid a road is more plausible. M-W defines roadbuilding as

the laying of usually paved roads.

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  • I'd suggest the meaning is closer (in idiomatic English) to hang out to dry. The metaphor then has little to do with hanging, more to do with reaching a state of order and settlement after a phase of hard labour. A live animal has been skinned, butchered, and the meat hung up. Or clothes have been wetted, agitated, and finally hung out on a line to air dry. When we use this metaphor in English, it tends to be with an emphasis that the thing (often a person) has been subdued utterly, rather than that a difficult task has been mastered or a situation brought into order.
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 19:32
  • Would you say, then, that the translator simply just did a word for word translation instead of "feeling" the context and conveying the sense of the original text? Then it wouldn't be a matter of discussing what the translator actually meant by using the verb hang, but rather a matter of pointing out that his translation is inaccurate and unreliable, correct? Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 21:30
  • @Ihavequestions Yes, my attention was on what the author was trying to convey, not the translator.
    – fev
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 7:51
  • @Steve Thing is, that Russian verb does not have such connotations as you describe for hang... I very much doubt the author was trying to convey that nuance. I think, simply, the translator was fooled by the first meaning of the verb given by all dictionaries and failed to see there was a more specific, technical use of it in this context.
    – fev
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 9:20
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hang a road is very odd and doesn't work. The translator is either non-English speaking or just very unqualified.

If a road a being built, one would say: to lay a road, to build a road, to grade a road, to lay out a road, to align a road, to cut a road [through a forest, like in Russia], set out the road boundaries.

technical design of a road

[hang does not mean decorate; You hang paintings, yes, but that does not mean you are "decorating" necessarily.]

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  • As well as paintings, you also hang wallpaper and various ornaments, but it's still a stretch to see it as meaning "decorate". (You also hang meat and criminals, after all.)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 20:16

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