Every language has a plethora of words that are hard or nearly impossible to translate. They are often "key words" in the culture that define the nation's world view in a unique way. One of these words in Russian is the participle "avos'" Etymologists argue about its derivation. Some say it is a conflation of the phrase "a vot seichas" (a-vo-se) - "in just an instant." Others say it is from the very old word "ose", meaning "here" (now expressed by "vot"). In both cases the original notion seems to be the imminent appearance of something, and over the millennia this "something" has come to be good luck, success, rescue or salvation.

We English speakers can express this with phrases like "with any luck" or "God willing." When teenagers are driving in the sleet at night, Russian mothers say "avos', proneset" and English-speaking mothers say "with any luck, he'll be fine."

But Russian "avos'" is bigger than an English bit of good luck. It's a belief that you'll somehow beat the odds. It's absolute faith in success when the logical conclusion is that it will be a screaming failure. When a Russian driver passes on a blind curve, his faith in "avos'" is nothing short of miraculous. And as he zips back into his lane just before that two-ton truck is about to hit him, you have to envy his faith - or stay out of his way.

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