To Let Go / Set Free

RhoKappa

Senior Member
Standard American English
Here is a popular adage in English: "If you love something, set it free." Есть на русском?

I could not find set free in my dictionary, but for let go, I found выпускать. I am not sure if this is correct?

Anyhow, here are some examples.

1. After trying hard for months to save a marriage, a man finally agrees to a divorce his wife. He tells her, "I love you, but I must let you go."
2. A boss fires a worker for not meeting his quota, so he tells his co-workers, "He did not work hard enough, so I had to let him go."
3. If you love something, set it free.

Как сказать по-русски?
 
  • Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Generally выпуска́ть/вы́пустить на свобо́ду (= "to set free", more literally "to let out into freedom") and отпуска́ть/отпустит́ь (= "to let go"), depending on context. You can often use both.

    As for your examples:

    1. "Я тебя люблю, но я должен тебя вы́пустить на свобо́ду." or "... я должен тебя отпусти́ть."
    2. "Он слабо работал и я должен был его отпусти́ть."
    3. Если ты любишь, вы́пусти на свобо́ду." or "... я должен тебя отпусти́."
     

    igusarov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    2. A boss fires a worker for not meeting his quota, so he tells his co-workers, "He did not work hard enough, so I had to let him go."
    There is a set expression: "освободи́ть от занима́емой до́лжности". But it is extremely formal. For example, you can say: "Президе́нт освободи́л губерна́тора от занима́емой до́лжности", but if you said: "Владе́лец рестора́на освободи́л официа́нта от занима́емой до́лжности", it would sound funny.

    In the context of employment, the words like "отпусти́ть/вы́пустить" have a connotation that the person is willing to leave and the company agrees to let him go. This connotation makes these words unsuitable for a situation when the company drives the worker out. Imagine:
    1. The worker doesn't want to quit, but the boss insists he do. In this case none of "отпустить/выпустить" can be used. You should say "уво́лить" (formal) or "вы́гнать" (colloquial).
    2. The worker wants to quit. The boss wanted to hold him, but then agrees to let him go. Yes, in this case you can use "отпусти́ть".

    Edit:
    Drink, I have a feeling that "выпустить на свободу" is something about the prison and criminals. In the context of love and relations I would have used "дать свободу".
     
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    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    There is a set expression: "освободи́ть от занима́емой до́лжности". But it is extremely formal. For example, you can say: "Президе́нт освободи́л губерна́тора от занима́емой до́лжности", but if you said: "Владе́лец рестора́на освободи́л официа́нта от занима́емой до́лжности", it would sound funny.
    Yes, I completely forgot about освободить. My active Russian vocabulary is slowly shrinking away... Anyway, "освободить" fits in almost all occasions as a translation of "to set free", or even just "to free".

    In the context of employment, the words like "отпусти́ть/вы́пустить" have a connotation that the person is willing to leave and the company agrees to let him go. This connotation makes these words unsuitable for a situation when the company drives the worker out. Imagine:
    1. The worker doesn't want to quit, but the boss insists he do. In this case none of "отпустить/выпустить" can be used. You should say "уво́лить" (formal) or "вы́гнать" (colloquial).
    2. The worker wants to quit. The boss wanted to hold him, but then agrees to let him go. Yes, in this case you can use "отпусти́ть".
    I disagree, "отпустить" can often be understood ironically in such situations, just like in English. When you say "they let him go", the literal meaning implies that he wanted to leave, but the common more ironic meaning is that he was forced to leave. And Russian "отпустить" can be used the same way, but perhaps less commonly.
     

    Maroseika

    Moderator
    Russian
    1. In case of the divorce отпустить sounds quite well. Дать свободу is also possible, but sounds archaic, as if we are still in the 19th century when a woman could get divorce only if a man agreed.
    3. This example is not very clear. Saying "something" and "it" you still mean a human being?
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Well, all I can say, with absolute certainity, is that I've yet to hear any employer talking like that (i.e. with the intention of being ironic)...
    Of course the employers wouldn't say that. I feel like it is more colloquial. Of course it could be that the Russian we speak in the United States has been influenced in this case by the English expression. Therefore, to avoid any confusion, "уволить" is the most precise word ("выгнать" is a little too harsh to be a translation of "to let go").
     

    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Here is a popular adage in English: "If you love something, set it free." Есть на русском?
    What does this mean anyway? With выпускать or отпускать, you may get things like "Never keep what you love with you", "live without things that you love". Is this what you mean? I don't believe so. ;-) The problem is, this adage, while it sounds gorgeous, does not seem to make any concrete sense. It could have tons of interpretations, each provoking a different translation, but no stable meaning. Is this about things or people, first of all? In the case it is about people, one possible translation is "Любовь означает доверие" ("believe to people you love"). Drink's translation, I am sorry, makes as little sense as the English original does to me, and it is not even gorgeous.

    As to the other two, my variants:
    1. Он плохо работал, и я вынужден был его уволить. (уволить taking its root from воля, "will", "freedom"). Note the comma; commas are generally mandatory between clauses in Russian;
    2. Я люблю тебя, но я должен тебя отпустить. (fixed the word order; with я тебя люблю it sounds a bit like a complaint or an ironical statement, maybe because люблю in the end invites for considerations what his love means for him, while люблю in the middle tells a fact that makes a background for all future considerations).

    What this shows is that looking for general translations of expressions and words in translation dictionaries is a pointless task. Correspondences between words and expressions in different languages never exist, in order to talk in a language one has to actually learn it, learn its inner algorithms. A translation dictionary is nothing more than a crutch: it may help sometimes occasionally, but it is not a tool of learning.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    What does this mean anyway? With выпускать or отпускать, you may get things like "Never keep what you love with you", "live without things that you love". Is this what you mean? I don't believe so. ;-) The problem is, this adage, while it sounds gorgeous, does not seem to make any concrete sense. It could have tons of interpretations, each provoking a different translation, but no stable meaning. Is this about things or people, first of all? In the case it is about people, one possible translation is "Любовь означает доверие" ("believe to people you love"). Drink's translation, I am sorry, makes as little sense as the English original does to me, and it is not even gorgeous.
    In my original post, there was a little copying error. The last line should have said:
    Если ты любишь, вы́пусти на свобо́ду." or "Если ты любишь, отпусти́."

    However, looking back I think that the second one is a bit better. It may also sound better with pronouns as "Если ты любишь кого-то, отпусти (его/ее)."


    As for the meaning, I'm not surprised it doesn't make much sense to you, since it didn't make much sense to me when I first heard it. This is a very common cliché saying in English. The way I used to understand it was that if you love someone or something, but that someone or something doesn't love you back, then you need to let that someone or something go. But I didn't truly understand the saying until I heard the full version: "If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they're yours." (there are some even "fuller" versions that continue "If they don't, they never were."). Quote Investigator did an article on the history of this saying.
     

    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thank you, now that's much more meaningful. Still, the variety of meanings is too broad for a single meaningful translation into Russian. In relation to the things (the version claimed original) I simply can't understand the why of this saying (how something may love me back??); in relation to people, well. "Если ты любишь мужчину, отпусти его на свободу; он вернётся к тебе, если он твой; а если нет, то он тебе не нужен" sounds good to me, too, but way not brilliant. It sounds as if the girl is a monarch who can decide who is free and who is not.

    "Если тебе очень нужно что-то, не цепляйся за эту вещь; она придёт к тебе сама, если она твоя; а если не придёт, то она никогда не была тебе нужна по-настоящему" is one way if I understood the why of the something version correctly; but still, it's very-very imprecise. To achieve precision, I'd have to eliminate any word for a thing (because вещь is not something abstract that people achieve, unlike it seems to be the case in English), but then I'd have to eliminate the metaphor of possession, and the entire gist of the saying is lost away.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Thank you, now that's much more meaningful. Still, the variety of meanings is too broad for a single meaningful translation into Russian. In relation to the things (the version claimed original) I simply can't understand the why of this saying (how something may love me back??); in relation to people, well. "Если ты любишь мужчину, отпусти его на свободу; он вернётся к тебе, если он твой; а если нет, то он тебе не нужен" sounds good to me, too, but way not brilliant. It sounds as if the girl is a monarch who can decide who is free and who is not.

    "Если тебе очень нужно что-то, не цепляйся за эту вещь; она придёт к тебе сама, если она твоя; а если не придёт, то она никогда не была тебе нужна по-настоящему" is one way if I understood the why of the something version correctly; but still, it's very-very imprecise. To achieve precision, I'd have to eliminate any word for a thing (because вещь is not something abstract that people achieve, unlike it seems to be the case in English), but then I'd have to eliminate the metaphor of possession, and the entire gist of the saying is lost away.
    I think you are thinking about all this too literally. "Something" is not necessarily an inaminate object; it could be an animal, for example. And setting someone free doesn't necessarily mean you had full control over them. It could just mean allowing them to leave and follow their dreams. This is why I think that "отпустить" might be a better word than "выпустить на свободу".
     

    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    This is why I think that "отпустить" might be a better word than "выпустить на свободу".
    Well, отпустить means отпустить на свободу, right? Not отпустить на прогулку or отпустить на гастроли. What kind of freedom? That of not controlling his dreams and aspirations, that is not making him feel obligated and responsible for her. Still, not very convincing, but maybe that's a problem of the original, not of the translation. With all that, if the meaning of the original is "don't make him think of you all day and night" or "don't try to press your will on him", then, of course, exactly this thing should be said in the translation. "Если ты любишь мужчину, не стремись поработить его or не пытайся навязать ему себя. Он сам придёт к тебе, если он твой. А если не придёт, то такова ваша судьба". Sounds like a quote from a cookbook of life, though.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Well, отпустить means отпустить на свободу, right? Not отпустить на прогулку or отпустить на гастроли. What kind of freedom? That of not controlling his dreams and aspirations, that is not making him feel obligated and responsible for her. Still, not very convincing, but maybe that's a problem of the original, not of the translation. With all that, if the meaning of the original is "don't make him think of you all day and night" or "don't try to press your will on him", then, of course, exactly this thing should be said in the translation. "Если ты любишь мужчину, не стремись поработить его or не пытайся навязать ему себя. Он сам придёт к тебе, если он твой. А если не придёт, то такова ваша судьба". Sounds like a quote from a cookbook of life, though.
    But those are explanations rather than translations. The meaning in English is very vague and up for interpretation, thus the translation in Russian should also be vague and up for interpretation. The power of the quote is that what is meant by freedom is for the reader to decide, not for the writer or translator.
     

    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Vagueness is a feature specific of a language, not always it can be translated in the way it existed in the original. In a text, when the goal of citing it is evident, I think a good translation might be found, but I can think of no good general translation. Freedom is not an elementary notion, and one has to choose different words to express different sides of it. Though...
    "Не неволь любимых" might be a good vague and sensible phrase in Russian, but the stuff about their coming [back] to you and their needlessness for you in the case they don't would sound just strange after it: the phrase suggests they're always with you, and the word любимых suggests you always need them. One good side of it is that it contains a root with the meaning "freedom" in it, like the original does.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Vagueness is a feature specific of a language, not always it can be translated in the way it existed in the original. In a text, when the goal of citing it is evident, I think a good translation might be found, but I can think of no good general translation. Freedom is not an elementary notion, and one has to choose different words to express different sides of it. Though...
    "Не неволь любимых" might be a good vague and sensible phrase in Russian, but the stuff about their coming [back] to you and their needlessness for you in the case they don't would sound just strange after it: the phrase suggests they're always with you, and the word любимых suggests you always need them. One good side of it is that it contains a root with the meaning "freedom" in it, like the original does.
    In general you are right. But in this case, as a native speaker of both Russian and English, I strongly feel that "Если ты любишь кого-то, отпусти его/ее" is the best translation.
     

    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    But in this case, as a native speaker of both Russian and English, I strongly feel that "Если ты любишь кого-то, отпусти его/ее" is the best translation.
    And I, as a native speaker of Russian, feel that this variant is not vague, but makes no sense at all; I just need to add, either mentally or physically, something to make it specific and meaningful (like на гастроли), but then I find out that the meaning is weird and still not working. What I add by default is that "if you love someone, then don't live with him or her". That's not to mention that его/её is not an adage way of talking, it appears only in legal papers, surveys and the like.
     
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    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    And I, as a native speaker of Russian, feel that this variant is not vague, but makes no sense at all; I just need to add, either mentally or physically, something to make it specific and meaningful (like на гастроли), but then I find out that the meaning is weird and still not working. What I add by default is that "if you love someone, then don't live with him or her". That's not to mention that его/её is not an adage way of talking, it appears only in legal papers, surveys and the like.
    Not making any sense is what makes it vague. If you think deeply, you will find meaning. Adding something to make it specific and meaningful is exactly what you should not do.
     

    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Sorry, but not making any sense and being vague are two different things. "На меня упал банан" does not make sense; "когда я сажусь на коня, меня всегда приветствует свобода" is vague; the first denies any possibility of non-forced interpretation, the second invites for imagining the situation and making an interpretation. I don't know whether the English version does not make sense or is vague (it takes to be a native to know that), but my reaction to отпусти его in that context is simple: it's weird. If one thinks deeply, one might find anything, but what is said is what is said. When pressed to think of that, I would ask, "well, that way no marriage can ever happen", and that's all. That's how the mind works when it hears that. In addition, I think that any real adage makes very concrete sense, and it is even more full of sense than examples of ordinary speech. Like: если при столкновении книги с головой раздаётся пустой звук, не всегда в этом виновата книга. The sense is very concrete, and note also how the metaphor of a resulting sound is appropriate, thus making the concrete phrase even more full of meaning: people's forming reactions to what they have read indeed comes as a struck. In light of this, my version with "не неволь любимых" is also bad.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    Sorry, but not making any sense and being vague are two different things. "На меня упал банан" does not make sense; "когда я сажусь на коня, меня всегда приветствует свобода" is vague; the first denies any possibility of non-forced interpretation, the second invites for imagining the situation and making an interpretation. I don't know whether the English version does not make sense or is vague (it takes to be a native to know that), but my reaction to отпусти его in that context is simple: it's weird. If one thinks deeply, one might find anything, but what is said is what is said. When pressed to think of that, I would ask, "well, that way no marriage can ever happen", and that's all. That's how the mind works when it hears that. In addition, I think that any real adage makes very concrete sense, and it is even more full of sense than examples of ordinary speech. Like: если при столкновении книги с головой раздаётся пустой звук, не всегда в этом виновата книга. The sense is very concrete, and note also how the metaphor of a resulting sound is appropriate, thus making the concrete phrase even more full of meaning: people's forming reactions to what they have read indeed comes as a struck. In light of this, my version with "не неволь любимых" is also bad.
    First of all, "На меня упал банан" makes perfect sense literally. However, its deeper meaning, if any, can only be understood through context. For example, the context could have indicated that bananas symbolize opportunity, and the banana that fell on the speaker could be interpreted as a sign that the time was right to start a business (this is a hypothetical situation that I made up on the spot). However, if this were the case, translating the sentence as "Opportunity hit me on the head" would only work in that particular context, and translating it that way in the general case would just be plain wrong, because that is not what it means.

    Likewise for "If you someone, set them free", adding your own interpretation of the meaning of this phrase in a particular context will only work in that particular context, and is plain wrong in the general case. You are also making the mistake of interpreting the phrase as being some sort of universal proverb that applies to everyone; it is not. This phrase is usually used in the context where one person B is unhappy in a relationship, while person A loves person B very much and doesn't want him/her to leave. This phrase is meant to tell person A, that person B will probably be happier with someone else, and that person A should come to terms with this and let him/her go. The extended version then adds that if person B comes back, then he/she probably realized that he/she was indeed happy with person A. In this situation, the translation "Если ты любишь кого-то, отпусти его/ее" makes perfect sense, and the additional fact that it happens to be a fairly literal translation, ensures that it will apply to many other contexts as well. For example, I often hear this about animals, like when one person catches a snail and wants to keep it as a pet, while another person feels that the snail will be happier roaming free in nature.
     

    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    You are also making the mistake of interpreting the phrase as being some sort of universal proverb that applies to everyone; it is not. This phrase is usually used in the context where one person B is unhappy in a relationship, while person A loves person B very much and doesn't want him/her to leave.
    Thank you. That makes perfect sense. That this is an adage (a proverb expressing a general truth) I learned from RhoKappa's words, glad that's not true. But this way it's not vague at all, it is extremely concrete. The exact context means so much.

    P.S.: in light of this, the banana phrase could likely mean, "I got a bad mark in school", but that would sound probably too figurative, with the verb упал... Of course, that sentence means nothing in an empty context, where it is not supposed to depend on anything and should be a truth for itself; nothing, meaning that there would be no interpretation without forcing.
     
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    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    The point is, in order to name the action отпусти might be good or bad (it has its defects, too), but it does not sound well for a real occasion. In fact, on some occasions the action would better be not named at all, because the logic of the verb любишь lies in a different sphere: Коли любишь, так не мучь ты его! Пусть идёт себе дорогой. Авось вернётся, ежели тебя любит. (I don't know where this folksy tone, with коли, мучь, идёт дорогой, авось, ежели, and the inversion in the last sentence (тебя любит), appeared from, maybe from the fact that I don't imagine such conversion except amongs ladies above sixty who are discussing a girl in their neighbourhood).

    On the other hand, the name of the action might appear in an excerpt from conversation as well, but chances are high it would be named differently, отпусти sounds too pseudo-poetic: Вот раз любишь, то и не держи его! Он сам знает, что ему надо. Любит тебя — вернётся. (One girl gives advice to another, who complained her that she loves him so dearly he could not let him from her).
     

    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    It's supposed to. The English does as well.
    It's not supposed to: English does, but in this context being pseudo-poetic may be fine in English, but clumsy in Russian. That's because poetry is about suggestiveness, and the nature of suggestiveness is different in Russian and English: in English, descriptions of things suggest other descriptions of things, in Russian, descriptions of perception suggests other descriptions of perception; for example, just compare how verses are written in Russian and English. One instance is this song, written in English and translated into Russian, put into music immediately after translation. And the context, together with the objective nature of the expression in question, does not allow for perceptive suggestiveness (in Russian, внушение по наглядности) here.
     

    Drink

    Senior Member
    English - New England, Russian - Moscow
    It's not supposed to: English does, but in this context being pseudo-poetic may be fine in English, but clumsy in Russian. That's because poetry is about suggestiveness, and the nature of suggestiveness is different in Russian and English: in English, descriptions of things suggest other descriptions of things, in Russian, descriptions of perception suggests other descriptions of perception; for example, just compare how verses are written in Russian and English. One instance is this song, written in English and translated into Russian, put into music immediately after translation. And the context, together with the objective nature of the expression in question, does not allow for perceptive suggestiveness (in Russian, внушение по наглядности) here.
    I would say that the minor differences in translation of the song you link to are due simply to rhyme and meter of the verses.
     

    punctuate

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Well, more detailed analysis. Beforehand, I'll note that there is a misconception that in verses, things are done "simply due to rhyme and meter of the verses"; those people who fall victim to this misconception (I don't know whether you are one) may write verses and get very bad verses in this case. No; in all poetry, no matter the language, rhyme and meter are only two of the participants to respect, the other participant being the sense that the words give to the thoughts of the reader because of their meaning; this third participant is the most important, in fact poetry is just a text like any other, only with ability to lead the thoughts of the reader rather than being led by the reader's inquest. So, words are important. Now:

    those evening bells; how many a tale ... tells - вечерний звон; много дум наводит: in these two examples, a name of a thing is substituted by a name of an entity that a human perceives, in accordance with my judgement; наводит tells how the perception happens, it's a name of the action that happens inside someone;
    music - он: music is a thing for consideration, establishing relations that it performs in, it's not for immediate perception; он is звон, which was established in the previous verse, so the perception proceeds;
    of youth - юных днях; где я любил - youth is an abstraction that is uneasy to imagine, чтобы стало наглядно; I can think of no good way to translate youth here so that it not sound like a piece of a philosophical investigation, pointless to say in verses; quite different with днями and the уточнение «где я любил», which is necessary not just for meter, but in order to make юные дни an appropriate description; otherwise, it would simply feel incomplete (ну, юные дни и юные дни, а дальше что?); why it would feel incomplete? because ненаглядно;
    home - в краю родном, [...] где отчий дом - compare for yourselves how "home" is open for many involving the nature of this notion considerations, and is not prone to immediate perception, while the word отчий дом made it perceptive, наглядным (in fact, no word in Russian quite corresponds to "home", дом is firstly "house" for me and then "home" by extension, but that's for a reason); край родной and отчий дом both work for explaining the English notion, of course;
    those sweet time - как я, с ним навек простясь: again, notice the difference how these expressions apply to what the reader should do. In theory, "time" might serve for immediate executing a perception, but here it does not; again, it invites for consideration of how notions correlate rather than for perception of views, sounds, thoughts, and feelings. So, translating it as "время" is probably deemed to be inappropriate, it would not fit in.
    [...] - там: such perception should happen in a place, not in the field of pure reason, that's why this "there".

    Note that there are many ways to respect meter and rhyme, but not so many ways to respect the algorithms that the given language employs as it directs the thoughts of the listener; Kozlov respected the latter, I would say. If you wish to have some more examples than this song and than poetry as a whole, contact me. ;-) Some quotes shall also follow as I find them. In the end I'll notice that, since there is never one single way to understand words, language should provide also some schemes as for in what direction to interpret them; and since such schemes can be numerous, there is no way for languages to evade differentiating per the feature of leaning towards some of them and declining others.

    Going back to our pseudo-poetic phrase, then in Russian it might be possible (possible!) only if the context or the tone alleviates somewhat its pseudo-poetic shade. Otherwise, awkward.
     
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