In the beginning of Hard to Be a God, there is the matter of the skeleton chained to a machine gun.

"An anisotropic road," Anton explained. Anka stood with her back to him. "Traffic can move only in one direction."

This is also remembered by the characters later in the book:

“Anka,” Pashka said. “Do you remember the anisotropic highway?” Anka frowned. “What highway?”

“Anisotropic. The one with the do-not-enter sign. Remember, the three of us went there?”

“I remember. It was Anton who said that it was anisotropic.”

“That was the time Anton went through the sign, and when he came back, he said that he found a blown-up bridge and the skeleton of a fascist chained to a machine gun.”

“I don’t remember that,” said Anka. “So what?”

“I often think about that highway nowadays,” said Pashka. “Like there’s some connection. The highway was anisotropic, like history. You weren’t supposed to go back. But he did go back. And stumbled on a chained skeleton.”

Hard to be a God, translated by Olena Bormashenko, Gollancz, pages 230-231.

I had to look up the meaning of "anisotropic" when I encountered it in Hard to Be a God, but was amused to learn it again in chemistry class a short while later.

I wonder what word was used for "anisotropic" in the original, and whether the original word belongs more to science than to literature, as the English word does (Wiktionary, for example, lists only a mathematics/physics definition).

What word was used in the original Russian for "anisotropic"? Does that word also usually carry a scientific definition?

I'm interested in this information mostly out of curiosity, and nothing else; however, it may have relevance to the interpretation of the symbology of that scene, asked about in the linked question.

  • I usually like to include at least one paragraph in my posts about what research (Googling, other) I've done before asking. However, I wasn't really able to do all that much for this question. It would not have helped me to find a copy of the original, as I can't read Cyrillic characters. Nor would Google Translate help me find out whether a word is used a certain way -- that barely works to give a word's basic meaning (on a good day). This is when I begin to regret not knowing all the languages :)
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 3:54
  • I've already answered that in my comment to Hamlet - the world is "анизотропное", which is the Russianised version of the English word. Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 5:26
  • @Gallifreyan Huh. I hadn't seen your comment...the second question still stands, though.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 11:59

1 Answer 1


The original Russian version does not use any made-up or composite word for "anisotropic". "Anisotropic" is a real world present in English language; it is used in science, as well as technology. Britannica defines it as following:

Anisotropy, in physics, the quality of exhibiting properties with different values when measured along axes in different directions.

Which is consistent with what we see from Pavel's explanation in the epilogue:

The highway was anisotropic, like history. You weren’t supposed to go back. But he did go back. And stumbled on a chained skeleton.

Say, a diode is anisotropic (it offers resistance one way, and no resistance the other); moving away from science, there are one-way roads, as the one in the book.

The word is of Greek origin ("anisos" = unequal, "tropos" = turn) according to Online Oxford Dictionary and Dictionary.com

The Russian counterpart, as I would expect from a word of Greek origin, sounds exactly the same ("anizotropnoye"; pronounce "ahn-eezo-trope-no-yeah" if you wish):

Шоссе было анизотропное, как история. Назад идти нельзя. А он пошел. И наткнулся на прикованный скелет.

I could not find examples of usage of the Russian word, "анизотропное", in anything other than scientific articles, this book, and articles about this book. It is highly possible that the Strugatsky brothers adapted it for their purposes from scientific parlance, given that Boris Strugatsky worked in an observatory as a professional astronomer, and Arkady Strugatsky was a professional translator of technical literature from multiple languages, including English and Japanese.

  • Thank you. There was never any doubt as to the meaning of the English word; I was only curious about the Russian word.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 11:41
  • 1
    I suppose that such a scientific term was used to emphasise how advanced the education got in the future.
    – IMil
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 8:04

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