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I was recently trying to explain to my U.K. friend lyrics of a famous song by a Soviet poet, V. Vysotsky, "Song About a Friend". I found an excellent translation here. However, I find a major inconsistency there which makes the whole idea diminished. Here's an excerpt:

If your friend just became a man,
Not a friend, not a foe, - just so,
If you cannot decide from the start,
If he’s strong in his heart...

Just so seems to be a literal translation.
The Free Dictionary suggests that just so means "precisely right".
The original meaning of "а так" is something like "but something in between" or "but nothing in particular".

What is the correct way to express it in English?

P.S. I don't care if it versifies well or not.

  • Just a lustful hoe. HA-HA! Kidding, just kidding. – olegst Apr 5 '17 at 12:10
3

For a minimally-obtrusive change, add so- before so:

Not a friend, not a foe, – just so-so,

Note, as an adjective so-so means “Neither good nor bad; tolerable, passable, indifferent”.

Also consider neutral (in its sense “not siding with any party...”) and medium (in its sense “Of intermediate size, degree, amount”).

  • I guess medium and neutral are too... er... neutral. :) "So-so" is maybe the best term as it conveys a minor amount of disregard which is required here. – bytebuster Feb 15 '13 at 10:31
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There's an English idiom "neither fish nor fowl". It means "Something or someone that is neither fish nor fowl doesn't really fit into any one group."

If your friend just became a man,
Not a friend, not a foe, - neither fish nor fowl,
If you cannot decide from the start,
If he’s strong in his heart...

1

While I've upvoted the answer submitted by user264, I would also add to the answer submitted by jwpat7 to say, "Not a friend, not a foe, -- just a so-and-so."

The reason I suggest this is because "friend" and "foe" are both nouns, so to maintain parallelism, I would use a noun as well, i.e., "so-and-so."

Incidentally, because "so-and-so" is also a noun about a person (or thing whose name the speaker does not need to specify or does not know or remember, ("so-and-so," Google.com)), this word fits on multiple levels.

  • Two senses, "unnamed or unspecified something" vs “unpleasant person” usually are given in definitions of so-and-so 1,2,3,4. But the friend is known or named and sense 1 doesn't apply. In other words, using the phrase “just a so-and-so” would call the friend a difficult or unpleasant person; which is probably not the intent here. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jan 11 at 3:43

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