Russian Proverbs and Expressions
The Russian people have a variety of interesting proverbs and expressions, many of which have equivalents in English. We'll provide English translations and the English meaning.
- Delat' iz mukhi slona. ("To make an elephant from a fly.") The English would say mountain out of mole hill.
- Bare derutsya, u kholopov chuby treshchat ("[When] masters are fighting, [their] servants' forelocks are creaking.") The common people suffer when powerful people fight.
- Doveryay, no proveryay "Trust, but verify". This was a favourite phrase of Ronald Reagan, who liked Russian proverbs. See him use it here.
- Dva medvedya v odnoy berloge ne zhivut. ("Two bears don't live in one lair"). English version is simple: "This town ain't big enough for both of us".
- Povtoreniye - mat' ucheniya. ("Repetition is the Mother of Learning"). Practice makes perfect.
- Odno drugomu ne meshayet ("The one doesn't get in the way of the other"). It means doing or being more than one thing at a time, especially if said things are believed to be mutually exclusive (for example, being a monarchist and a socialist at the same time; odno drugomu ne meshayet!). Often associated with Guilty Pleasures.
- Lyubish katat'sya, lyubi i sanochki vozit' (If you like sledging downhill, you must also enjoy sledging uphill) - equals to "After dinner comes the reckoning" in its meaning.
- Luchshee vrag horoshego ("The best is an enemy of the good") - trying for perfection instead of settling for "good enough" can lead to a total mess.
- Many people either interpret it differently or misunderstand it and use this phrase to imply the exact opposite - that you should never settle for "good enough" and that anything that is not perfect is a failure.
- Though another variant of this proverb, Ot dobra dobra ne ischut (They don't seek any more good from good things) is unambiguously interpreted as the former.
- An English equivalent may be "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
- Historians of technology cite this to demonstrate that it is better, economically, to be satisfied with "good enough" instead of "perfect" becasue mass-produced items, although often inferior to their hand-made counterparts, will outsell them because the economy of scale means they can be produced, and thus sold, more cheaply.
- Nash postrel vezde pospel (Our daring one has managed to go everywhere) - said about people who always happen to be in the right place in the right time.
- Ne bylo by schast'ya, da neschast'ye pomoglo (There wouldn't be fortune if only misfortune didn't help) - said when one is blessed with fortune and gained something as a result of some previous ill luck.
- Ne imei sto rublei, a imei sto druzei (Don't have hundred roubles, but have hundred friends) - one should be more concerned with making friends instead of making money.
- A more exact meaning will be "If you have good friends, they can help you more than money ever will".
- Luchshe imet' sinitsu v rukakh, chem zhuravlya v nebe (It's better to have a titmouse in your hands than a crane in the sky). Instead of dreaming of something great, you should be happy with things you have. The English version is "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
- Sem' raz otmer' - odin otrezh (Mesure seven times, cut once) - about how any action requires precise planning and accuracy.
- nekulturniy - translates as "uncultured", but has far stronger connotations in Russian. Such a person is likely to speak the ''mat'' form of Russian.
- On a similar note, there's the very rude churka, which literally translates as "a chunk of unworked wood", but means "outlander" or "barbarian" and is a derisive term for non-ethnic Russians, especially those from Central Asia.
- On yet another side note, the Russian ethnic slur chornyi or chernozhopyi ("black" and "black-ass") actually refers to people who come from or inhabit the Caucasus region (due to their darker complexion). So, in Russian, "Caucasian" equals "black.". It should be noted though that Georgians rarely get this treatment.
- Dark-skinned inhabitants of the Caucasus are also derogatorily called khachi (sing. khach or khachik). This is derived from an Armenian diminutive name Khachik, the full form being Khachatur.
- On the other hand, the word intelligentsiya has the opposite meaning: cultured, educated, sophisticated persons involved in creative or scholarly professions, in other words, Gentlemen and Scholars. These are likely to speak classical Russian. Though some use this word to denote posers and use the word intellektualy for the real [ McCoys]. Lenin, for instance, meant the posers when he said "Intelligentsia is the crap of the nation, not its brain".
- It's also a borderline curse word for a stuck up snob who thinks himself better than "the common people". An exchange of "nekulturnyy" - "intelligent neschastnyy" can be common.
- It's also Older Thanthey Think. For example when Anton Chekhov, a famous Russian playwright, was asked: "Are you an intelligent (that is, a member of intelligentsia)?", his reply was: "God forbid, I have a profession!" — he was a practicing physician up to his death.
- Nowadays this word almost invariably refers to an ivory-tower intellectuals so engrossed in their high and noble ideas that they often forgot what they mean, until those ideas turn into their exact opposite.
- obrazovanets, roughly translates as educationated person and is a term introduced or popularized by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn meaning someone who has formal education (usually a university graduate) but has very little actual knowledge; originally this term referred to graduates of 'political faculties' who were taught the communist ideology and not much more, now it usually refers to graduates of 'diploma printing shops' or people posing as intelligentsya with evident lack of actual knowledge or sometimes even basic education.
- novyie russkie- "new Russians", a Nineties stereotype of rich people with personal drivers and bodyguards, who have come about as a result of The New Russia. Often depicted as unsophisticated and vulgar in taste, having a criminal past and showing off attributes of their wealth - a brick-sized mobile phone, a giant golden chain, a Mercedes S600 and a tailor-made crimson jacket. Now almost a Dead Horse Trope.
- ran'she- "earlier", the days of the Soviet Union. During the days of the Soviet Union, the word meant the days of Imperial Russia. See Nostalgia Filter.
- muzhik- depending on context, this can mean "guy" (as in a man), the Russian equivalent to "dude", "He's the man", a lower class person, or one with uncivil behaviour - the last two definitions were used more pre-1917. The term originally denoted a peasant.
- This is an actual Russian greeting, used among men, that literally translates to "Hello, peasants!" and could be interpreted as "Hey, dudes!"
- Perhaps a more direct translation of "dude" into Russian is chuvak, which also comes with chuvikha for "dudette". These two words are generally used by younger and trendier people, although in some circles these words have already joined the ranks of Totally Radical, whereas muzhik is somewhat more traditional and working-class, sort of like the British usage of "lad" and "bloke".
- neformaly - literally "informal", this word means a variety of various youth subcultures, from hippies to metalheads to punks to goths to Tolkienists. The word originates in the last years of the Soviet Union, when the western-style subcultures fought over their right to exist with the various gopniki Gang Bangers who disliked anything unusual and attacked the "informals" on sight.
- maskirovka- a term literally meaning "concealment", it's often used in the Reds with Rockets context. The USSR (and the Warsaw Pact as well) would publish highly misleading maps, for example, for the "benefit" of invaders (and their own citzens) which would omit entire cities, as well as naming military bases and installations after cities or geographic features...hundreds of kilometres away. Baikonur Cosmodrome is one of the most famous, to the point where its host city was renamed in 1995.
- The term is used in Red Storm Rising for the whole Soviet plot to start World War III via a False Flag Operation.
- DMB aka Demobilization, a grotesque film satire of the Russian army and conscription (essentially unchanged from Soviet times), had a middle-aged NCO lecture his newbie privates that, "While the Enemy is drawing up maps for the expected offensive, we are to constantly change the landscape - by hand - so that, once their forces land, utter confusion will set in and they will lose any and all battle readiness." He is absolutely serious. This mocks the army's constant paranoia, which, coupled with the desire to keep soldiers completely occupied 24/7 to keep them out of trouble, leads to a never-ending string of idiotic projects realized in the least labour-efficient way possible.
- Otsyuda do obeda or ot zabora do obeda - literally, "[dig] from this spot until lunchtime" or "[dig] from the fence to lunchtime". Comes from a joke about a Drill Sergeant training conscripts on manual trench-digging. Denotes an utterly meaningless activity or moronic busy-work; ironic, considering that this is a rare example of meaningful training in the Soviet Army.
- Eto kuram na smekh - literally "it's for chickens to laugh at", meaning "That's ridiculous!". Heard in The Big Damn Movie.
- Lapshu na ushi veshat - literally "hanging noodles on [someone's] ears" means lying, bluffing or deceiving someone. Turned into a Literal Metaphor in an old Soviet short film where people are listening to a motivational speaker, oblivious to all the noddles hanging off their ears.
- Napugal ezha goloi zadnitsei or ...goloi zhopoi - literally "[you are] scaring a hedgehog with a bare ass", used to mock a threat as an idle one.
- Avos - it is Russian for "Never tell me the odds". Yes, only one word, because it's such an important part of national character.
- It semantically means "What if it works - though it certainly won't - not that I care", all in one word. It gives other words in the sentence hidden meaning and curious touch of emotion. Like in: Avos' zarplatu dadut - "what if they pay me today at work - which is unlikely of them of course - oh, they pay me crap, anyway".
- Vashe zdorovye! or Za zdorovye! - a toast. The former version is standalone, the latter is used with the name of someone whom you wish health. Important: not nazdorovye!, which is Russian for "You are welcome". The so-called toast "nazdorovye" is, most likely, a mix-up of "Za zdorovye" and the Polish toast "Na zdrowie".
- Da net, navernoye - a phrase quite often used as an answer which a non-native speaker would most likely translate literally "yes, no, perhaps". Actually it should be translated "Well, I guess, not" and thus is a mild version of "no" with a touch of doubt.