Russian Saying with No English Equivalents
Unique Russian phrases that can help you sound more local
Language learners love learning obscure words. We often look for the old words that are not in use anymore, that have changed their meaning overtime, and are impossible to translate their meaning to another language.
Isn't it interesting how you can spend years learning a language, but when you meet a native speaker, you quickly realize that you still have a lot to learn? You feel like the years of studying are finally paying off, but then you find out that there are words that you simply cannot understand the original meaning of using a translator (like our own RussianDict) in existence. Well, that's one of the fun parts of learning a foreign language, there's always more to learn to surprise yourself with.
The Russian language is full of words that don't have a one-to-one translation match in English. It's fascinating how these languages can be at conflict with one another. With English becoming an international language, it seems that Russian is adopting a few untranslatable words from English as well. Take for example, the word "weekend". There isn't a word in Russian that the English word "weekend" directly translates to, so Russians created a new word called Уик-энд and adapted it into their vocabulary.
But what about the other side of the coin? What about the Russian words that have a deep meaning, rich history and are practically untranslatable? As a learner or a person who admires Russian culture, I think these words might come in handy. They are useful in everyday conversations or when you want to impress your friends with your knowledge.
Common Words for Everyday Use
These words have been modified and adapted for modern communication. You can hear them in everyday conversations, jokes, and in social media posts.
This word is a combination of two common words in Russian. Почему (why) + чка (suffix to make the word sound cute). The word refers to a curious person who questions everything with "WHY" a lot. It is often used to describe a small child, because of their tendency to ask a lot of questions, but it can also be used to describe an adult who's may be a little too curious about a topic. Russian film studio “Pilot-TV” even created an animated TV show called Pochemuchka in the year 2011 for children aged from 7 to 12.
Beloruchka is a person who won't get their hands dirty. Again, the combination of several terms in Russian creates this word. Бело (Белый - white) + ручка (hand). If we were to translate this word directly, we would call it a White-hand. The word itself says a lot about the person who we call Beloruchka. They never want to do any sort of dirty work. It often describes the person being lazy, so it's not a word used in a positive light. But people also use the word to speak about the person who takes good care of themselves (by not doing dirty work). I guess that's why there's a hand cream called Beloruchka in Russia.
If you want to learn a trashy word that comes up in almost every conversation, Khalyava is there for you. The most direct translation of this word is "freebie". In reality, Khalyava has a lot broader use than something that's free. You can use the word Khalyava to refer to a free meal. You can also use the word Khalyava to refer to a situation when you didn't study for a test but still got an A. The word describes a win-situation where you come out free of charge and with benefits.
Words that have changed their meanings overtime
Certain words have changed their meanings overtime. They still don't have a direct translation in the English language, but that's what makes them so interesting.
It's an easy-to-pronounce word, and quite often used in everyday conversations. Although women today might find the word to be offensive, in the old days, Baba meant an old woman or a witch (you might be familiar with the Russian tale about a supernatural being called Baba Yaga).
Some say that this word transitioned from the word Babushka (grandmother). Several centuries ago, Baba was a plain, unschooled woman. It's still in use in today's language and has a specific meaning to be both a bit offensive and old-timey.
The Russian language wouldn't leave men without a similar word to Baba. Muzhik described a married peasant man in the 18 century. It changed the definition and became a compliment after 1917. People began using the term настоящий мужик (real man), and it is still in use to this day.
Although I described this word as a compliment, it also has a different meaning. People often use it to describe a stranger in the street, an uneducated man, or a random by-passer.
Words that carry deeper meaning and variety of concepts
Some Russian words don't have any direction translation in English. And some of them are very difficult to explain.
Deed of honor - that's how most people would explain this word to a foreigner. Achievement, feat, and any other similar words can also be used describe this word.
Podvig is a synonym of a heroic act, a selfless act, or a righteous deed. A person has to overcome difficult circumstances to do a "Podvig". Podvig is also used to describe an act of love. On the contrary, people often use this word with sarcasm, to call out someone's stupid action and call it an act of heroism (but as a joke).
Poshlost is a moralistic cliche. This word combines paltriness, vulgarity, and sexual promiscuity. But these words don't describe the deep meaning of the word Poshlost.
The best way to understand this word is to think about the superficial displays of wealth and materialism. Try to think of how some people will go out of their way to display their wealth and power to appear more attractive to others around them.
This word has been the epicenter of an intellectual and cultural obsession since the 19th century. Many have tried to explain the word with Vladimir Nabokov's attempt in Lolita.
Type the word Беспредел in any online translation tool, and you will get with the words lawlessness and arbitrariness as a result. But the word Bespredel is more than just lawlessness. It describes a situation when a person disregards all of the laws and rules of society and behaves in a manner that Russians call a Беспределище (Bespredelishe).
This word is a great example of the Russian culture and the Russian language's linguistic development throughout the centuries. They carry a strong sense of history and culture. As a result of modernization and influence from other languages, the Russian language has developed new words for us to use in our daily lives.
Hopefully a few of these words can help you speak more like a native and understand every day Russian conversations better.