Хрень: Lower that horseradish!

July 11th, 2012

My language partner and I went to see «Президент Линкольн: охотник на вампиров» together, and when we sat down I thought he said to me, «Спусти этот хрен», which literally means “Lower that horseradish.” I was confused. I had misheard him. He actually said, «Спусти эту хрень» “Lower that thingamabob,” by which he meant the armrest between the seats. Here's how the word declines.


The word is what we might call substandard speech. It's very conversational, not suitable for academic reading. It's probably also a euphemism for the vulgar meaning of хрен. But the version with the soft sign you can use in front of your mom and grandma without them getting too upset. Take a look at the entry on the phrase «вот это самое» for a synonym. Here are some examples.

Передай мне эту хрень. Pass me that thingamabob.
Возьми эту хрень, что оставил папа на столе. Get the thing that dad left on the table.

The word is also used to mean a useless thing or junk or worthless comment.

— Что продают в этом магазине?
— Всякую хрень для туристов. Не стоит входить.
“What do they sell in that store?”
“All sorts of junk for tourists. It's not worth going in.”
— Паша сказал, что у него девушка-супермодель.
— Что за хрень он несёт?! Паша даже не расчёсывается, как у него может быть девушка-супермодель?
“Pasha said that he had a supermodel for a girlfriend.”
“What nonsense. Pasha doesn't even comb his hair. How could he have a supermodel for a girlfriend?”


July 10th, 2012

I'm back in Russia and I have a new language partner, Alan.¹ The first day we got together, we ended up walking 13 km around Kazan; call it 8 miles. Now mind you, I've hardly gotten any exercise at all this last year. So what happens when you have hardly walked at all and suddenly you walk mucho? You get blisters. The Russian word for blister is мозоль.


Of course you often find this word in contexts about walking.

Я вчера ходил столько, что стёр ноги до мозолей. I walked so much yesterday that I got blisters on my feet.
Я вчера ходил столько, что натёр ноги до мозолей.
В Париже моя сестра находила мозоли на ногах. My sister walked until she got blisters in Paris.

So why do these things pop up?

Мозоли образуются от сильного трения кожи. Blisters are caused by excessive friction on the skin.

I was actually embarrassed to get blisters, but it looks like I'm in good company.

После пятидневных полевых учений, в программу которых входил десятимильный забег через лес с рюкзаком и винтовкой, Принц Гарри обратился в медпункт академии для лечения мозолей на ногах. Увидев, насколько сильно натер себе ноги молодой принц, врачи решили выдать ему специальное разрешение не носить армейские ботинки до тех пор, пока не заживут мозоли. (adapted from this source) After a five days of field training that included a ten-mile run through the forest with backpack and and rifle, Prince Harry went to the academy's first-aid station to get treatment for blisters on his feet. Having seen the extent to which the prince had abraded his feet, the doctors decided to give him special permission not to wear army boots until the blisters heal.

Nowadays what is the standard advice if you get a blister?

Если мозоль созрела, не протыкайте ее (за исключением случая острой боли). Вскрыв мозоль, вы рискуете занести инфекцию. (adapted from this source) If the blister has already formed, don't lance it (except in cases of sharp pain). When you slit open a blister, you risk introducting an infection.

That's sort of the standard advice from both Russian and American sources. I consider it hogwash. Let's say you take a needle and sterilize it and the surface of your skin decently with alcohol. If you lance dead skin, your skin is not likely to be infected. When the liquid squeezes out, most likely infection isn't going to be sucked in. In any case, that's what I've done, and I promise to post here if I get infected.

One last comment. If you look up the word blister in the dictionary, you are likely to find it translated as волдырь. Dictionaries really need to give better guidance on this issue. If a blister forms from exposure to intense heat or cold or caustic chemicals or insect bites, then the Russians usually call that a волдырь. One that forms on your foot from friction is a мозоль. But a мозоль can also just be a plain old callus on your foot as well. If you need to distinguish the two in Russian, you can call a callus «кожная мозоль» and a blister «мокрая мозоль».

¹ No, that is not a Russian name, but if the singer Prince (not Prince Harry) can change his name to an unpronounceable symbol, then why can't a Russian/Tatar kid go by Alan?


July 9th, 2012

A word from English that has invaded Russian over the last umpteen years is фреш. It seems to have a couple of meanings. McDonald's in Russia seems to think they can call something фреш if the just throw a leaf of lettuce on it. Thus we have the Двойной Фреш Макмаффин™ Double Fresh McMuffin™

and the Фреш Ролл™ Fresh Roll™

That's a pretty cheesy use of the word fresh in my view.

But the word is incredibly widely used to mean freshly squeezed juices, which technically in Russian is said свежевыжатые соки. Lots of Russian restaurants do this now. If you want apple juice, they'll just throw an apple in a juicer for you and Bob's your uncle. If you want lemon juice, they'll throw in a lemon. For instance:

Я встретилась с подругой в кафе, по привычке заказала фреш яблочный. (adapted from this source) I met a friend at a cafe and ordered a fresh apple juice out of habit.
Одна из посетительниц кафе-бара заказала фреш из томатов, болгарского перца, сельдерея и авокадо. (source) One of the cafe-bar's customers ordered a fresh juice made of tomatoes, bell pepper, celery and avocado.
Начни День Правильно! Замени Кофе Фрешем! (adapted from this source) Start The Day Right! Replace Your Coffee With Freshly Squeezed Juice!
Я решила себя побаловать фрешем. (adapted from this source) I decided to treat myself to a fresh juice.
Она заказала морковный ,бл#, фреш! А я хочу холодной водочки! Романтики не будет. (adapted from this source) She ordered a goddammed carrot juice! And I want cold vodka. No loving tonight.

You'll find фреш used a lot of other ways too. For instance, you can find a restaurant called Фреш Суши. Pears with crème fraîche can be called груши с крем-фрешем. I've even seen fresh birch sap referred to as берёзовый фреш. If you readers come across other interesting uses. Do post a comment below.


July 6th, 2012

Let's discuss one last verb in the ‘read’ series. The prefix по- adds the idea of ‘for a while’ to a verb, thus почитать makes the perfective verb ‘to read for a while.’ The derived imperfective is почитывать.

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive почитывать почитать
Past почитывал
Present почитываю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду почитывать
будешь почитывать
будет почитывать
будем почитывать
будете почитывать
будут почитывать
Imperative почитывай(те) почитай(те)

We often use the verb to describe the reading we do before bed.

Мама любит почитывать стишки перед сном. Mom loves to read some poetry before bed.
Мой младший брат каждую ночь почитывает «Некрономикон». К концу осени надеется вызвать Великих Древних и уничтожить своих врагов-одноклассников. My little brother reads a bit of the Necronomicon every night. By the end of autumn he hopes to summon the Elder Gods and destroy his enemies at school.


July 5th, 2012

One of the most fascinating things about Russian is its ability to add prefixes to verbs and nouns to give new meanings. For instance, the suffix до- can add the idea of ‘all the way to the end.’ If you add it to читать ‘to read,’ it forms a new verb дочитать ‘to read all the way to the end.’ Normally when you add a prefix to a simple, unprefixed imperfective verb, the new verb is perfective. Then to get an imperfective from the new verb, you add a suffix. In this case the suffix is -ыв-, which gives us the imperfective verb дочитывать. We call this type of verb a derived imperfective. Here is how it is conjugated.

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive дочитывать дочитать
Past дочитывал
Present дочитываю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду дочитывать
будешь дочитывать
будет дочитывать
будем дочитывать
будете дочитывать
будут дочитывать
Imperative дочитывай(те) дочитай(те)

This verb pair is used when you want to specify that you have completed reading something.

Я целую неделю читаю «Мёртвых душ», а только сегодня утром дочитал. I have been reading “Dead Souls” all week long and only finished it this morning.
Ко вторнику дочитаю «Братьев Карамазовых». I'll finish “The Brothers Karamazov” by Tuesday.

Sometimes the phrase «до конца» ‘to the end’ is added to the sentence. That may seem superfluous to the reader, but where is there a rule that says we can't say something more than one way or find another way to say it?

Я наконец-то до конца дочитал «Войну и мир». I finally finished reading ‘War and Peace’ all the way to the end.

The verb doesn't have to mean that you get all the way to the end of the item, though. It can mean you get all the through to a certain point.

Паша дочитал книгу до пятой главы. Pasha read the book all the way to chapter five.

Be careful on that last one. It means that Pasha read chapter four but hasn't yet read chapter five.

The careful reader will remember that прочитать means ‘to read through.’ So what's the difference between прочитать and дочитать? Sometimes not much.

Я прочитал статью. I read through the article.
Я дочитал статью. I read the article to the end.

Before we leave this topic, I just want to mention how amazingly common this use of the prefix is. Here are some other examples.

дойти to go all the way to
доехать to go all the way to (by vehicle)
дослушать to listen to the end
допеть to sing to the end
докурить to smoke to the end
допить to drink to the end
донести to carry to the end

Pretty neat, huh?