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My former student Ryan is living in Kazan and studying. Despite his studying, he manages to spend some time with his girlfriend, Lila. Now Ryan is an excellent guy. He is one of those men who cooks and cleans and is communicative. Lila considers herself lucky. (Frankly, Lila is worth it. If I were thirty years younger and smarter than I myself had been at that age... well, nevermind.) Anyhoo, Lila asked Ryan to go to the store to get some sweetened, condensed milk. He went. And he said to the store attendant, «Я хочу мошонку» “I want scrotum.” I leave it to you to imagine the attendant's reaction.
The word Ryan was looking for was сгущёнка, not мошонка. The word comes from the root густ-, which means ‘thick’, from which we derive the verb сгущать/сгустить ‘to make thick’, hence сгущёнка means ‘stuff which has been thickened’, in this case specifically milk with sugar added. Here's a picture:
It declines like this:
The Russians love сгущёнка. Not only can you make various desserts with it, often Russians like to drink tea and then simply stick a spoon in the сгущёнка and have a mouthful. It is so good. Here are a few sentences.
|— Я люблю чай со сгущёнкой. Ты сгущёнку любишь?
— Нет, я не большой любитель сладкого.
|“I love tea and sweetened, condensed milk. Do you like sweetened, condensed milk?”
“No, I'm not a big fan of sweets.”
|Хотя этот торт очень вкусный, он приготовлен без сгущёнки.||Although this cake is very tasty, it was made without sweetened, condensed milk.|
|Фу! В сгущёнке плавает муха!||Yuck! There's a fly floating in the sweetened, condensed milk!|
|А задумывались ли вы, что на самом деле, сгущёнка еще и гораздо полезней многих других сладостей – она содержит кальций и молочный белок, в ней нет красителей, дрожжей или усилителей вкуса. (source)||But have you ever thought that, really, sweetened, condensed milk is still much healthier than many sweets? It contains calcium and milk protein. It has no coloring agents, yeast or flavor additives.|
Now a comment on the power of branding. As I was growing up, the most popular brand of sweetened, condensed milk was Eagle Brand. It was so popular that no one ever said ‘sweetened, condensed milk.’ We just said ‘Eagle Brand.’ For instance, we could have a conversation like:
Nowadays there are generic versions of sweetened, condensed milk as well, but if I ever have a conversation with my mother, I'm sure we will not say ‘sweetened, condensed milk.’ We will say ‘Eagle Brand’ and know exactly what the other means.
Don responds: a good point. The rule is actually more complicated than that, and one finds that not all Russians agree when to use со vs. с. In fact the one that I ran that sentence by didn't bat at eyelash at «с сгущенкой». Still, «со сгущенкой» is vastly more common, and I have updated the entry to that effect. Thanks!
(special thanks to languagehat.com for linking here)
Также предлог "со" употребляется перед формами с начальными сочетаниями [л, ль, р, м] + согласная: со лба, со мной, со льдом, со ртом; также перед сочетаниями [в] + согласная: со вторника, со всеми, со второго."
Не советую вам так опираться на мнение носителей языка. Мы допускаем слишком много ошибок, о которых сами не знаем.
Don responds: Melodi, thanks for the comment! Your rule is generally good for foreigners.