One of the most useful words in the English language is whatchamacallit. We use it to indicate an object whose name we've forgotten. For instance, let's say you and your sister are in the kitchen and you can't remember the word collander but you need it. You could say to her “Hand me that whatchamacallit. You know, that thing to drain the pasta with.” Or you are working on your car with your brother and you can't remember “feeler gauge,” then gesturing toward the toolbox you might have this conversation:
“The thing to check the spark gap.”
“Okay. Here you go.”
There are a lot of variations on that word. For instance,
Hand me that thingamajig.
Hand me that thingamajigger.
Hand me that whatchamajigger.
Hand me that whatchamabob.
Hand me that thingamabob.
Hand me that thingamabobber.
Hand me that thingamadilly.
Hand me that whoziwhatsis.
Hand me that whatsis.
The phrase that the Russians use for whatchamacallit is «вот это самое». Let's say two Russians are in the kitchen and can't remember the word дуршлаг. They might have this conversation:
|— Передай вот это самое.
— Что именно?
— Та штучка, чтобы слить воду с макарон.
|“Pass me that thingamabob.”
“That thing to drain the pasta.”
Or two Russians are working on the car:
|— Дай-ка вот это самое.||“Pass me that thingamabob.”|
|— Вон, тот ключ.||“Over there, that tool.”|
|— Какой ключ?||“Which tool?”|
|— Эх, ты же знаешь, о чём я говорю. Чтобы гайки затянуть.||“Come on, you know what I'm talking about. To tighten the nuts.”|
|— Это называется гаечный ключ. Господи, у тебя словарный запас пятилетнего мальчика.||“It's called a wrench. Good Lord, you have the vocabulary of a five-year old.”|
|— Не преувеличивай. Просто забыл слово.||“Don't make a big deal about this. I just forgot the word.”|
Having now studied twelve languages, I can tell you with complete confidence that none has profanity as astonishing as Russian profanity. Seriously. The creativity, eloquence and vile vigor of Russian cussing is simply mind-boggling. English profanity is like baby-talk compared to Russian. The word that names the system of Russian profanity is мат. Notice that there is no soft-sign at the end of the word. Despite the superficial resemblance to the word for mother, you must never use мат around your Russian мать. She will slap your face so fast, you won't know what hit you.
|Не ругайся матом!||Don't cuss!|
|Не поверишь, но сегодня я слышал, как японец ругался чисто русским матом. А я всегда считал японцев такими вежливыми.||You won't believe it, but today I heard a Japanese man swearing like a real Russian. And I had always considered the Japanese so polite.|
|Почему на университетских занятиях не преподают мат?||Why don't they teach profanity in university classes?|
|Андрюха полнейшая свинья. Без мата не может выражаться.||Andrew is a complete pig. He can't open his mouth without cussing.|
In the US you can often hear English curse words in casual conversations on the street. In Russia there is still a wide gap between people who regularly use мат and people who don't. Those who use it, use it like crazy. Most everybody else hardly ever uses it. Not too surprisingly, factory workers and peasants are more likely to use it than highly educated folks. I was much amused to read about an ice cream factory in Barnaul where the management got so tired of the workers' vulgarity that they issued an official dictionary to help the workers translate their normal curse-laden expressions into polite literary Russian. I can tell, dear reader, that you are consumed with curiosity about this dictionary, so a bit of it is reproduced below.
Warning! The material below contains offensive Russian and English profanity!
I don’t like most horror movies. There is always a naïve dummy being led into the hands of an evil master, who is driven by his utter insanity or various psychological issues. All this blood spill doesn’t do anything for me except for giving me an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Personally, I prefer suspense. I like that little chill and goose bumps you get when thinking “Can this really be possible?”
In Russian the goose bumps are called «гусиная кожа» “goose skin.” However, a more folksy word is мурашки.
The reason мурашки is used to describe this feeling is because this is also a word for ants or other little insects. Therefore, «мурашки по коже побежали», “ants ran on the skin” is probably one of the most used expressions to describe goose bumps along with the feeling causing them. (Insects running on your skin… mmmagical feeling… Gross!)
|Я люблю читать, сидя у большого дуба у реки. Только вот там очень много всяких мурашек и букашек бегает...||I like reading next to a big oak tree over by the river. Too bad there are a lot of ants and other bugs there…|
I am not sure what the context should be but I suppose you one could talk about a singular goose bump, мурашка, even though it is usually seen in its plural form. However, мурашка can definitely be used when talking about an ant.
Just like in English, you can get мурашки from being cold or overcome by feelings, either positive or negative.
|Когда я слушаю музыку Моцарта, у меня аж мурашки по коже!||When I listen to Mozart’s music, I get goose bumps!|
|— Тебе Коля рассказывал, как он по темноте домой вчера возвращался?
— Да, страшно так, у меня муражки по коже пробежали!
|“Did Kolya tell you how he was getting home in the dark yesterday?"
“Yes, so scary, I even got the goose bumps!”
|Какая ужасная история! У меня мурашки выступили!||What a horrible story! I got goose bumps!|
|Тебе не холодно? Смотри, ты вся в мурашках!||Are you cold? Look, you are all covered in goose bumps!|
|Когда меня начальник к себе вызвал, у меня муражки по спине пробежали: думала, уволит!||When my boss called me in to see him, I got goose bumps: I thought he was going to fire me!|
A little while ago I wrote about words that can have multiple meanings because of their use in Russian slang. The verb «ломать» as well as its reflexive form «ломаться» are also such words.
The main meaning of this verb is “to break”. However, someone could say меня ломает to express a feeling of withdrawal after using drugs or when being sick and running high fever. Consequently, the word for withdrawals is «ломка».
|Когда моя кошка опрокинула вазу, тюльпаны упали на пол и их стебли сломались.||When my cat knocked a vase over, the tulips fell on the floor and the stems got broken.|
|— Катя, зачем ты сломала Ленину куклу?
— Потому, что она не давала мне с ней играть!
|“Katya, why did you break Lena’s doll?"
“Because she wouldn’t let me play with it!”
|На улице было очень скользко. Я упала и сломала руку!||It was very slippery outside. I fell and broke my arm.|
|— Почему Костя так себя ведёт?
— Его ломает: он пытается бросить принимать наркотики.
|“Why is Kostya acting this way?”
“He’s having withdrawals from trying to quit taking drugs.”
There is also a rather well used idiom using this verb: «ломать себе голову». It means to puzzle or rack one's brains over something.
|Я ломаю себе голову, пытаясь понять, как это случилось.||I am puzzled trying to understand how it happened.|
The reflexive form, ломаться, means to quit working or functioning.
|У меня поломалась машина, можешь подвезти?||My car broke; could you give me a ride?|
However, ломаться can also mean, “crack” when referencing changes in a young’s man’s voice.
|У Васи голос уже ломается, он становится мужчиной.||Vasya’s voice is cracking; he’s becoming a man.|
Also, ломаться has two other meanings in Russian slang. The first one is to "put on airs, while the second one is to "stubbornly refuse to concede".
|Ну что ты ломаешься? Не можешь нормально говорить?||Why are you putting on airs? Can’t you speak normally?|
|Дима, тебя все упрашивают, а ты ломаешься! Ну, кто так делает?||Dima, everyone is begging you and you are stubbornly refusing! Who does that?|
Here's a video from Kira Muratova's movie. Her movies are always very unique. More often than not the main character is played by Renata Litvinova, who is the queen of putting on airs.
If you would like to see a transcript and translation of this clip, click here.
In Russian when we want to express how light (in weight) something is we compare it to «пух», “down” or “fluff” or a piece of fluff, «пушинка».
|Что же может быть в этой посылке, она как пух легкая!||"What could be in this package; it is as light as fluff!"|
|Ты так похудела, просто пушинка!||"You lost so much weight, you weigh like a feather!"|
Пух is a noun of masculine gender that has no plural form. The diminutive is пушок. There can be various adjectives formed from the word пух: пуховый or пуховой and пушистый. The first two mean something made out of down. There can be пуховое одеяло or пуховик, which is essentially a comforter or a пуховка, “down jacket”. However, the third adjective means ‘fluffy’ and is used to describe fur, hair or fabrics. A cat can also be пушистый. In fact, a very popular cat name is Пушок, which is sort of like Fuzzball or Fluffball. Interestingly enough, Winnie the Pooh in Russian is translated as Винни Пух. The reason for it might be just similar sounding Pooh and Пух; however, it fits well – Winnie is a fluffy toy!
|Тебе не холодно, хочешь, пуховое одеяло принесу?||"Are you cold, do you want me to bring you a comforter?"|
|Сегодня на улице очень холодно и Вася одел пуховку.||"It’s very cold outside today; Vasya wore a down jacket."|
Also, there is пухлый that describes someone chubby, often unhealthy; while пухленький is usually used in a positive sense, as an attractive quality.
|Какой милый пухленький малыш! Так бы и ущепнула за щечку!||"What a cute chubby baby! I just want to pinch his little cheek!" ¹|
There are various expressions and idioms in Russian that use пух. For example, instead of saying “good luck”, we say, «Hи пуха, ни пера!» “neither down nor feather!” If you think this is weird, check this out! The standard response to this is «К чёрту!» “To devil!” Even though it doesn’t make much sense, I feel better, when someone says it to me before my exams.
Another good one is «в пух и прах». This idiom means “to the maximum”, “completely” or “utterly”.
|Армия врага была разбита в пух и прах.||"The enemy’s army was defeated utterly."|
|Куда ты собираешся, разоделась в пух и прах?||"Where are you going with your best clothes on?"|
Lastly, «рыльце в пушку» “snout in down/feathers” means that someone is not as innocent as they try to appear, just like “have a finger in a pie”. This idiom comes from a fable about a fox that wanted to appear innocent but its muzzle was covered with chicken feathers.
|— Марина рассказала учительнице, что я списывала, а сама то же самое делает!
— Да, рыльце у неё в пушку, я тоже видела, как она подглядывала!
|“Marina told the teacher that I was cheating but she is doing the same thing!”
“Yes, but she was just as guilty; I saw her peeking too!”
When I was little I really liked different riddles. I remember one time in class in elementary school our teacher decided to have a tricky question hour. Whoever would answer the most riddles would get a prize. It is funny that the question that got me my prize was very easy, “what is heavier: a kilogram of nails of a kilogram of down?” However, no one in my class seemed to know the answer right away. I remember I got up and said, «Они весят одинаково - один килограмм!», “they weigh the same – one kilogram!”… I couldn’t be prouder of myself that day!
¹ Don comments: Although “What a cute, chubby baby!” is an accurate translation of the Russian sentence, I should warn Russian readers never to call an American baby fat or chubby. The parents will be offended.