March 17th, 2014 — posted by Don

Russian distinguishes two words for ‘now,’ one of which means ‘nowadays,’ and the other means ‘at this moment.’ The one that means ‘now, at this moment’ is сейчас. Beginning Russian students in the US often have а disgustingly limited knowledge of grammar, so for them I have this piece of advice: if your instructor asks you to what part of speech a particular word belongs and if you have absolutely no idea, then guess ‘adverb.’ Consider this dialog:

Glorious instructor: “What part of speech is сейчас?”
Vapid student: “It's an adverb.”
Glorious instructor: “Correct!”

You see? By taking RWOTD's sage advice the vapid student now has curried the instructor's favor and will doubtless eventually enter grad school.

Here are a few example sentences:

Мама сейчас на работе. Mom is at work now.
— Хочешь пойти со мной в кино?
— Извини, но я сейчас занята.
“Do you want to go to the movies with me?”
“Sorry, but I'm busy now.”
— Почему ты сейчас здесь?
— Потому что не хочу идти домой.
“Why are you here now?”
“Because I don't want to go home.”

Interestingly enough, сейчас can also mean “right away”:

— Ваня, где ты? Приди домой поскорей, а то тебя накажут.
— Я сейчас буду!
“Vanya, where are you? Come home right away or you'll be in trouble.”
“I will be right there!”
Я сейчас приготовлю ужин, а потом мы пойдём в кино. I'll make dinner right away, then we will go to the movie.

«Я покажу тебе Кузькину мать!»

March 12th, 2014 — posted by Natasha

«Я покажу тебе Кузькину мать!» is a Russian idiom that is very hard to translate. It is often used as a threat. In essence it means: "I'll show you what's what!" It can also mean "to give somebody a hard time." It literally translates to: "I'll show you Kuzka's mother!", but that doesn't really make sense in English. Who the heck is Kuzka? And why are we bringing his mother into this? There have been many theories about the origin of the phrase. Some are more farfetched than others. One idea is that Kuzka was a ghost mother that lived behind stoves, and would scare away anyone that saw her. Another theory is that Kuzka was a kind of crop eating beetle that would destroy farmers' harvests, so the sight of the beetles' eggs, or "mother" would indicate that the crop was in jeopardy. There is also a theory that the phrase refers to a riding whip, called a kuzka, that a groom would keep in his boot during the wedding, signifying his dominance over his fiancee.

Whatever the origin, the phrase was popularized by former Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev. He liked using the phrase because of it's ambiguity. He enjoyed stumping his interpreters, who would often times try to translate the phrase literally, which would lead to very puzzled looks on the faces of his American counterparts. For a time in the Cold War the phrase was used as a metaphor for the Atomic Bomb. Nowadays, though, it is used more humorously, and is used to do comical impersonations of Khruschev. It is not as common anymore, but it can still be used in a threatening manner.

Photo Credit: NARA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some examples:

— Я не уверен, что вы выиграете завтра.
— Мы покажем тебе Кузькину мать!
“I don't think you'll win the game tomorrow.”
“We’ll show you!”
— Ты всегда будешь неудачником!
— Я покажу тебе Кузькину мать!
“You'll never be a success.”
“I'll prove you wrong!”


March 10th, 2014 — posted by Don

The verb вести means to guide someone somewhere. It's a unidirectional verb that conjugates like this:

Infinitive вести
Past вёл
Present веду
Future буду вести
будешь вести
будет вести
будем вести
будете вести
будут вести
Imperative веди(те)

Unidirectional verbs have multiple interpretations. The first one is applicable when you spot someone going somewhere with someone else.

— Куда ты идёшь?
— Я веду дочку в школу.
“Where are you going?”
“I'm taking my daughter to school.”

Unidirectional verbs in the present tense also have the meaning of ‘intent in the immediate future’:

— Какие у Ивана планы на вечер?
— Он ведёт гостей из Астрахани на дискотеку.
“What are Ivan's plans for the evenging?”
“He's taking his guests from Astrakhan to a club.”

In the past tense they focus on action in progress at a particular point of time:

— Куда ты шла, когда я тебя увидел возле почты?
— Я вела бабушку к врачу.
“What were you doing yesterday when I saw you near the post office?”
“I was taking my grandmother to the doctor.”


March 5th, 2014 — posted by Natasha

The Russian word храпеть means 'to snore'. It conjugates like this:

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive храпеть похрапеть
Past храпел
Present храплю
No such thing
as perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду храпеть
будешь храпеть
будет храпеть
будем храпеть
будете храпеть
будут храпеть
Imperative храпи(те) похрапи(те)

Here are some examples:

Он храпел всю ночь. He snored all night long.
— Ты выглядишь ужасно.
— Hу, я не мог уснуть вчера ночью. Моя жена храпелa, как порося.
"You look terrible."
"Well, I couldn't fall asleep last night. My wife was snoring like a piglet."
Он храпел каждую ночь, поэтому она навалилась на его и задушила подушкой. He snored every night, so she stuffed a pillow in his face and smothered him.
Она громко храпит, но мне всё равно. She snores loudly, but I don't mind.


March 3rd, 2014 — posted by Don

Last summer in Kazan I was at a little restaurant with a friend, and after dinner we ordered tea, and to complement it we ordered a little plate containing «сухофрукты в ассортиментe» ‘assorted dried fruits.’

They also offered a plate containing «конфеты в ассортименте» ‘assorted candy.’

Ah, what a joy! Eat a full meal, and then rest a bit, have a bit of tea, and see what space opens up for a bit of dried apricot or an almond or a bit of chocolate. «Ах, какая благодать!» “Oh, what bliss!”

Thus we see that the word for ‘assortment’ in Russian is ассортимент, which declines like this:


It can be used as a noun in the meaning of ‘assortment’ or ‘range’ or ‘number’:

В этом ресторане большой ассортимент мясных блюд. This restaurant has a large assortment of meat dishes.
В этом году наша фирма расширяет ассортимент высококачественных товаров на пятьдесят процентов. This year our company is expanding our range of high-quality goods by fifty percent.

In English we might buy a box of ‘assorted chocolates,’ or an organic farm might offer weekly boxes of ‘assorted vegetables.’ The Russian equivalent of ‘assorted’ is the prepositional phrase «в ассортименте», literally ‘in an assortment.’ Thus we have:

мороженое в ассортименте assorted flavors of ice cream
вино в ассортименте assorted wines
цветы в ассортименте assorted flowers

Let's assume that you are in a Russian restaurant, and their menu offers assorted flavors of ice cream, and let's assume they are trying to make their menu tourist-friendly. They could put it like this:

But you know, ассортимент is kind of a long word, and a menu only has so much space, and sometimes translators are not entirely aware of the cultural equivalents of what they want to say, so sometimes we get odd results. Consider this menu that someone found during the recent Sochi Winter Olympics:

Alas, I wish I could say that this was the only occurence, but there was also

and also

I imagine that after these menus hit the net, the translator must have felt like an ... Oh, never mind.