Category: "Beverages"


by Don  

An English speaker might assume that лимонад means lemonade, but in Russian it means almost any non-alcoholic beverage, usually carbonated, and usually sweetened with fruit or berry syrup or sometimes with various herbs or artificial flavors. In other words, it means soft drink. That's right: in Russian both Пепси-Кола and Кока-Кола are лимонад.

In Russia there are many лимонады that we Westerners usually don't encounter in the US. For instance:

Name Flavoring
Байкал St. John's wort and licorice
Ситро Various citrus flavorings
Бионад Various flavors (even leechee)

Probably the scariest one of them all is Тархун, pictured to the right, which is flavored with dragon's wort. Its green coloring makes it look like an industrial-sized bottle of Nyquil, and its flavor is somewhere between vile and repulsive.

Here are some sample sentences:

— Какой ты хочешь лимонад?
— Фанту.
“What soft drink do you want?”
Ой, у нас кончился лимонад. Придётся зайти в магазин. Oh, no, we've run out of soft drinks. We'll have to run to the store.
Мама спрятала шоколадку в холодильнике за лимонадом. Mom hid the chocolate bar in the refrigerator behind the soft drinks.
Хотя это плохо для здоровья, я не могу обходиться без лимонада. Although it's bad for the health, I just can't do without soft drinks.


by Don  

A small restaurant where they sell кофе is called кофейня, and its genitive plural is кофеен. Doubtless the most well known coffee trademark is Starbucks, and sure enough you can even find their shops in Russia nowadays. Here's a sign from one of their outlets:

The sign reads: “The espresso you find in each Starbucks latte and cappucino is 100% responsibly grown and fairly traded.”

If you are up for a challenge, here are two linguistic tasks for you:

  1. You will notice the English translation does not match word for word with the Russian original. See if you can come up with a translation that matches the original more closely word for word and yet still sounds good in English.
  2. You will notice that the word еспрессо ends in an -о but shows masculine adjectival agreement. Present a hypothesis as to why that is.

Post your translations and hypotheses to the blog using the comment links.


by Don  

The Russian word for coffee is кофе. It's an indeclinable noun, which means it never changes its ending for case or number. Despite the ending, it's a masculine noun, not a neuter one. In other words, one is supposed to say чёрный кофе, not чёрное кофе. There is a reason for that: the word used to be кофей, which is clearly masculine. In fact, if you read Crime and Punishment in Russian, you will still find it spelled that way.

You know how in English data is supposed to be plural, but everyone uses it as a singular form? That is, we are supposed to say “These data are interesting,” but in fact we usually say “This data is interesting”? The Russians are in a similar situation with the word кофе. Theoretically it's masculine, but it's incredibly common to hear it as a neuter. The error is so widespread that it has spawned a well-known joke:

К буфетчице постоянно подходили покупатели, которые просили одно кофе. At the snackbar customers would constantly ask the clerk for одно coffee.
Каждый раз она с досадой думала: Each time she would get irritated and think:
«Что за безграмотность! “What illiteracy!
Хоть бы раз в жизни услышать нормальное один кофе.» Just once in my life I'd like to hear a proper один кофе.
Вдруг к ней обращается иностранец: Suddenly a foreigner walks up to her and says:
«Мне, пожалуйста, один кофе…». I'd like один coffee, please…”
Буфетчица с удивлённой радостью смотрит на него, The clerk looks at him with surprise and joy,
и он добавляет: «…и один булочка.» and then he adds “and один sweet roll.”

The last line is funny because in that context a Russian will say одна булочка; thus the foreigner accidentally got the grammatically tricky point right, but then he slaughtered the Russian language by making a mistake that no native speaker, not even the least educated, would ever make.

This joke is retold all over Russia in a thousand variations where the customer changes: often he's a Georgian because the Georgian accent is well known and commonly mocked, sometimes a Russian, sometimes a foreigner, and the jokes are sometimes written with funky Russian spelling to portray his non-Russian accent.

Update 2009-09-02: As of yesterday a decree of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science went into effect that affirms several dictionaries as normative for Russian as the official language of the Russian government. Those dictionaries acknowledge that кофе can be treated as neuter, so in a sense it is now officially acceptable to say чёрное кофе. The dictionaries include:

  • "Орфографический словарь русского языка" Б.Букчиной, И.Сазоновой и Л.Чельцовой
  • "Грамматический словарь русского языка" под редакцией А.Зализняка
  • "Словарь ударений русского языка" И.Резниченко
  • "Большой фразеологический словарь русского языка" с комментарием В.Телия


by Olga  

The Russian word for beer is пиво. In Russia beer is a very common drink among construction workers, and many beer brewers sell their beer around these locations because of the good business. On a hot summer day many Russians find that cold beer is one of the most satisfying beverages. My grandfather spent most of his life working as a construction worker and found it very rewarding to enjoy a cold beer after work with his friends. He would say «Друзья! Давайте купим пиво сегодня после работы» “Friends! Let’s buy beer today after work”. On weekends I often saw that my grandfather invited his friends for some beer and television.

Beer also can be used as a hair rinse because it promotes hair shine and strength. A few years ago my mother invited a friend to our house while I was getting ready for a night out with friends. I wanted to take a shower and use beer as my hair rinse so without thinking twice, I went to the kitchen and poured some beer into a plastic cup. As I walked past my mother and her friend, I said «Я пойду принять душ» “I am going to take a shower,” and I continued walking with my cup of beer. My mother’s friend stopped me and asked «Почему ты берёшь кружку пива с собой в душ?» “Why are you taking a cup of beer with you to the shower?” I realized how awkward the situation was and began laughing because I knew that I looked funny standing with a robe халат, towel полотенце, and a cup of beer in my hands. I explained this remedy to my mother’s friend, and since then she too has been using this remedy.

Don's additional comments: There are quite a few songs about beer in Russian, among them Ода пиву “Ode to beer” by Тимур Шаов, Пора по пиву “Time for a beer” by А.Ивашенко and Г.Васильев, the rhythm-and-bluesy Холодное пиво by Аквариум, Гимн пиву “A hymn to beer,” and the rock-and-rollsy Пиво “Beer” by Группа Чайф. But the song that makes me laugh the hardest is the frenetic dance tune «Пей пиво» by Дискотека Авария. Click this link to see the video, lyrics, and translation.


by Olga  

The Russian word for water is вода. I like to live a healthy lifestyle and as a result, I find myself watching the health channel quite frequently. I was watching a program about water and the reporter said «Доктора рекомендуют людям пить от двух до трех литров воды каждый день» “Doctors recommend that people drink two to three liters of water every day.” It is critical to consume enough water to avoid dehydration, especially in Arizona. A few reasons for drinking enough water daily are to increase energy поднять энергию, free the organism of toxins избавить организм от токсинов, loose weight потерять вес, and improve function of the digestive system улучшить функцию пищеварительной системы. There are many more benefits to drinking an adequate amount of water, but even the short list I came up with should be enough to motivate everyone to drink more water. Despite the obvious importance of water, many people still do not consume enough even when hiking on a hot summer day. I often find it strange when I hear a story on the news about a hiker who chose not to bring enough water and had to be airlifted to the hospital due to acute dehydration.

Don's additional notes: the dimunitive form of вода is водичка, so if someone says «Не хочешь водички?», then you know that they mean “Do you want some water?” But you have to be careful because the diminutive of водка is водочка, so if someone says «Не хочешь водочки?», then they mean “Do you want some vodka?”

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