Category: "Idioms"


by Tatiana  

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.


by Don  

The word ботаник means botanist. It declines perfectly regularly, assuming of course you know the seven-letter spelling rule:


A ботаник is a person who studies ботаника botany. (Note that the nominative singular ботаника ‘botany’ is written the same way as the accusative/genitive singular of ботаник ‘botanist.’) The definition of ботаник on runs something like this:

Ботаник — человек, имеющий образование в области ботаники или профессионально занимающийся этой наукой. A botanist is a person educated in the field of botany or one who is a professional in that science.

Some botanists have extraordinary lives:

Мой дядя — ботаник, который специализируется по растительности амазонских джунглей. Он ползает по лесам, собирая образцы и стараясь избегать внимания местных людоедов. My uncle is a botanist who specializes in the vegetation of the Amazonian jungles. He crawls around the forests gathering samples and trying to avoid the attention of the local cannibals.

That, however, is not the image associated with the word in Russian pop culture. There a ботаник is someone who is involved in completely uninteresting and testosterone-deficient activities, in other words a geek or a nerd:

— Лен, мне очень понравился твой Саша. Какой он красавец!
— Ты шутишь? Он полнейший ботаник, всё время дома сидит, перелистывая энциклопедию. Как только вернётся Паша, я Сашку наверно брошу.
“Lena, I really liked your boyfriend, Alexandr. He's a real stud!”
“Are you kidding? He's a complete geek. He just stays at home all the time, leafing through the encylopedia. As soon as Pavel gets back, I'm probably going to dump Aleksandr.”

Собака на сене

by Tatiana  

Russians love their proverbs and pithy sayings. It is amazing how many of them we have and use excessively to express so many different emotions. It seems that we have one for every life situation. We love them almost as much as we do our swear words :D (Honestly, I once heard a guy speak using just swear words! Quite an experience, I might add…)

Photo«Собака на сене» is one of the very neat expressions we use. It is translated as “dog on hay”. The full saying goes: «собака на сене: и сама не ест, и другим не даёт», “dog on hay: she neither eats it herself, nor lets the others”. It is used when someone does not do something simply out of spite or uses something that others want just so they will not get it.

Она - как собака на сене: она не любит его, но не дает ему найти другую. “She is like a 'dog on hay': she does not love him but she will not allow him to find someone else.”
Моя жена вегетарианка, поэтому дома мы не едим мясо. Она как собака на сене: и сама не ест, и нам не даёт! “My wife is a vegetarian; therefore, we do not eat meat at home. She is like a dog on hay: she neither eats it herself, nor lets us!”

Here is how my kitty demonstrates it: :)

Моя кошка любит спать на крышке унитаза - ну, не собака ли на сене? “My cat likes to sleep on the toilet cover – she is a regular dog on hay, isn’t she?

There is a really great play written by Lope De Vega that is called «Собака на сене». There a beautiful duchess falls in love with her secretary. She cannot be with him because of the difference in their social status, but at the same time her jealousy is driving her crazy. She is torn between what her honor dictates her and what her heart yearns for. That makes her act like the dog in the proverb: she does not commit to either being with her love or agree to let him go. It is a beautiful love story with a very happy ending.

This play was staged and made into a movie in 1977 by a talented director, Yan Frid. This adaptation is very popular and much loved in Russia. I would recommend for everyone to see it!

Жаворонок, сова

by Don  

In English we have several words for a person who likes to go to bed early and get up early: morning person, early riser, early bird. People who like to go to bed late and get up late are night people or night owls. If you go to a Russian dating service like or (not that I myself have ever been to such a site), you may find that you have to specify whether you are an early bird or a night owl. The Russian equivalent of an early bird is жаворонок, literally a skylark, and the Russian equivalent of a night owl is сова, literally an owl. So you can fill out those parts of your dating profile like this:

Режим дня

Я — сова.
Я — жаворонок.

Daily routine

I'm a night owl.
I'm an early bird.

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