Category: "Hand"


by Don  

The Russian word for paw is лапа. It is a perfectly regular second declension noun:


Just as in English, we can use this word when talking to a dog to make him perform tricks:

Дай лапу! Shake a paw!

Unlike English, Russian can produce a bundle of diminutive forms to say the same thing:

Дай лапку!
Дай лапочку!
Дай лапушку!
Shake a paw!

Sometimes the word is also used as a derogatory word for human hands as well. For instance, if man makes an unwanted advance, a woman might say:

Убери лапы, идиот! Я не из таких. Get your paws off me, you idiot! I'm not that kind of girl.

But the place where this word gets a lot of mileage is in the diminutive лапушка, which is roughly the equivalent of “a sweetie” or “a cutie” in American English. For instance, if your neighbor shows you a boxful of newborn kittens, you might say:

Ой, какие лапушки! Можно подержать? Oh, what little cuties! Can I hold one?

Tanya, who occasionally writes for this blog, has a little dog named Wiggles. Sometimes she will say to him:

Виглз, лапушка ты моя, иди, садись к маме. Wiggles, you little cutie pie, come over here and sit next to Mommy.

And sometimes that form is even used with people:

Ванечка, лапушка, как красиво ты сегодня выглядишь! Johnny, my little sweetie, you look so handsome today!

Левша, правша

by Don  

The words левша and правша mean leftie (a left-handed person) and rightie (a right-handed person) respectively. The former declines like this:

Sing Pl
Nom левша левши
Acc левшу левшей
Gen левши левшей
Pre левше левшах
Dat левше левшам
Ins левшой левшами

The word правша declines precisely the same way. A few example sentences:

Если вы правша, то большую часть пищи вы пережёвываете на правой стороне челюсти, и наоборот, если вы левша, то на левой. (source) If you are right-handed, then you chew the majority of your food on the right side of your mouth, and conversely if you are left-handed, then [you chew] on the left side.
Исследования указывают, что левшами чаще являются мужчины чем женщины. (Russian Wikipedia) Research shows that men are left-handed more often than women.
Почему левши зарабатывают больше правшей? Why do lefties earn more than righties?
Электросудорожная терапия превращает правшей в левшей. Electroshock therapy turns righies into lefties.

Though every beginning student of Russian knows that there are masculine nouns and feminine nouns, not every student knows that there are common gender nouns as well, and among them are левша and правша. A common gender noun is one that takes masculine adjectives if referring to a man and feminine adjectives if referring to a woman. Thus one could theoretically say:

Юлия — легкомысленная левша. Julie is an air-headed leftie.
Иван — нахальный левша. John is a cocky leftie.

Simlarly if a common gender noun is the subject of a sentence, it induces masculine agreement in the verb if the noun refers to a man and feminine agreement if the noun refers to a woman. Thus, though not a common thing to say, one could theoretically say:

В комнату вошла правша. A right-handed woman entered the room.
В комнату вошёл правша. A right-handed man entered the room.

Рука, часть четвёртая

by Don  

As mentioned in previous entries, the most common word for arm/hand in Russian is рука. What if you want to be more specific?

First off, the actual hand is called кисть, which is a feminine noun. It includes запястье the wrist, пястье (the area from the wrist to the first knuckle of each finger, which is also called пясть... heck, do we even have a word for that in English?), and пальцы “the digits.” I say “digits” here because the word палец can mean either finger or toe. If you want to specify fingers, then you say пальцы рук, and if you want to specify the toes, you say пальцы ног.

Next we have the forearm предплечье, in which the major bones are the radius лучевая кость (literally “the ray bone”), which is the bone on the same side of the arm as the thumb, and the ulna локтевая кость (literally “the elbow bone”). I think the average American doesn't know the words radius and ulna. The Russian phrases are a bit more descriptive than the Latinate English equivalents. I wonder if the average Russian knows the names of those bones in Russian? Maybe we'll be fortunate and a native will add a comment about that to this post.

Moving on up we have the elbow локоть, a masculine word, whose second о is a fleeting vowel, thus genitive локтя.

Moving farther up we have плечо, which can mean either the shoulder itself, or it can mean collectively both the shoulder and the upper arm. The bone in the upper arm is плечевая кость, literally “the shoulder bone.” That sounds funny to us Americans. Although the proper name of the bone is “the humerus,” there is a song called “Dry Bones” that contains a line “the arm bone's connected to the shoulder bone;” it sounds amusingly folksy. Even humorous… pun intended.

Last but not least, the English word palm means the front side of what the Russians call пястье. Isn't that curious? We have a word in English that describes the area from the wrist to the first knuckles of the fingers as understood from the front side of the hand, but we don't have a word that describes it from the back side. The Russian word for palm is ладонь, which is a feminine noun. Isn't that curious? Both languages have a word for that part of the hand as considered from the front side. Russian has two words (пястье & пясть) for that part of the hand as considered from either side, but English has no such word. And both languages (as far as I know, correct me if I'm wrong) do not have a single word describing that part of the hand as considered solely from the back side.

Finally, Russian has a conversational term they use sometimes, пятерня, which means “the palm and the fingers,” i.e. what we English speakers usually call the hand, but пятерня is used much, much less often than рука.

Рука, часть третья

by Don  

As mentioned before, рука can be translated 'hand' and 'arm.' Sometimes that distinction will be reflected in the choice of за and под: use with за usually indicates 'hand,' and под 'arm.' For instance:

Она взяла меня за руку и повела в церковь.She took me by the hand and led me to church.
Я почти не мог ходить. Папа взял меня под руку и отвёл меня к медсестре.I could barely walk. Dad took me by the arm [supported me under the arm] and took me to the nurse.
Мы пошли домой, держась за руки.We headed home hand in hand.
Мы пошли домой под руку.We headed home arm in arm.

Hand in hand, arm in arm… Russians are not nearly as freaked out about physical contact as we Gringos are. Male friends can walk arm in arm without any connotation of romantic involvement. Female friends often walk hand in hand without anyone thinking twice about it.

I remember the first time I was in Russia, 1986, I was interested in the fate of the баптисты. Баптист at the time was the closest equivalent to "Evangelical Christian." At church one Sunday I passed a Bible off to a Russian guy. (They were still not all that easily available then.) We ended up talking; I was invited to his home. After dinner he escorted me back to the subway station, and then eventually all the way back to the university. As we sat in the subway car, he threaded his arm through my arm; that by itself was odd for me as an American man. But when he got to a sensitive part of the conversation, he leaned over to whisper; as he whispered I could feel his lips moving inside my ear. Fortunately I had been taught that Russians have very different perceptions of personal space and contact, so I didn't overreact. I should say that this was not typical. None of my other Russian acquaintances have ever been quite that touchy-feely. The important thing is to give people the benefit of the doubt when you first experience a new culture first hand.

There are other entries about the word рука in this blog. Click on the 'ruka' category to find them.

Рука, часть вторая

by Don  

Since рука means both 'arm' and 'hand,' the Russians use other means to distinguish which part of the arm/hand is involved, and often this involves a distinction between the prepositions в and на. If the preposition в is involved, it usually correlates to 'hand' in English; if на, then 'arm.' For instance:

В руке она держала ключ от новой машины.In her hand she held the key to a new car.
На руках он держала сына брата.She held her brother's son in her arms.

You'll notice that those sentences used the prepositional case; that's because they expressed the location of the thing being held. Russian usually distinguishes motion phrases and location phrases. So if you want to take things into your hands/arms, you end up using the accusative case:

Она взяла котёнка в руки, и котёнок лизнул её в нос.She picked up the kitten [and held it in her hands], and the kitten licked her nose.
Она взяла котёнка на руки, и котёнок лизнул её в щёку.She picked up the kitten [and held it in her arms], and the kitten licked her cheek.
Я взял племянника на руки, и он срыгнул на мою рубашку.I picked up my nephew [and held him in my arms], and he spit up on my shirt.

More importantly, if you want to take someone in your arms, the best way to say it is with the verb обнимать/обнять 'to embrace, hug' which you can use without even mentioning руки: «Я её обнял» “I hugged/embraced her.”

For other entries about the word рука, click on the 'ruka' category.

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