by Don  

The word огород means a chunk of land near your house where you grow vegetables, in other words a vegetable garden, although in English we usually just say garden. It might also have berries and apples, but it's essential to have either vegetables or greens. It's a perfectly regular 1st declension noun.


Omigosh, but the Russians love their gardens. If they have a дача, then in the summer months they get out of town and raise as much food as they possibly can. If you'd like to see some pictures of a real Russian garden, take a look here.

— Где Даня?
— Он поливает огород.
“Where is Danny?”
“He is watering the garden.”
Флюра привезла мне огурцы и кабачки из своего огорода. Flura brought me cucumbers and squash from her garden.
За нашим огородом есть речка, на которую мы ходим ловить рыбу. Behind our garden is a stream where we go fishing.
— Что ты делал сегодня утром?
— Я полол сорняки в огороде.
“What did you do this morning?”
“I pulled weeds in the garden.”


by Don  

My language partner, Alan, and I went to an exhibition of exotic fish at one of the museums on ул. Кремлёвская. That set me thinking about aquariums. The word is fairly straight forward in Russian.


Of course the first thing I wanted to do was discuss the difference between fresh-water aquariums and salt-water aquariums, and I translated those phrases word for word into Russian. Wrong. You can't literally say ‘fresh-water aquarium’ in Russian; instead you have to say ‘an aquarium with fresh-water fish’ or ‘an aquarium with salt-water fish.’

— Я хочу завести аквариум с пресноводными рыбами.
— Начни с золотых рыбок. Их тяжело убивать.
“I want to set up a fresh-water aquarium.”
“Start with goldfish. They are hard to kill.”
— Я хочу завести аквариум с морскими рыбами.
— Это очень сложно, требует много времени и заботы.
“I want to set up a saltwater aquarium.”
“That's very complicated and takes a lot of time and effort.”
В моём аквариуме живут тетры и меченосцы. My aquarium has tetras and swordtails.
У нас золотая рыбка выпрыгнула из аквариума и умерла на полу, из-за этого наша дочка весь день ходит в слезах. Our goldfish jumped out of the aquarium and died on the floor, so our daughter has been walking around crying all day.

This article would not be complete without mentioning the legendary rock band «Аквариум». Of their music I especially love the song “Rock and roll's dead, but I'm not... yet.” You can listen to it and read the words and translation here.

Хрень: Lower that horseradish!

by Don  

My language partner and I went to see «Президент Линкольн: охотник на вампиров» together, and when we sat down I thought he said to me, «Спусти этот хрен», which literally means “Lower that horseradish.” I was confused. I had misheard him. He actually said, «Спусти эту хрень» “Lower that thingamabob,” by which he meant the armrest between the seats. Here's how the word declines.


The word is what we might call substandard speech. It's very conversational, not suitable for academic reading. It's probably also a euphemism for the vulgar meaning of хрен. But the version with the soft sign you can use in front of your mom and grandma without them getting too upset. Take a look at the entry on the phrase «вот это самое» for a synonym. Here are some examples.

Передай мне эту хрень. Pass me that thingamabob.
Возьми эту хрень, что оставил папа на столе. Get the thing that dad left on the table.

The word is also used to mean a useless thing or junk or worthless comment.

— Что продают в этом магазине?
— Всякую хрень для туристов. Не стоит входить.
“What do they sell in that store?”
“All sorts of junk for tourists. It's not worth going in.”
— Паша сказал, что у него девушка-супермодель.
— Что за хрень он несёт?! Паша даже не расчёсывается, как у него может быть девушка-супермодель?
“Pasha said that he had a supermodel for a girlfriend.”
“What nonsense. Pasha doesn't even comb his hair. How could he have a supermodel for a girlfriend?”


by Don  

I'm back in Russia and I have a new language partner, Alan.¹ The first day we got together, we ended up walking 13 km around Kazan; call it 8 miles. Now mind you, I've hardly gotten any exercise at all this last year. So what happens when you have hardly walked at all and suddenly you walk mucho? You get blisters. The Russian word for blister is мозоль.


Of course you often find this word in contexts about walking.

Я вчера ходил столько, что стёр ноги до мозолей. I walked so much yesterday that I got blisters on my feet.
Я вчера ходил столько, что натёр ноги до мозолей.
В Париже моя сестра находила мозоли на ногах. My sister walked until she got blisters in Paris.

So why do these things pop up?

Мозоли образуются от сильного трения кожи. Blisters are caused by excessive friction on the skin.

I was actually embarrassed to get blisters, but it looks like I'm in good company.

После пятидневных полевых учений, в программу которых входил десятимильный забег через лес с рюкзаком и винтовкой, Принц Гарри обратился в медпункт академии для лечения мозолей на ногах. Увидев, насколько сильно натер себе ноги молодой принц, врачи решили выдать ему специальное разрешение не носить армейские ботинки до тех пор, пока не заживут мозоли. (adapted from this source) After a five days of field training that included a ten-mile run through the forest with backpack and and rifle, Prince Harry went to the academy's first-aid station to get treatment for blisters on his feet. Having seen the extent to which the prince had abraded his feet, the doctors decided to give him special permission not to wear army boots until the blisters heal.

Nowadays what is the standard advice if you get a blister?

Если мозоль созрела, не протыкайте ее (за исключением случая острой боли). Вскрыв мозоль, вы рискуете занести инфекцию. (adapted from this source) If the blister has already formed, don't lance it (except in cases of sharp pain). When you slit open a blister, you risk introducting an infection.

That's sort of the standard advice from both Russian and American sources. I consider it hogwash. Let's say you take a needle and sterilize it and the surface of your skin decently with alcohol. If you lance dead skin, your skin is not likely to be infected. When the liquid squeezes out, most likely infection isn't going to be sucked in. In any case, that's what I've done, and I promise to post here if I get infected.

One last comment. If you look up the word blister in the dictionary, you are likely to find it translated as волдырь. Dictionaries really need to give better guidance on this issue. If a blister forms from exposure to intense heat or cold or caustic chemicals or insect bites, then the Russians usually call that a волдырь. One that forms on your foot from friction is a мозоль. But a мозоль can also just be a plain old callus on your foot as well. If you need to distinguish the two in Russian, you can call a callus «кожная мозоль» and a blister «мокрая мозоль».

¹ No, that is not a Russian name, but if the singer Prince (not Prince Harry) can change his name to an unpronounceable symbol, then why can't a Russian/Tatar kid go by Alan?


by Don  

A word from English that has invaded Russian over the last umpteen years is фреш. It seems to have a couple of meanings. McDonald's in Russia seems to think they can call something фреш if the just throw a leaf of lettuce on it. Thus we have the Двойной Фреш Макмаффин™ Double Fresh McMuffin™

and the Фреш Ролл™ Fresh Roll™

That's a pretty cheesy use of the word fresh in my view.

But the word is incredibly widely used to mean freshly squeezed juices, which technically in Russian is said свежевыжатые соки. Lots of Russian restaurants do this now. If you want apple juice, they'll just throw an apple in a juicer for you and Bob's your uncle. If you want lemon juice, they'll throw in a lemon. For instance:

Я встретилась с подругой в кафе, по привычке заказала фреш яблочный. (adapted from this source) I met a friend at a cafe and ordered a fresh apple juice out of habit.
Одна из посетительниц кафе-бара заказала фреш из томатов, болгарского перца, сельдерея и авокадо. (source) One of the cafe-bar's customers ordered a fresh juice made of tomatoes, bell pepper, celery and avocado.
Начни День Правильно! Замени Кофе Фрешем! (adapted from this source) Start The Day Right! Replace Your Coffee With Freshly Squeezed Juice!
Я решила себя побаловать фрешем. (adapted from this source) I decided to treat myself to a fresh juice.
Она заказала морковный ,бл#, фреш! А я хочу холодной водочки! Романтики не будет. (adapted from this source) She ordered a goddammed carrot juice! And I want cold vodka. No loving tonight.

You'll find фреш used a lot of other ways too. For instance, you can find a restaurant called Фреш Суши. Pears with crème fraîche can be called груши с крем-фрешем. I've even seen fresh birch sap referred to as берёзовый фреш. If you readers come across other interesting uses. Do post a comment below.

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