by Tatiana  

Чудесно is one of the words in Russian language that reflects a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure. It comes from the word «чудо», which means wonder or miracle. It is close in meaning to «очень хорошо», "very well/good" and «отлично», "excellent." It is also used as an expression of consent. (source)

Although people still say it fairly often, it was more commonly used in classic literature. I can imagine «барышня», a "young lady" from one of Pushkin's works, exclaim:

Чудесно, папенька! Я так люблю верховую езду! Wonderful, daddy! I love horseback riding!

A slightly distorted version of «чудесно» also appears in Lewis Carroll's «Алиса в Стране Чудес», "Alice in Wonderland". Russian translation of "curiouser and curiouser" is «всё чудесатее и чудесатее». Just as in English, it is an incorrect use of the word. The writer made it up to show that Alice was so surprised that she forgot the proper way of saying it.

When I was little, I would listen to "Alice in Wonderland" on our old vinyl record player and imagine how it would be to find myself there, meet the Cheshire cat or follow the white rabbit... Oh, how nice would it be to escape into Страна Чудес “Wonderland”!

Ёлочная игрушка

by Tatiana  

Picture of New Year's tree with ornamentIn the light of recent holidays I've decided to talk about something that gives our ёлка (New Year's tree) its holiday beauty. Ёлочные игрушки (ornaments) come in different shapes, forms, and colors to satisfy any picky decorator.

In Russian an ornament is more often called игрушка ‘toy’ rather than украшение ‘decoration.’ It turns out that the name came about historically. First игрушки were made out of metal, wood or fabrics, and kids could play with them without breaking them and worrying their parents. Later people started making very thin glass ornaments that could only serve for decorative purposes. (source)

For most Russians New Year's is the most important holiday of the year. We even have a saying «Как встретишь Новый год, так его и проведёшь». It means “The way you celebrate the New Year is the way you will spend the rest of it.” That is why we try to make the best of this holiday to ensure our success in the year to come.

I remember being a little girl and waiting for the New Year. It seemed that even the air outside smelled different, especially festive and solemn. I would help prepare a delicious dinner, decorate «нашу ёлку ёлочными игрушками» “our fir tree with ornaments” and wait for Дед Мороз “Santa Claus” to bring me my presents. What a magical time that was!


by Don  

The primary meaning of the verb иметь is “to own, possess.” It's a fairly straightforward first conjugation verb:

to own, possess
Infinitive иметь
Past имел
Present имею
Future буду иметь
будешь иметь
будет иметь
будем иметь
будете иметь
будут иметь
Imperative имей(те)

The owner goes in the nominative case, and the thing owned goes in the accusative case:

Мой брат — меломан, он имеет семьсот тридцать шесть пластинок. My brother is a music fanatic. He owns seven hundred thirty-six records.
— У вас две пары очков?
— Да что вы, я имею четыре пары очков.
“You have two pairs of glasses?”
“Give me a break: I own four pairs of glasses.”
Когда я буду взрослой, я буду иметь три машины. When I grow up, I will own three cars.
До распада экономики я имел два дома, а теперь снимаю комнату у бабушки. Before the economic collapse I owned two houses, but now I'm renting a room from my grandmother.

Although all the sentences above are perfectly grammatical, I should point out that using иметь for “to own/have” is stylistically marked. It's more formal, higher style, and sometimes more emphatic, than the “у кого есть” construction, so don't automatically assume it's the best way to say “to own.” Soon we'll discuss the overlap between иметь sentences and «у кого есть» sentences.

Что (часть вторая)

by Don  

The second meaning of что is “that” in the sense of “Mama said that she's going to whup your ass.” In other words, it is a conjunction that joins an introductory sentence to a bit of indirect speech:

Мой брат сказал, что дважды два — четыре, но он так часто врёт, что я даже в этом сомневаюсь. My brother said that two times two is four, but he lies so often that I even doubt that [simple fact].
Мама сказала, что ужин на плите. Mom said that dinner is on the stove.
Кто тебе сказал, что билеты на Леди Гагу уже распроданы? Who told you that tickets to Lady Gaga are already sold out?
Раш Лимбо заявил, что жертвовать на помощь Гаити не надо, потому что тем самым благотворитель будет участвовать в политических спекуляциях Барака Обамы. (source) Rush Limbaugh opined that we shouldn't offer [financial] assistance to Haiti because by doing so a philanthropist will be participating in Barak Obama's political risk-taking.


by Don  

At Christmas my niece played a tune by Owl City called “Fireflies.” I'm not into synthpop, but it touched me for some reason, and as my heart was bathing in the song's disconnected melancholy, I suddenly realized that I didn't know the word for firefly in any language but English. I didn't even know whether fireflies existed in Russia. It turns out that they do, and the formal word is светляк.


A quick trip to Russian Wikipedia gives us this:

Светляки — семейство жуков, насчитывающее около двух тысяч видов. Fireflies are a family of beetles that numbers about two thousand species.
Известно благодаря необычной способности излучать в темноте фосфорический свет. It [the family] is well known thanks to its unusual ability to emit a phosphorescent light in the darkness.
Распространены практически по всему свету. They are distributed over practically the entire world.

Although the formal word is светляк, when Russians casually discuss the insects, they use the diminutive form светлячок:


I think fireflies were put in the world for just one purpose: to teach us wonder. “Wonder” is one of those words that doesn't translate well into Russian. It is the feeling of surprise and admiration that stuns the soul when encountering unexpected beauty, that leaves our hearts momentarily still and simple and ready to know joy.

В долгие летние сумерки в поле недалеко от нашего дома играли мои племянник и племянница, и вокруг них летали десятки светлячков. During the long summer twilight my nephew and niece played in the field near our home while dozens of fireflies flew silently around them.¹
Во сне я танцевал в сосновом лесу перед светлячками. In my dream I was dancing before the fireflies in a pine forest.
На мою руку сел светлячок. Время от времени он светился, как будто хотел мне что-то сказать. A firefly landed on my hand. Every once in a while it glowed as if it wanted to tell me something.

¹ The word десятки actually means “sets of ten,” not “dozens.” Since the purpose of the word in this context is to indicate approximate quantities, “dozens” is the best equivalent.

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