What we can learn from a cow's death

by Don  

Last week we discussed the four verbs most commonly used to mean “to die” in Russian: умирать/умереть, погибать/погибнуть, скончаться, and сдыхать/сдохнуть. If you have mastered those, you are able to express pretty well all the most standard shades of meaning. However…

Every Russian will also know a few more synonymous verbs like издыхать/издохнуть, which is used when an animal dies, i.e., it means the same thing as сдыхать/сдохнуть and is conjugated the same way, but it has a more folksy, less educated sound to it. It doesn't have the status of “literary language” as сдыхать/сдохнуть does.

Then there is the imperfective дохнуть, which means the same thing, but is again conversational, not part of the literary language. (Note this is distinct from the verb дохнуть, which means something else entirely.) From дохнуть is derived the verb pair подыхать/подохнуть, which means the same thing.

Then there is околевать/околеть. This word is part of the literary language, and it means that an animal has died. For some people the verb implies that the corpse is already growing cold or stiff, and for some people it implies dying of cold.

Then there is the imperfective verb гибнуть, which means “to perish, die in tragic circumstances” and applies to people.

Then there is the imperfective verb мереть, which is conversational or low-style and can be used when people die. It's used in the incredibly wide-spread phrase «мрут, как мухи» “they are dying like flies.”

Last but not least, there is помирать/помереть, which nowadays is folksy, uneducated speech, and it can be used when people die. In the 19th century, though, this was just a normal word for “to die,” so you can find it in classic Russian literature without any sense of folksiness.

That gives us at least eight different ways to say “Our cow died.”

1. У нас сдохла корова.
2. У нас околела корова.
3. У нас умерла корова.
4. У нас погибла корова.
5. У нас скончалась корова.
6. У нас издохла корова.
7. У нас померла корова.
8. У нас подохла корова.

Let's discuss the differences:

1. Perfectly normal sentence, both in writing and conversation.
2. Perfectly normal sentence, both in writing and conversation. Differs from #1 in that it may imply that the corpse is already growing cold/stiff, or that the subject died of cold.
3. Perfectly normal sentence, both in writing and conversation, but by not using a word that specifically applies to animals, it implies that the speaker was emotionally attached to the cow, e.g. perhaps it had given milk to the family for years.
4. “Our cow perished.” Sounds ironic because it implies the cow died in tragic or heroic circumstances. Or perhaps the cow was hit by a truck.
5. “Our cow passed away.” Sounds ironic because it refers to the death of the cow as formally as at a public memorial or as gingerly as one would refer to the death of a close friend or relative .
6. “Our cow done died.” Sounds folksy, perhaps uneducated.
7. “Our cow done died.” To some it sounds folksy, perhaps uneducated. To others it merely sounds antiquated.
8. “Our cow done died.” Sounds folksy, perhaps uneducated.


Comment from: Dmitry [Visitor]

А вот вам, можно год убить чтобы разницу понять :)

помереть, скончаться,
угаснуть, почить, опочить, уйти от нас, уйти из жизни, уйти в иной мир, уйти в лучший мир, уйти в могилу,
сойти в могилу, лечь в могилу, лечь в землю, заснуть вечным сном, уснуть вечным сном, заснуть последним
сном, уснуть последним сном, заснуть могильным сном, уснуть могильным сном, отойти, кончиться,
испустить дух, испустить последний вздох, упокоиться, преставиться, отдать богу душу, отправиться на
тот свет, отправиться к праотцам, приказать долго жить, сыграть в ящик, отдать концы, дать дуба,
врезать дуба, протянуть ноги, свернуться, загнуться, окочуриться, скапутиться, скопытиться, издохнуть,
сдохнуть, подохнуть, околеть, дух вон, решиться жизни

11/28/09 @ 08:51
Comment from: Kris [Visitor]

Thanks for this fantastic article Don! It is extremely helpful to learn about the different shades of meaning of words that may be considered synonyms.

Thanks again

07/05/09 @ 18:19

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