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.

deder Leuchtkäfer
frla luciole


Comment from: Paul [Visitor]

Pure coincidence: yesterday I started to read some children’s stories to improve my reading, and светляк happened to be the main subject of the first story! Thanks to your blog I did not need to look up that word in the dictionary. Thank you for your great blog!

01/26/10 @ 23:48
Comment from: Evgeniya [Visitor]

That’s a great job you’ve done! Thank you! It’s great that you are interested in Russian, because studying Russian is not an easy job. I wish you great success!
I am a native Russian speaker, so if you have any questions about Russian, I will be very glad to help you.

01/25/10 @ 09:48
Comment from: Simot [Visitor]  

“La lucciola” in Italian, in case you might want to know.

01/22/10 @ 00:16

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