«Я покажу тебе Кузькину мать!»

by Natasha  

«Я покажу тебе Кузькину мать!» is a Russian idiom that is very hard to translate. It is often used as a threat. In essence it means: "I'll show you what's what!" It can also mean "to give somebody a hard time." It literally translates to: "I'll show you Kuzka's mother!", but that doesn't really make sense in English. Who the heck is Kuzka? And why are we bringing his mother into this? There have been many theories about the origin of the phrase. Some are more farfetched than others. One idea is that Kuzka was a ghost mother that lived behind stoves, and would scare away anyone that saw her. Another theory is that Kuzka was a kind of crop eating beetle that would destroy farmers' harvests, so the sight of the beetles' eggs, or "mother" would indicate that the crop was in jeopardy. There is also a theory that the phrase refers to a riding whip, called a kuzka, that a groom would keep in his boot during the wedding, signifying his dominance over his fiancee.

Whatever the origin, the phrase was popularized by former Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev. He liked using the phrase because of it's ambiguity. He enjoyed stumping his interpreters, who would often times try to translate the phrase literally, which would lead to very puzzled looks on the faces of his American counterparts. For a time in the Cold War the phrase was used as a metaphor for the Atomic Bomb. Nowadays, though, it is used more humorously, and is used to do comical impersonations of Khruschev. It is not as common anymore, but it can still be used in a threatening manner.

Photo Credit: NARA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some examples:

— Я не уверен, что вы выиграете завтра.
— Мы покажем тебе Кузькину мать!
“I don't think you'll win the game tomorrow.”
“We’ll show you!”
— Ты всегда будешь неудачником!
— Я покажу тебе Кузькину мать!
“You'll never be a success.”
“I'll prove you wrong!”


Comment from: David Taylor [Visitor]

неучадчником should be неудачником!

Don responds: Thanks! Typo corrected.

03/20/14 @ 08:13
Comment from: Richard [Visitor]


It’s always good to learn some idiomatic phrases. Also, as a political junkie I really enjoyed this post!

Никсон: “И это типичная капиталистическая кухня!”

Хрущёв: “Но где же серебро??”

Никсон: “Я не мошенник!”

Хрущёв: “Я покажу тебе Кузькину мать!!!”

Sorry, couldn’t resist, I love political humour! :-D

Anyway, I have a question re the sentence “Ты всегда будешь неучадчником!” Literally, this would translate as “You’ll always be an ignoramus!”
I found “неуч” in my dictionary with the English translation “ignoramus", however I wasn’t able to find “неучадник". Is it safe to assume that the meaning is the same as “неуч” or is there a slightly different connotation due to the ending “-адник"?

Don responds: Typo corrected. Неудачник is the intended word.

03/12/14 @ 18:36

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