Russian language day: Eight useful expressions and how to use them

Each year on June 6 marks United Nations Russian Language Day. This date also commemorates the birthday of the father of Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin. Here’s our list of top idioms and expressions to give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the most widely spoken Slavic language in the world.

1. On privacy

Arguing or discussing private things in public is frowned upon in Russia, hence the expression, “Выносить сор из избы” (Vynosit sor iz izby) or literally, “Don’t take your litter out of the house.” The word “sor” means “arguments within family” and this is a play on the word “musor”, which means “garbage”. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean leaving your trash to rot inside the house!

2. On clumsiness

If you tend to drop or break things easily, Russians won’t give you a cute pet name like “butter fingers”. Instead, you will be called “Слон в посудной лавке” (Slon v posudnoi lavke) because they would rather compare a clumsy person to “an elephant in a china shop”.

3. On talent

A talented or skilled person is described in Russia as “Блоху подковать” (Blochu podkovat). This means that to be considered skillful, one should possess the extraordinary ability to “wear a horseshoe on a flea.” Japanese ninjas should be up for the challenge.

4. On traveling

Before going on an adventure, remind your travel companions to “Сядем на дорожку!” (Syadyem na dorozhku!) or “Let’s sit down before hitting the road!” This superstition requires everyone to briefly sit down and stay silent before heading out the door to remember important things for the journey ahead.

5. On luck

Whether someone is going for a big interview or meeting the in-laws, wish them luck by saying, Ни пуха,не пера!” (Ni puha, ni pera!) or “Neither feather, nor fur!” Sounds odd? That’s because it comes from the belief that wishing for good things will bring the opposite.

Reverse psychology works for Russian hunters, so it’s better to wish them not to catch any birds (feather) nor animals (fur) so the opposite might happen. However, the immediate reply to this isn’t “Spasibo” or “Thank you”, but “К чёрту!” (K chyortu!) or “The hell I won’t” to ward off evil spirits who may be listening at that moment.

6. On perseverance

Just like learning a second language, everything worthwhile requires effort and hard work. You won’t magically achieve something overnight. The saying Без труда не вытащишь и рыбку из пруда” (Bez truda, ne vitashish i ribku iz pruda), which means “Without effort, you won’t pull a fish out of a pond” might come in handy on an uninspiring Monday morning.

7. On judging appearances

The proverb,В тихом омуте черти водятся” (V tihom omute cherti vodyatsa) is translated literally as, “In a quiet pond or lagoon, devils dwell.” It may sound dark and diabolical, but the English equivalent is simply, “Still waters run deep.” This trait can either be good, if the silent person is naturally calm and deep in concentration, or bad, depending on what the quietest one in the room is plotting in silence.

8. On optimism

The English proverb “Every dog has his day.” reminds us to stay hopeful because better times are ahead. However, in the Soviet Union, parties apparently motivate people to strive harder amidst difficulties, and we agree. “Будет и на нашей улице праздник” (Budet i na nashey ulitse prazdnik), which means “There’ll be a party on our street, too” definitely sounds more uplifting and inspirational.

Do these expressions have equivalents in your native language? Share them in the comments below!

Jenie Gabriel

The author

Jenie Gabriel

Jenie creates and coordinates content for Gengo's marketing team. Originally from the Philippines, she was an advertising creative in Singapore before moving to Tokyo. In her spare time, you’ll find her wandering around the city or planning her next escapade.

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