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Russian words representing everyday life in Russia

What are Russian words that don’t have English equivalents? I’m not going to talk about such words as toska (melancholy), bespredel (mayhem), poshlost (vulgarity), bytie (existence) and others. These Russian words aren’t used in everyday small talk. What’s more, these words can send you back in time for 20, 40 or even 100 years. So let historians deal with them!

2017-08-22 10.15.53

Written specially for Joel Schiff

Here I’ve tried to present you a selection of modern Russian words and expressions. Many of the words I’m going to mention seem to be perfectly translatable. But if you try to translate these Russian words into any other language you’ll realize that they lose their meaning.
That’s why I’d like to use these Russian words without translation, but rather transcribe them. They represent the Russian mindset, Russian soul and special aspects of everyday life. These Russian words are a part of modern culture!

***
Here’s an example of a dialogue upon encounter:
– How are you doing?
– Nichego!

Nichego

Let’s look up the translation of the Russian word “Ничего” in some dictionary – “Nothing”.

So the literal translation is – How are you doing? – Nothing! How is it even possible?!

In fact, the answer “Nichego” means “Fine” or even “Great”!

Russians try not to complain, and don’t feel overexcited about a run of good luck because it’s always followed by a spell of bad luck.

Since the USSR it’s been unacceptable to let others know that you’re doing great.

When people say “Nichego!”, i.e. “so-so”, they mean the following:

“I’m doing great, but don’t want others in the Country of social equality to know about it. Otherwise, they’d like to equate my “great” with their “bad”.

And how this polysemantic phrase can be replaced with simple “Nothing”? :)

So you likely to show others that you’re having a kind of a gray area – “Nichego!”.

Normal’no

Another dialogue upon encounter:
– How are you doing?
– Normal’no!

The literal translation of Russian “Нормально” will be “Normally”. There’re also other translation variants like “OK” and “Fine”.

However, this translation doesn’t convey the initial meaning of the Russian word “Normal’no”!

In fact, «Normal’no» is one more artifact from the Soviet times, i.e. the socialist epoch in Russia. Back then every employer had to fulfill a certain worktime standard in order to get a full payment.
So no one really paid attention to the well-being of others. Although everyone including superior officers and coworkers cared whether a person (a “cog in the wheel”) finished core working hours as one’s failure influenced them all.
In other words, “Normal’no” means within a standard set by someone.
Today people keep saying “Normal’no”. But who sets the so-called standard for them? :(
The modern use of “Normal’no” mostly means “save me”, “I need your help”, “I have big problems” or even “I’m not feeling well, I’m sick”. So if you hear this word from a significant other, be more caring because this person might need your support.

Dolzhen

This one is a great word! The Russian word “Должен” is translated as “Must/Should”. Today Dolzhen is still widely used. What’s the catch?

Think about the period of socialism when it was perfectly clear who “Dolzhen/Must” do some task.

After the USSR collapsed people were left to themselves. However, a habit “to owe something” survived for no apparent reason. What’s more, each person had their own ideas about what they must do and for whom exactly.
All the concepts that don’t fall into these models aren’t accepted by the people who like forming such behavior patterns. That’s why the word “Dolzhen” can be often heard in the streets.

For example, someone is dissatisfied with you:

  • Sitting or standing there;
  • Being silent or talking;
  • Reading or playing;
  • Looking or keeping your eyes closed;

And so on!

There’s always a person who is displeased with you doing something or not doing it. Perfect strangers can make you aware of it by saying “Dolzhen”.

A great example of the “Dolzhen” ideology is the “I’m a mother!” attitude (“Яжемать!“). When such a woman with a kid comes to a public place, everyone must (“Dolzhen”) change their behavior in order to satisfy her. Sometimes these women openly declare that you “Dolzhen” (must do something). Sounds crazy? These women (supporting the “I’m a mother!” attitude) don’t think so.

Of course, these “Dolzhen” ideologists can be met in public places, and they make others’ lives miserable. But can we do about it?

As a final titbit, I’m going to present the Russian words showing that someone has lost an argument and has nothing else to say.

Oyvsyo

Oyvsyo! (in Russian “Ой, всё!”). It can be translated as “Oh, everything!” or «Oh, that’s it!». Seriously?!

In fact, this phrase greatly illustrates a popularity of modern Russian words. It’s often said by a woman who lost an argument with her man.

This phrase sounds like music to the ears of a man. If a man hears these words from a woman, it means that this verbal duel regardless of its importance has been won. It’s like the last woman’s argument showing that she has nothing else to say. By uttering this phrase she agrees that her man is right. So it’s like short-term surrender.

Here’s a piece of advice for men. Don’t say anything after these words. Otherwise, your victory will be immediately turned into a defeat 😉

PS Lately, men has also started using these Russian words like a funny way to tease their better halves.
PPS There’s an idea, though, that it’s not surrender but a trick :)

Comments

2 responses to “Russian words representing everyday life in Russia”

  1. Joel Schiff says:

    Thanks Alexey for this! I learned the standard meaning of the first three words when studying Russian at University but not the further meanings which seem equally popular in everyday life.

    Probably Ничего should be Nichevo since the г becomes a v sound? I forgot why some Russian words do this.

    Ё моё is another nice expression that seems to have a different meaning from what you’d get using Google translate. Saw it in Michele Berdy’s Moscow Times column and I got a good reaction when I used it while visiting Russia.

    • Alexey says:

      You are welcome!
      “Ничего” = “г” pronounced as “в”.
      “Ё моё” … It’s a very peculiar Russian words. It’s a slang. In my environment nobody uses it. I know about it from films only.

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