However, Russian sayings are often confused with proverbs. While a saying enriches the language, makes it more vivid and expressive, proverbs are more like long-present phrases that preserve practical knowledge and national wisdom.
As a rule, Russian sayings are shorter than proverbs, and can be used in any sentence.
There is one more way to distinguish Russian sayings and proverbs. The first ones express emotions and images, the latter ones are used to share experience and give instructions.
Russian sayings have certain meaning that cannot be interpreted any other way. Proverbs can define different concepts depending on the context they are used in.
Russian sayings are a part of the national culture and the means to store it.
Keep on reading and you will learn the most popular and unexpected Russian sayings.
All the sayings are commonly used in modern informal conversations. There are also lesser used sayings, but we will talk about them some other time.
1. Little Pigeons Can Carry Great Messages
In Russian, “мал, да удал” (mal, da udal) – small but rather crafty.
This Russian saying literally means that a small person is capable of doing great deeds. It is surprisingly true. Take Napoleon for example, he was not really tall but achieved much.
Today this saying is not used to describe people of a low stature, but those who are not expected to success in something.
People often pronounce it with a kind of astonishment because someone’s action has taken them by surprise.
2. Be Left in the Basket
In Russian, “остаться с носом” (ostat’sya s nosom) – be left with the gift you have brought.
Interestingly, the Russian word “gift” sounds alike “nose”, but in this saying it is used in the first meaning. Although the initial explanation of the saying has not been recovered, “s nosom” was likely used as a form of the “gift” word.
Today this saying is quite popular. For example, a man wants to marry a woman, but is rejected. Or a business person bids for a tender with no success. So they are left with nothing.
3. Do More Harm than Good
In Russian, “медвежья услуга” (medvejya usluga) – render a bear’s service.
This Russian saying means that someone wants to help but their assistance is rather clumsy (like a bear), and in the end does more harm than good.
P.S. No bear is harmed in the using of this saying
4. Nothing to Speak Of
In Russian, “кот наплакал” (kot naplakal) – it would make even a cat cry.
This saying can be literally translated as “very little”. It is used in everyday speech. For example, “my savings would make even a cat cry” – I am running out of money. Or “our chances/resources/spare time would make even a cat cry”.
P.S. No cat is harmed in the using of this saying
5. Make a Mountain out of a Molehill
In Russian, “делать из мухи слона” (delat’ iz mukhi slona) – make an elephant out of a fly.
Of course, it has nothing to do with transforming a fly into an elephant. It rather means to blow things out of proportion. For example, a problem is made out of nothing. “We can deal with it in five minutes, do not make an elephant out of a fly”.
P.S. All the flies are still alive and kicking
6. Throw One’s Money Around
In Russian, “сорить деньгами” (sorit’ den’gami) – throw one’s money around.
You are not asked to literally throw your money around. This Russian saying stands for wasting money. Sometimes this money is spent on something you do not really need or unnecessary gifts to impress someone existent or imaginary. For example, “she was throwing money around while being on a vacation” – it means she spent money without thinking. Or “honey, you have bought a rather expensive couch. Can we afford to throw our money around?”.
7. Rack One’s Brain Over
In Russian, “ломать голову” (lomat’ golovu) – rack one’s brain over.
This Russian saying means that one thinks over a serious problem and tries to find a way out.
For example, “All the evening I was racking my brain over the cheapest way to get to the airport with our luggage”.
P.S. Mind your head