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10 Phrases Only Russians Understand

Russia Languages
by Jackie Nenchin Dec 1, 2014
1. V tikhom bolotye, chyorty vodyatsya | Still waters run deep

This is a rough equivalent to the English saying though “in the quiet swamp, demons are found” is somewhat darker and may imply that the person being described has mental-health problems.

2. Baba svoza, kobyla lyegche | It will be easier without him/her.

“When the woman gets out of the carriage, it is easier on the horse” is not really a complaint about a woman’s weight, but a remark that is meant to make people feel okay even after someone has left their company.


A group of people are celebrating a birthday. One of them decides that it is time to go home and leaves. The people left behind do not want to feel bad about the departing member of the company, so one of them says, “Baba svoza, kobyla lyegche.”

3. Dva sapoga para | Two peas in a pod

In a place that gives a special meaning to the word cold, Russians use “two boots are a pair” to describe two people who are compatible and close.

4. Kak korova na ldu | A clumsy person

This saying literally means “like a cow on ice” and is equivalent to “a bull in a china shop.”

5. Nashla (orpopala) kosa na kamen’ | He ran into a brick wall.

In Russia, there are a lot of land and a lot of grain and grass, so this saying “the scythe found a rock” refers to a common problem that makes you stop what you are doing.

6. Menya tochno obukhom po golovye | You could have knocked me down with a feather.

The Russian version does not have a feather; instead it says that “the butt of an ax hit me in the head.”

7. Tseplya po ocen’i schitat’ | Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

“Chickens are counted in the fall” means that it is unwise to count the chicks when they hatch in the spring because you do not really know if they will make it to the fall, when they can be of some benefit to you.

8. V (chuzhoi) monastyr so svoim ustavom nye khodyat’ | When you come to a new place, don’t try to reorganize everything.

This is not the same as “mind your own business” but “don’t bring your own set of rules into (someone else’s) monastery” has more of the spirit of “don’t rock the boat.” Many Russian sayings have religious references because of the important role of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

9. S mipa po nitki golumu rubakha | If everyone pitches in and helps, you’ll have what you need.

This saying literally means “take a little thread from the world and a naked man will have a shirt.” Russians have a great love of community and a belief that they can succeed together where alone they might fail.

10. Nye imei sto rublyay, a imyay sto druzyay | Friendship is better than money.

“Don’t have 100 rubles, but have 100 friends” is much in the same vein as the previous saying. Friendship is very important to Russians, and they believe that if you have a lot of friends, you won’t want for anything. So if you need money and have friends, each would pitch in to help you get what you need.

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