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A Mini-Guide to Russian Slang

Russia Languages
by Anna Dunaeva Feb 8, 2018

Russian slang is a totally unique phenomenon. Not too rude, not too strong, not too hippy, not too teenage-styled, and… it has literally no exact synonyms in neutral language. Used by everyone from an infant to “God’s dandelion” (this is our informal name for cute and modest but very elderly grandmas), slang is an unremovable part of Russian culture.

Here is a mini-guide to Russian slang.

1. Руки не доходят посмотреть [ruki ne dohodyat posmotret’]

Literal translation: Hands don’t walk to have a look at something

What it means: I’m too busy for something/I don’t have time for something

If you hear that someone’s “hands don’t walk to look at it”, you’re not in a surreal world. It is a normal slang term used to say that the person is busy and doesn’t have time to have a look at something (such as a document). Part of this phrase, particularly, “руки не доходят” “hands don’t walk to” can be followed by any kind of verbs or nouns. For example:

“Извини, у меня руки не доходят до той статьи, которую ты мне прислал на исправление. Я обязательно возьмусь за неё завтра.” [Isvini, u menya ruki ne dohodyat do toi stat’i, kotoruyu ti mne prislal na ispravelenie. Ya obyazatel’no voz’mus’ za neyo zavtra]

“I’m sorry, my hands don’t walk to (= I don’t have time for) the article that you’ve sent me for correction. I promise I will start working on it tomorrow.”

2. Да нет, наверное [da net, naverno]

Literal translation: Yes no, might be

What it means: No

In Russian slang, we have a perfect phrase for reflecting an unsure “no”. It is “да нет, наверное”, which means “yes no, might be.” Please, don’t try to look for logic here — I know, it’s super weird. However, such three contradictory words are used everywhere. This phrase is slowly evolving from being used in informal conversation to being used by all.

3. Ну, давай! [nu, davai!]

Literal translation: Let’s

What it means: Bye

Informal “давай” (translated literally as “let’s”) is often used instead “до свидания” [do svidaniya] which means bye. It is a short form of “давай встретимся позже” [davai vstretimsya pozhe] “let’s meet later on” and “давай закругляться” [davai zakruglyatza] “let’s wrap up”. It is now used as a standalone farewell that usually confuses foreigners. Here’s an example:

“А, хорошо, давай!” [A, horosho, davai!]

“Ok, let’s!”

4. “Потому что” [potomu shto]

Literal translation: Because

What it means: I don’t want to answer your question

What I love about my mother-tongue Russian, as compared to English, is the possibility not to answer the question if you don’t want to through language. The word “потому что”/“because” can be used as a sufficient response to annoying questions. This magical reply is not considered rude, it is a playful (depending on your intonation, obviously) informal way of letting your friends know that you are not going to answer a question.

5. Ноги в руки и вперёд” [nogi v ruki i vperyod]

Literal translation: Take your feet in your hands and go forward

What it means: Go ahead/go faster

It’s impossible to imagine our life without this phrase. It is perfect for moments when you want to tell someone to be more efficient, to go faster, or express that someone should go ahead in straightforward yet polite manner. With this phrase, you can also give someone a friendly encouragement to hustle.

Here’s an example of it’s use in conversation:

“Как ты думаешь, мне стоит участвовать в том конкурсе? Или там слишком много профессионалов, и я все равно проиграю?” [Kak ti dumaesh, mne stoit uchastovat’ v tom konkurse? Ili tam slishkom mnogo professionalov, i ya vse ravno proigrayu?]

“What do you think, should I apply for that contest? Or there are too many professionals, so I will fail anyway?”

Ноги в руки и вперёд, это твой шанс! Ты ничего не теряешь. [Nogi v ruki i vpered, eto tvoi shans! Ti nichevo ne teryaesh]

Take your feet in your hands and go forward, this is your chance! You are not losing anything.”

6. Мне фиолетово [mne fioletovo] and мне по барабану [mne po barabanu]

Literal translations: I feel purple for something and something is on the drum
What they mean: I don’t care

In modern slang trends, Russians frequently say that they “feel purple [for/about something]” (мне фиолетово) or “[something] is on the drum” for them (мне по барабану). These are informal, synonyms for “мне без разницы” [mne bez raznitsi] stating that someone does not care. Be careful, in some situations these idioms can be too strong and inappropriate. For example, you’ll be considered rude in this kind of dialogue:

“Какое мороженое тебе взять?” [Kakoe morozhenoe tebe vzyat’?]

“What ice cream would you like me to buy for you?”

“Мне по барабану”. [Mne po barabanu]

“It’s on the drum for me.”

If used correctly such as this, you’ll sound like a native:

“Ты смотрел вчера телевизор? По Первому показывали Саммит G-20.” [Ti smotrel vchera televizor? Po Pervomu pokazivali Sammit G-20]

“Did you watch TV yesterday? On the First channel, there was a program about G-20 Summit.”

“Нет, я никогда не смотрю телевизор. Мне фиолетово, что происходит на другом конце света.” [Net, ya nikogda ne smotryu televizor. Mne fioletovo, chto proishodit na drugom kontse sveta]

“No, I never watch TV. I feel purple about anything happening on the other side of the world.”

7. Офисный планктон” [ofisniy plankton]

Literal translations: Office plankton

What they mean: Negative description of a white-collar worker

In Russia, we often use the phrase “белые воротнички” [beliye vorotnichki] which literally means “white collar” and used in the same way as it is in English. That said from time to time you’ll hear “офисный планктон” “office plankton” when people are referring to those working in white collar jobs. This phrase projects a little more negativity and is often used to describe people who hate their job, constantly ask for a higher wage, and spend the working day gossiping with colleagues. Here’s an example of its use in conversation:

“Кем работает наш новый арендатор? Он фрилансер?” [Kem rabotaet nash noviy arendator? On frilanser?]

“What does our new tenant do for a living? Is he a freelancer?”

“Нет, он типичный ленивый офисный планктон, бухгалтер, если не ошибаюсь.” [Net, on tipichniy leniviy ofisniy plankton, buhgalter, esli ne oshibayus’]

“No, he is a typical lazy office plankton, an accountant, if I’m not mistaken.”

However, sometimes this phrase can be used more neutrally:

“Активный образ жизни не для меня. Я предпочитаю быть частью стабильного офисного планктона” [Aktivniy obraz zhizni ne dlya menya. Ya predpochitayu bit’ chast’yu stabil’nogo ofisnogo planktona]

“Active lifestyle is not for me. I prefer to be a stable office plankton.”

8. (Не) комильфо” [(Ne) komil’fo]

Literal translations: Not comme il faut

What they mean: Improper, awkward

If you want to use Russian slang, but still sound elegant, this is the phrase for you. “Не комильфо” (“not comme il faut”) originates from a French phrase “comme il faut” which means “correctly”, “alright”. It basically explains the meaning of this idiom — “not proper(-ly)”. Here is an example of the typical usage of such posh slang:

“Использовать сленг в официальной обстановке не комильфо” [Ispolzovat’ sleng v oficialnoy obstanovke ne komil’fo]

“Using slang in the official environment is not ‘comme il faut’ (= not appropriate)”.

Another example:

“Эти туфли не комильфо, они не подходят к этим брюкам” [Eti tufli ne komil’fo, oni ne podhodyat k etim bryukam ]

“These shoes are not ‘comme il faut’, they don’t suit these pants”.

9. Вешать лапшу на уши” [veshat’ lapshu na ushi]

Literal translations: Put pasta on someone’s ears

What they mean: To lie, to cheat

Russians never lie, instead, they “put pasta on [someone’s] ears”. This phrase can be also used in situations of a scam:

“Когда я покупал этот холодильник, продавец вешал мне лапшу на уши о том, что они предоставляют двухлетнюю гарантию. По факту, когда через месяц холодильник перестал морозить, никто не ответил на мои многочисленные официальные обращения.” [Kogda ya pokupal etot holodilnik, prodavets veshal mne lapshu na ushi o tom, chto oni predostavlyayut dvuhletnyuyu garantiyu. Po faktu, kogda cherez mesyats holodilnik perestal morozit’, nikto ne otvetil na moi mnogochislenniye oficialniye obrash’eniya]

“When I was purchasing this fridge, the shop assistant was putting pasta on my ears (= lying to me) about the two-year warranty. When the fridge stopped working in a month, nobody replied to a bunch of official complaints.”

10. Из штанов выпрыгивать” [Iz shtanov viprigivat’]

Literal translations: To jump out of one’s pants

What they mean: To work hard, to strive, to hustle

Everyone in Russia, including celebs, businessmen, and even the President “jumps out of the pants” once in a while. Don’t worry, they won’t freeze. This is an idiom used when the person wants to achieve something and will do everything posable to make it a reality it.

For example:

“Я из штанов выпрыгивал, чтобы его взяли на эту должность. А он взял и устроился простым инженером в другой компании.” [Ya iz shtanov viprigival, chtobi ego vzyali na etu dolzhnost’. A on vzyal i ustroilsya prostim ingenerom v drugoy kompanii]

“I’ve been jumping out of my pants in order for him to be accepted for this position. But he ended up applying for a simple engineer in another company.

11. Зуб давать” [zub davat’]

Literal translations: To give a tooth

What they mean: To promise

Rather than making a promise, Russians will “give a tooth”. Originally it meant “I’m ready to give you my tooth if this won’t happen”. Some people consider this phrase old-fashioned, others think that it belongs to a prison slang, but it is still used quite often in day to day speech. You can commonly hear this kind of sentence from an expressive Russian:

“Извините, у меня руки не доходили до Вашего заказа, но завтра я обязательно его выполню. Зуб даю.” [Izvinite, u menya ruki ne dohodili do Vashego zakaza, no zavtra ya obyazatel’no ego vipolnyu. Zub dayu]

“I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to carry out your order, but tomorrow I will definitely complete it. Give you a tooth.

12. Делать из мухи слона [Delat’ iz muhi slona]

Literal translations: To make an elephant out of a fly

What they mean: To exaggerate

This phrase is just about exaggerating or describing things more frightening than they’re in fact. Here’s an example:

“О, Боже мой, вчера вечером, когда я ложилась спать, я увидела на потолке огромного паука размером с ладонь!” [O, Bozhe moi, vchera vecherom, kogda ya lozhilas’ spat’, ya uvidela na potolke ogromnogo pauka razmerom s ladon’!]

“Oh my God, yesterday in the evening, when I was going to bed, I saw an enormously huge spider on the ceiling! It was as big as my palm!”

“Ой, не делай из мухи слона. Это, наверное, была обычная милая букашка.” [Oi, ne delay is muhi slona. Eto, navernoe, bila obichnaya milaya bukashka]

“Oh, you shouldn’t make an elephant out of a fly. Probably, it was a usual cute bug.”

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