You might have been learning Russian for some time, or maybe you just started. You probably know that each language has a set of words that are depend “impossible to translate” or that have no equivalent in our mother tongues.
Whether it’s actually true or not is up for debate, but what we can definitely agree on is that the existence of these words testifies to a certain sentiment present in the language they come from and offers an interesting insight into the culture that needs them. Below are 14 Russian words we think you need to enrich your understanding of Russian culture.
Unique Russian words
почемучка: (n) one who asks too many questions
Often used by parents as a term of endearment, ‘pochemuchka’ is a unique Russian word that denotes a curious kid who wants to know everything in the world and keeps asking ‘why?’ (‘почему?’).
Before you become a pochemuchka, learn the Art of Asking
_переподвыподверт: (n) sth. done in a complex, incomprehensible way
The word ‘perepodvypodvert’ kind of embodies itself, as it has four prefixes including one that repeats itself twice.
недоперепил: (v) under-over-drunk
To say that someone ‘nedoperepil’ is to say that they drank more than they should have, but less than they could have.
тоска: (n) ache of soul, longing with nothing to long for
Vladimir Nabokov, the famous Russian-American author of ‘Lolita,’ put it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of ‘toska.’ At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”
Learn to navigate your mind and The Untethered Soul
_пошлость: (n) sth. banal, vulgar and low minded _
In Anton Chekhov’s short story A Lady With a Dog, the heroine cries out after sex that she has become a ‘poshlost’’ woman. “This one word encompasses triviality, vulgarity, sexual promiscuity, and a lack of spirituality,” Harvard professor Svetlana Boym explains in Common Places: Everyday Life in Russia.
капель: (n) sunny day when water starts dripping from icicles
Same root as ‘kaplya’ (drop), this word points to the start of spring and is therefore a very happy word that puts you in a good mood.
дача: (n) summer house
The word ‘dacha’ does not just mean a secondary residence, but implies the whole distinctive lifestyle: The Russian tea time, banya, fishing, singing over a crackling bonfire…
глазомер: (n) ability to measure without any instruments
A combination of ‘eye’ and ‘measurement,’ someone with a good ‘glazomer’ can estimate weight and distances without making use of any tools other than his or her eyes.
экранизация: (n) screen adaptation
Literally ‘screenization,’ this word denotes a film based on a book, theatre, song or other work of art.
пороша: (n) fresh powdery snow that fell at night
A pristine layer of snow that fell on a windless night or towards the evening, untouched outside of the occasional footprints of birds and beasts.
попутчик: (n) stranger you connect to on a trip
Unlike a travel companion you’ve known before, a ‘poputchik’ is a complete stranger who happens to travel in the same direction and share your coupe on a train. You are free to open up completely to your best friend pro tempore, because you know that the person will get off at a far away stop, never to be seen again, taking your secrets safely with them… …unless you become lifelong friends from thereon!
заводила: (n) so. who often starts up something
Someone is said to be a ‘zavodila’ if they can motivate everyone around them to do something, without blackmail or aggression, but through pure goodwill, confidence and by setting an example. A ‘zavodila’ can incite both positive and negative behaviour.
Learn about the ultimate nation of zavodilas, the Start-Up Nation
бытие: (n) higher state of being
The root of the word is ‘to be’ or ‘to exist’, but the meaning goes far beyond mere existence, into the realm of hyperconscious and objective state of mind or reality._
авось: (n) blind trust in sheer luck
If it has a chance of succeeding, I’ll count on it and go forward. A word ingrained into Russian mentality, and one behind the many crazy Russian exploits on YouTube. From here also comes ‘авоська’ (avos’ka), the string shopping bag immensely popular in the Soviet Union, and to this day: “‘avos’ I’ll come across something to put in it.”
To Learn more awesome Russian words and how LinguaLift has incorporated them into our Language Learning Program, check out our Home Page at Lingualift