How I Became Russian. Step 31194: Russian Idioms

  • Thu 03 2020
  • by intermark

No matter where you come from, what language you speak and how many of them have already mastered, we are 100 percent sure that your way too many times encountered strange expressions, which at first glance make absolutely no sense. If you are learning Russian (and you must be very brave and adventurous, we would like to admit!), then you are facing such expressions almost every day because Russians really like using them.

Is it possible for us to convince you that there is nothing scary and difficult in Russian idioms? That learning them can be even fun? We will try to do it! As popular saying goes “no pain, no gain”, but together we can turn “terrifying” Russian idioms into “a piece of cake”, can’t we?

Here is our TOP of the most interesting idioms that will give your vocabulary a kick and make your Russian sound more native. You might hear them in movies, TV shows, and even blogs and vlogs – they are rather common in Russia. So feel free to use any of them with Russian speakers – none of them sounds weird or old fashioned.

Медвежья услуга” [medvezh’ya usluga]

Literally, it can be translated as “a bear’s favor” but it actually means that kind of favor, which does more damage than help. Originally, the idiom comes to an old fairy tale where a bear wanted to help a man by killing a fly bothering him. With the best intentions in the world, the bear slapped it while the man was sleeping soundly under a tree. Sadly, the bear didn’t know its own strength so the man ended up with a bashed-in head. By the way, history doesn’t record the fate of the fly. (Maybe that is where the popular stories of angry Russian bears wandering the streets date back to?)

Показать, где раки зимуют [pokazat’ gde raki zimuyut]

The second idiom is “to show somebody where crawfish hibernates”. Back in the days when this saying first appeared, nobody knew where that secret place was and thus it was covered with the veil of fear. This phrase can be pronounced with cruel and severe face. In English, you can say something like “I’ll teach you a lesson! I’ll punish you!”

Коту под хвост [kotu pod khvost]

This funny idiom literally means “under the cat’s tail”. You can use this idiom when something goes not the way it was planned and all your efforts were in vain. It is believed, that the phrase is connected with the Christian tradition of fasting, to the days when Russian families had so much food that they could not manage it. Back then, refrigerators were not invented so the only thing left to do to avoid the food going bad was to give it to cats and dogs, therefore to get “wasted”.



Держать язык за зубами [derzhat’ yazyk za zubami]

 It means to keep the mouth shut and whatever secrets one may have, to keep them safe. In English there is a kind of equivalent. It is “code of silence”. So, if you believe that speech is silver, but silence is golden, this idiom is for you!

До гробовой доски [do grobovoy doski]

When a man finds The Girl/ The One/ The love of his life, he marries her on the spot and swears to love her till death does them apart, or “до гробовой доски”. Even in Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” we read the following lines:

Тут непременно вы найдете Here you will definitely find
Два сердца, факел и цветки; Two hearts, a torch, and a few flowers,
Тут верно клятвы вы прочтете And you will see two oaths here
В любви до гробовой доски  

Of love until the end of days



Душа не на месте [dusha ne na meste] / Кошки скребут на душе [koshki skrebut na dushe]

Russians use душа не на месте when they feel uneasy or anxious.

Also, you can say the same thing using another popular idiom кошки скребут на душе”. If you try to translate it word by word, you will get something about cats and souls, which would not be very helpful. Who thought about this strange metaphor? They could have chosen dogs, rats, mice… Nevertheless, if you feel a twist in the pit of your stomach or a heavy heart, then it definitely means that feeling!


Работать не покладая рук [rabotat’ ne pokladaya ruk]

If you are accustomed to hard work, if you always diligently carry out your duties and take extra hours to finish current tasks, then it’s about you. Sometimes it is translated as “to work as an ox” or “to be as busy as a bee”.


Без сучка без задоринки [bez suchka bez zadorinki]

And the last one for today, our tenth Russian idiom, is “без сучка без задоринки”. This phrase implies that something happened successfully without any problems – without a hitch.


We sincerely hope that you have just taken one-step closer to understanding Russian. On our part, we wish you to enjoy the process of learning the language and hope it goes “bez suchka bez zadorinki”.

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Author: Regina Muzalevskaya

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