5 Strange, Fun and Useful Russian Phrases

Written on:November 22, 2012
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When it comes to learning Russian language, 2+2 does not always equal four. Russian idioms are great examples of this. You put together a couple of words into a phrase that means something entirely different from the original meanings of the words, something new, unpredictable and fun.

Let’s take a look at a few examples. To make it fun, try guessing the meaning of each phrase before checking the answer.

1. What does a Russian phrase водить за нос mean, if водить means “to lead” and нос means (nose)
a) to find food using one’s sense of smell or
b) to deceive

Correct answer – b as in

Ловкий мошенник много лет водил за нос социальную службу – For many years a crafty con-man has been deceiving social services.

2. What does a Russian phrase вот где собака зарыта mean, if собака means “a dog” and зарыть means “to bury”
a) an inscription on a gravestone at a pet cemetery
b) the heart of the matter

Correct answer – b as in

Где зарыта собака коррупции? – What lies at the heart of corruption?

3. What does a Russian phrase всыпать по первое число mean, if всыпать means “to pour in” and первое число means “the first of the month”

a) to give someone a good thrashing
b) to pour enough supplies into a bag to last until the first of the month

Correct answer – a as in

Ещё одна жалоба от учителя и я всыплю тебе по первое число – One more complaint from the teacher and I’ll give you a good thrashing.

4. What does a Russian phrase довести до белого каления mean, if вести means “to lead” and каление means “heat incandescence”

a) to heat metal until it starts glowing white
b) to drive someone crazy

Correct answer – b as in

Бесконечными вопросами ребёнок довёл мать до белого каления – With his endless questions a child drove his mother crazy.

5. What does a Russian phrase зарубить на носу mean, if рубить means “to chop” and нос means “nose”

a) to remember something well
b) to bloody one’s nose

Correct answer – a as in

Заруби себе на носу, сынок, попробуешь водить меня за нос, всыплю по первое число – Remember this well, sonny, if you try to fool me, I’ll give you a good thrashing.

Feel free to share your favorite strange, fun and useful Russian expressions in the comments. If you’d like to learn more Russian phrases, let me know. In the mean time, check out our giant list of useful Russian idioms.

8 Comments add one

  1. Terence says:

    Loving this lessons, using them on my friends from Uzbekistan and Russia and so on, and they are laughing at me!! I’m getting to learn and play some pranks a lot with them using these lessons. Its a long way to home.but I’m going to continue till I’m really good at dealing with customers and daily life…thanks for this again

    • Yelena says:

      Thank you, Terence! Terrific to hear you’re finding the lessons useful and fun. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to learn, any specific phrases or situations.

  2. Korey says:

    Thanks so much. This is a great website, and I really enjoy the way you keep it fun !

  3. Yelena says:

    Wow, Konstantin, great find! I’m going to see about fixing this typo.

  4. Konstantin says:

    P.S. Looking through Russiun Idioms I found a misprint in the next phrase – наши браться меньшие. It sounds – наши братья меньшие.

  5. Konstantin says:

    I see I made some mistakes in my comments. I should be more attentive.
    I would like to add that I found out some amazing facts about celebrating Russian New Year. It is an interesting notice what films are shown during this holiday. Thank you very much for the interesting article “How to Celebrate Russian New Year.

  6. Yelena says:

    Konstantin, your English is quite good. As I first started writing, I was surprised at how many Russian speakers were reading the posts. I think it’s a great way to improve English skills. Plus, with so many native speakers participating, both on the blog and on the Facebook page, any mistakes we make are swiftly corrected (such as the typo you found). In the end, the readers who are learning Russian benefit the most since they get help from both the writers and other readers. The way it works out is really great!

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