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15 Great Russian Expressions You’ve Never Heard Of

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About the authorFor lovers of Russian culture, folklore, and history, Kotar’s work is a treasure. The grandson of White Russian immigrants, the 34-year-old is an author of epic fantasy novels inspired by Russian fairy tales. You can see his four books here on Amazon.

He is also a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church, a professional translator, and choir director at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, where he lives. Here is his bio from his blog, where he writes about many aspects of Russia. We highly recommend following it and subscribing to his email list to get exclusive material.

He has an excellent Pinterest page, and you can follow him on Facebook. Here is an archive of his work published on Russia Insider.


I’m having a great time getting into the exciting bits of my new novel. Bear-riders have appeared, my main character is in the middle of a huge dilemma, two other characters have lost their families, and another is getting himself stuck in some very dark, bad business (it may or may not involve giants. Or dragons. Or both!)

My second novel, I’m be honest, is a tad dark. So even as I’m writing it, feel the need to lighten it up a bit. In my first novel, unexpected bits of comedy came from secondary characters. I’m trying to do the same in this one. There’s one character, a kind of royal bodyguard named Bhuk, who’s modeled on a guy I worked with in the kitchens of a monastery in north Russia (true story).

Bhuk can hardly say a single sentence without having some kind of folksy expression in it. It’s a very Russian thing. So I thought it might be interesting to find and translate some of the more colorful Russian expressions and find out what they actually mean. Here we go:

The hidden meanings of Russian folk sayings: part 1.

  1. Иван родства не помнящийIvan who doesn’t remember his family

Literally, it means someone who doesn’t like to follow traditions or rules. An innovator (not in a good way). The historical meaning is this. During Tsarist times, police had to deal with runaway prisoners, serfs who were trying to escape hard masters, soldiers who couldn’t finish boot camp, various sectarians, and other wanderers with no official papers. These people often hid their real names and places of residence. If asked about their names, they all call themselves “Ivan,” and claimed they didn’t remember their families.

  1. Толочь воду в ступеTo beat water in a mortar

It means “to beat the air,” to waste time doing something useless. The hidden meaning has to do with the supposedly miraculous properties of water. From pagan times, Russians were in awe of water. People used to whisper blessings on water and wait for miracles. But what if someone already mumbled something over the water? Especially if that someone swore when he dropped a jug of it? Water remembers everything!

So the old pagan druids found a way to “erase” the negative information from water. They used to beat water in a vessel for a long time. After a few days of torturing the water, the water was ready to be whispered over and used for magical rites. The druids would use the supposedly magic water for barter. But eventually, people realized that the water didn’t do anything special. So after a long time, it became an expression meaning “to waste your time.”

  1. Шут гороховый—A pea-green jester

It’s a derogatory expression: “stupid idiot,” or “moron.” The image of the jester of Medieval Europe is well known—wearing motley, a hat with donkey ears, holding a rattle in his hand (the rattle was often a bull bladder filled with dried peas). He would always begin his performances by rattling the peas. In Russia, jesters liked to decorate themselves with dried stalks of pea plants. During the folk celebrations before Lent, an effigy of a pea-green jester was carried around on the streets.

  1. Тянуть канительTo spin gold thread

Literally, it means to do humdrum work. To work a long time at a monotonous task. So why do you need to spin gold thread? Metal threads, whether of silver or gold, were used in decorations of clothing and rugs. To make it “sewable,” you had to make it extremely thin by beating it and pulling it through smaller and smaller holes. The process was laborious and very, very boring.

  1. Делить шкуру неубитого медведяTo divide the pelt of a living bear

An English equivalent might be “to count your chickens before they hatch.” The older version of this phrase is “to sell the pelt of a living bear.” The meaning is pretty clear—you shouldn’t build plans before you know they’re going to come through. The source of the bear image is actually from a French fable called “The Bear and Two Companions” by Jean de La Fontaine. The story concerns two fur traders who make a bargain for the pelt of a bear they haven’t killed yet. Hilarity ensues. Here’s the full fable online.

  1. Съесть СобакуTo eat a dog

The phrase now means to go through bitter experience, and come out the wiser. But originally, the phrase was ironic. Here’s the full version: “He ate the dog, but choked on the tail.” The expression was used to laugh at someone who had finished a very difficult job, but tripped up at the end over some trifle.

  1. Кричать во всю ИвановскуюTo scream over all Ivanovskoe

Literally: “to scream bloody murder.” Inside the Moscow Kremlin, the square that has the famous bell tower of Ivan the Great is called “Ivanovskoe”. In old times, sextons would announce all public laws, documents, and other official business concerning Moscow and all other cities. These sextons had very loud voices, apparently.

  1. Выносить сор из избыTo carry the garbage out of the hut

Literally: “to air dirty laundry”. This one also goes back to pagan rites. The thing is, garbage was never carried out of the hut. It was burned in the stove. Why? People believed that a magician could find out a family’s secrets by smelling their garbage. If he really wanted to harm them, he could even bury the garbage in a cemetery (not good!)

  1. Делу время и потехе часThere’s a time for work, and a time for play

This one might seem obvious, but there’s an interesting historical episode here. In 17th century Russia, the most popular way for a noble to spend his free time was hunting with falcons. Even Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich loved it—he hunted almost every day, except for winter. He even published a set of rules for proper falconry.

In this rulebook, the hunt was praised as an occupation that was very good at banishing sorrow and misfortunes. However, ultimately the Tsar decided that people had started enjoying it toomuch, and government business was suffering. So at the end of his rulebook, he added a warning: “Do not forget the business of government: there is a time for work, and a time for play.”

  1. Куда Макар телят не гоняетWhere even Makar won’t take his cows

Literally: very, very far away. Here’s one version of this saying’s provenance. Peter the Great was traveling through Riazan’. He liked to talk to the common people incognito. It so happened that on a certain day, every peasant he met just happened to be named “Makar”. The Tsar was surprised by this, then was reputed to say, “From this day forth, you shall all be called Makar!” From that time, the name “Makar” was used as a catchphrase for “peasant man.”

  1. Танцевать от печкиTo dance from the stove

Strangely enough, this expression means “to act always in the same way, never changing based on newly acquired knowledge.” Funny story. A certain man named Sergei Terebenev returned to Russia after a long absence. When he returned, full of nostalgia, he recalled his childhood memories of taking dance classes.

So he’s standing at the stove, his feet in “position three.” His parents and servants are standing around watching him. The teacher gives the command: “One, two, three.” Sergei does the first step, but loses his beat, and his feet get tangled up.

His father says, “O, what a mess! Well, get back to the stove, start dancing again!”

  1. Зарубить на носуTo hack at the nose

This one sounds more violent than it actually is. It means to remember something forever. The image that comes to mind is a poor schoolboy that’s standing in front of an angry teacher who threatens him with a finger again and again. The poor boy imagines it’s an axe hacking away at his nose. But that’s not it at all. Actually, a “nose” is a small wooden board notched by illiterate peasants as a way of remembering important tasks.

  1. Семь пятниц на неделеSeven Fridays a week

This describes a person who constantly changes his mind. Someone you can’t trust. In old times, Friday was market day. Everyone shopped on a Friday. Friday was the day that the goods arrived, and payment was arranged for the followed market day (Friday). Whoever did not come through with the payment was branded with this expression: “For that guy, it’s seven Fridays a week!”

But there’s a different explanation too. Workers were usually allowed to leave early on a Friday, so a lazy bum was also given this expression. For him, every day was a day off, so to speak.

  1. Вилами на воде написаноWritten on water with a pitchfork

Literally: “a very doubtful event.” There are actually two explanations for this expression. “Vila” (the Russian word for pitchfork) is also another name for Russian mermaids, dangerous spirits who were said to drown young men (they also show up in chapter 3 of my new novel). If you saw them writing on the water, you could be sure that what they wrote would come true.

The second meaning refers to pitchforks as ritual objects used by druids. The three points of the fork were said to symbolize the essence of the god Triglav (literally, three-headed one). Druids would use them to “draw” runes on water as part of their magic rites. Of course, when nothing happened, people started to give the action its opposite meaning.

  1. Отрезанный ломотьA cut-off piece of bread

This refers to someone who has become independent—a daughter given to a husband who lives very far away, or a son whose started his own family and never comes to visit his parents.

Interestingly, in old times bread was never cut, because it symbolized life. You should only ever break pieces off. So the expression “cut-off piece of bread” is a real historical oxymoron.

Stay tuned next week for more linguistic madness from the Russians! The original Russian article can be found here.

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Teenager who killed dog by kicking it twice is jailed for six months

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A teenager who killed a dog by kicking it so hard it went above the head of its owner has been jailed for six months.

Josh Henney (19) twice kicked the dog in its underbelly while its owner was speaking with his mother.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that the dog, who was a cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a Yorkshire Terrier, was named Sam and was approximately 10 months old at the time.

Henney of North William Street, Dublin City centre, pleaded guilty to killing a protected animal at his address on March 23rd, 2020. He has 36 previous convictions and is currently serving a sentence of two years with the final six months suspended for an offence of violent disorder.

Garda Adam McGrane told Dara Hayes BL, prosecuting, that on the date in question, the injured party was on North William Street with her dog and was speaking with Henney’s mother.

Gda McGrane said Henney was having an argument with his mother and was shouting from a window. Henney then came out of the flat and told the injured party to “f**k off out of here and mind your own business”.

The garda said Henney told the woman that he would “f**king kill your dog”. Henney then took a run up of around two metres and kicked the dog in their underbelly. The dog was kicked so hard it went above the head their owner.

Henney walked away, then took a second run at the dog and kicked the dog again in their underbelly. The dog’s breathing was laboured following the second kick and saliva with blood was coming from their mouth.

The dog, which could not walk or drink, was carried by their owner to a veterinary practice and was still alive upon arrival. The dog was put under anaesthetic, but died while undergoing treatment.

Multiple fractures and fissures

The court heard that Dr Alan Wolfe, who performed the autopsy on the dog, found multiple fractures and fissures to the dog’s liver. Dr Wolfe found all of the injuries were consistent with the dog dying of blood loss due to acute trauma.

Mr Hayes told the court that the injured party in the case has no children and told gardaí­ that the dog was like family to her and went with her wherever she went.

Gda McGrane agreed with Cathal McGreal BL, defending, that his client told gardaí­ he had lost his temper and did not really remember what happened. He agreed the accused told gardaí­ he had not been able to sleep remembering the dog screaming and wished to apologise for what he did.

Mr McGreal said his client very much regrets what he did. He said his client claims he never told the victim that he would kill the dog.

Counsel said his client’s father was shot in Malaga in front of Henney when he was aged 14. He said that his client told a psychologist that the offence was a “horrible thing to do” and that he wants to get help so he does not do anything like that again.

Mr McGreal said his client’s mother smoked heroin and his client caught her doing so as a child. He said the presence of the injured party was a “triggering factor” and that there was “a heroin taking relationship going on”.

Counsel said there is no gainsaying that what his client did but he is sorry for it and it haunts him.

On Tuesday Judge Melanie Greally Judge Greally imposed a one year prison sentence with the final six months suspended on strict conditions including that Henney engage with the Probation Service for 12 months upon his release from prison. This sentence is to be consecutive to the term he is currently serving for violent disorder.

She said the anger and aggression was carried out on the dog, when it was the dog’s owner that was “the subject of his anger”.

Judge Greally accepted that Henney was “extremely ashamed and remorseful for his actions” and has now expressed himself as young man who wants to live a normal life. “He has a stable relationship and is applying himself well in prison,” she noted.

She acknowledged that the report prepared by the Probation Service concluded that Henney was a vulnerable young man who would benefit from probation supervision upon his release from prison.

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Italy likely to offer Covid booster jabs to all ‘from January’

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“It is most likely that a third dose will be necessary for everybody,” Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri told Radio Capital.

His remarks echoed comments from the president of the national health institute ISS, Silvio Brusaferro, who said 24 hours earlier that the need for third doses for all “couldn’t be excluded”.

READ ALSO: Which Italian regions have the highest Covid vaccination rates?

Italy is already administering booster shots to patients with fragile immune systems and serious medical conditions, people aged over 60 and health workers.

“I imagine the rest of the population [will follow] from January,” Sileri said.

To date, almost 44.5 million people in Italy, or 82.3 percent of those over the age of 12, have been fully vaccinated, and 1.1 million have already received booster shots.

EXPLAINED: Who can access a third dose of the Covid vaccine in Italy?

To boost vaccination rates, Italy has brought in some of the world’s strictest measures with health certificates now mandatory for all workers.

The certificate, known as a ‘green pass’, is also a requirement at many cultural and leisure venues and on long-distance public transport.

The pass is available to everyone who is vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19, but can also be obtained by getting a negative test, at the individual’s own expense.



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Halyna Hutchins: Alec Baldwin, an actor dogged by scandal | USA

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Alec Baldwin once borrowed the words of one of the acting colleagues he admires the most – “the incredibly intelligent and wise Warren Beatty” – to explain his ongoing image problems. “Your problem is a very basic one, and it’s very common to actors. And that’s when we step in front of a camera, we feel the need to make it into a moment. This instinct, even unconsciously, is to make the exchange in front of the camera a dramatic one,” Beatty said.

Last Thursday, on the set of the movie Rust, of which Baldwin is the star and a producer, that moment could not have been more dramatic. It was Baldwin who pulled the trigger on a prop firearm that killed the Ukrainian director of photography, 43-year-old Halyna Hutchins, and wounded the movie’s director, 48-year-old Joel Souza. The tragic incident left Baldwin speechless for several hours until he expressed his “shock and sadness,” offering his help and support to Hutchins’ family and stating that he was “fully cooperating” with the police investigation into the accident. A social media post from a few days earlier in which he was kitted out in his cowboy gear and covered in blood in character for Rust was removed from his accounts.

Scandal seems to follow Alec Baldwin around, whether or not he is looking for that drama to which Beatty alluded. The eldest of six siblings of a middle-class Catholic family of Irish descent, the four Baldwin brothers are all involved in show business, although they couldn’t be much different from one another. Daniel has had problems with drugs. Stephen is currently involved with an Evangelical church and his political views are inclined toward conservatism. The second-youngest, William described his brother as someone who always has something “to fucking whine about,” according to The New Yorker. Alec is the eldest and the most disciplined, but also the one who protected the other brothers from bullies as he was the most combative. He went to school with the notion of becoming the president of the United States, but on recognizing he had little chance of achieving that goal he enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York, graduating many years later.

Alec Baldwin during a scuffle with a photographer in New York, 2014.
Alec Baldwin during a scuffle with a photographer in New York, 2014. freddie baez (cordon)

His career could have panned out like Al Pacino’s or Jack Nicholson’s, actors who he looked up to, but Baldwin’s generation was not the same. Perhaps neither was his talent, and certainly, the world of movies had changed. In 1992, Baldwin ensured that he would be associated with his idols when he starred with Jessica Lange in a Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, which three years later would be turned into a television movie with Baldwin and Lange reprising their roles for the small screen. Not only did Baldwin receive a Tony nomination for his Broadway performance, he also drew favorable comparisons to legendary actor Marlon Brando, who starred in the stage production and the 1951 movie version. Around this time Baldwin was also landing meaty screen roles, including that of Jack Ryan opposite Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October.

But as time progressed, Baldwin’s name was more frequently heard in connection to his social life and scandals than for his stage or screen performances. His marriage to actor Kim Basinger, who he met in 1991 while filming The Marrying Man, ended acrimoniously, and Baldwin’s relationship with the couple’s daughter, Ireland, has often been fractious. In 2007, a voicemail message the actor left for Ireland, who was 11 at the time, caused a sensation due to Baldwin’s use of not very fatherly language, during an ongoing spat with Basinger following their 2002 divorce.

Alec Baldwin after receiving one of his three Golden Globes for ‘30 Rock.’
Alec Baldwin after receiving one of his three Golden Globes for ‘30 Rock.’

Then there is the other Alec Baldwin, described by the actor himself as “bitter, defensive, and more misanthropic than I care to admit,” in an open letter to Vulture magazine in 2014 titled Good-bye, Public Life. At that time Baldwin had forged a reputation as a violent, homophobic egocentric following several incidents aired in the media. And, of course, from his own mouth. Even so, he managed to resurrect his career in the most surprising way imaginable: by making fun of himself.

Baldwin’s portrayal of the absurd and conceited television executive Jack Donaghy across seven seasons of 30 Rock (2006-13), a character inspired by Baldwin himself, earned back his public popularity and landed the actor back-to-back Primetime Emmy Awards in 2007 and 2008 and three Golden Globes. In 2011, he started a new chapter in his personal life with his current wife, Hilaria Baldwin, with whom he has six children. But as one of his closest friends, Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live where Baldwin has received plaudits for his impersonations of former US president Donald Trump, once said: “Everything would be better if you were able to enjoy what you have.”

Baldwin’s altercations – mostly verbal, occasionally physical – with the paparazzi or anyone who in the actor’s opinion has violated his privacy have been frequent, including on productions on which he has worked. In 2013, the actor Shia LaBeouf was fired from the Broadway theatre production of Orphans when Baldwin said: “Either he goes or I do.” Years earlier an actress left another play Baldwin was working on by leaving a written note stating that she feared for her “physical, mental and artistic” safety.

Alec Baldwin impersonating former US president Donald Trump on ‘Saturday Night Live.’
Alec Baldwin impersonating former US president Donald Trump on ‘Saturday Night Live.’EL PAÍS

Every one of Baldwin’s reinventions seems inexorably to be followed by another fall from grace. On the one hand, there is the Baldwin who has stated on several occasions that he intends to withdraw from public life, and on the other the Baldwin who is obsessed with social media, writing a tweet for every occasion. Many of these posts have cost the actor, such as in 2017 when he commented on a video of a suspect being fatally shot by police: “I wonder how it must feel to wrongfully kill someone…”

There are still unanswered questions surrounding the death of Halyna Hutchins. The investigation has not disclosed whether the firearm was discharged accidentally or if Baldwin was aiming it at the time, although the transcript of a call to the emergency services appears to indicate it happened during a rehearsal. As of yet, no charges have been filed against Baldwin but it is unknown if this may yet occur at a later date. A statement taken from the assistant director states that Baldwin was told by crew members that the gun was not loaded. Many observers are wondering if Rust will be completed, if the project will be abandoned. And many more are asking the same about Baldwin: will he be able to find a way back from this latest dramatic moment?



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