Russian Idioms

Одна нога здесь, другая там – [odna noga zd'es' drugaya tam]- One foot’s here, the other’s there. To go and fetch, to run and fetch; to do something very quickly, with lightning speed.
Ни рыба ни мясо – [ni ryba ni m'aso]- Neither fish nor meat. A mediocre person.

Не ударить в грязь лицом – [n'e udarit' v gr'az' litsom]- Not to strike the mud with one’s face. To maintain one’s dignity; to acquit oneself well; not to disgrace oneself; to try to appear at one’s best.

Наломать дров – [nalomat' drov]- To break up some firewood. To commit follies; to make a mess of things.

Мухи не обидит – [mukhi n'e obidit]- He/she wouldn’t hurt a fly. He/she is meek, timid, gentle, kind.

Мухи не обидит – [mukhi n'e obidit]- He/she wouldn’t hurt a fly. He/she is meek, timid, gentle, kind.

Много воды утекло mnogo vody ut’eklo]- Much water has flowed away. That was long ago; much has happened since; much has changed since.

Лезть в бутылку – [l'ezt' v butyiku]- To climb into the bottle. To be carried away by excitement, to lose self-control, to become suddenly or violently angry (usually without reason, over a mere trifle).

Курам на смех – [kuram na sm'ekh]- For the hens to laugh at. It’s funny, ridiculous, absurd, silly.

Кот наплакал – [kot naplakal]- Something the cat cried out. Very little; practically nothing; nothing to speak of.

Как об стенку горох – [kak ob st'enku gorokh] – Like throwing peas against the wall. To say something to which not the slightest attention is paid (often uttered in irritation).

Как гора с плеч свалилась – [kak gora s pi'ech svalilas']- As if a mountain had fallen off one’s shoulders. Someone is relieved of anxiety, doubt, cares.

Искать иголку в стоге сена – [iskat' igolku v stog'e s'ena]- To look for a needle in a bundle of hay. To look for something or someone virtually impossible to find.

Идти по стопам – [itti ро stopam]- To walk in someone’s footsteps. To follow someone’s example; to be someone’s disciple.

Зондировать почву – [zondirovat' pochvu]- To probe the ground. To try cautiously to discover someone’s inclinations, to test the views of others, to sound out one’s chances of success beforehand.

Зарубить на носу – [zarubit' na nosu]- To make a notch on one’s nose. To remember something firmly, forever.

Заморить червячка – [zamorit' cherv'achka]- To underfeed the little worm. To have a little to eat.

Жить как кошка с собакой – [zhit' kak koshka s sobakoy]- To live like a cat and a dog. To be constantly snapping, bickering and quarrelling.

Ехать зайцем – [yekhat' zaytsem]- To ride as a hare. To travel without paying for a ticket.

Душа ушла в пятки – [ducha ushla v p'atki]- One’s soul has gone into one’s heels. Someone is greatly alarmed by what is happening or anticipated to happen; terribly frightened.

Денег куры не клюют – [d'en'eg kury n'e kl'uyut]- The hens don’t peck at the money. One has plenty of money.

Делать из мухи слона – [d'elat' iz mukhi slona]- To make an elephant out of a fly. To exaggerate the importance of a small matter.

Два сапога пара – [dva sapoga para]- Two boots make a pair. They are alike; (usually with reference to disposition, tastes, conduct, etc.)

Довести до белого каления – {dovesti do belogo kaleniya} – To bring to the white heat – to deprive composure, to anger, to infuriate.

Держи карман шире! – {derzhi karman shire} – Hold pocket more widely! – do not hope, do not design for anything, do not await anything.

Держать слово – {derzhat’ slovo} – To hold word – to fulfill, to carry out the promise, promised.

Держать руку на пульсе – {derzhat’ ruku na pul’se} – To hold hand on the pulse – to follow the proceeding events, to examine them and if necessary to react to the changes.

Дело в шляпе – {delo v shlyape} – The matter in the hat – everything is good; all in the order, all are solved, it is successfully settled. On the successful completion, the outcome of anything.

Готов сквозь землю провалиться – [gotov skvoz' z'eml'u provalittsa] – Ready to fall through the ground.

Голодный как волк – [golodny kak volk] – Hungry as awolf. Terribly hungry.

Голова идет кругом – [golova id'ot krugom]- One’s head is going round. Someone has a lot to do, is in a state of bewilderment or confusion being worn out with troubles and worry.

Говорить под руку – [govorit' pod ruku] – To speak to someone’s hand. To say something at the wrong time; to disturb someone when he is concentrating on something; to distract someone by talking.

Глаза разбегаются – [glaza razb'egayutsa] – One’s eyes are running in different directions. One doesn’t know what to look at first; one is dazzled by the sight of so many things; one is unable to concentrate on one thing.

Где раки зимуют (знать) – {gde raki zimuyut} – Where cancer winter (to show) – the expression of threat.

Водой не разольешь – [vodoy n'e razol'yosh]- You couldn’t split them apart with water. To be very good friends, close to each other; inseparable from each other; to be always together.

Вилами на воде писано – [vilami na vod'e pisano]- Written with a pitchfork on the water. It’s uncertain, not defined, vague; it may or may not come off.

Взять быка за рога – [vzat' byka za roga]- To take the bull by the horns. To take up a matter vigorously and promptly getting directly to its essence.

Вертится на языке – [vertitsa na yazyke] – It is whirling on someone’s tongue. On the verge of being uttered; something at the back of one’s mind one wants to say but which is not quite within recall of memory.

Встать ни свет ни заря – {vstat’ ni svet ni zarya} – To arise neither light nor dawn – to arise very early, to the dawn.

Водой не разольешь – {vodoy ne razol’esh’} – By water you will not spill – about the inseparable, those constantly being together and those not being powerful to live without each other people.
Вешать лапшу на уши – {veshat’ lapshu na ushi} – To hang noodles to the ears – to deceive, to develop, to address teeth, to separate demagogy.

Вернемся к нашим баранам – {vernemsya k nashim baranam} – Let us return to our rams – the call to that speaking not to be distracted from the basic theme.

Верить на слово. – {verit’ na slovo} – To believe for the word – to rely on whose- or assertions, without the confirmation by facts, by proofs.

Валять дурака. – {valyat’ duraka} – To drag along fool – To clown, to clown, to amuse by foolish tricks.

В ус не дуть. – {v us ne dut’} – In the whisker not to blow – not to turn attention.

В тридевятом (тридесятом) царстве. – {v tridevyatom carstve} – In the [tridevyatom] ([tridesyatom]) reign – it is very far.

В трех соснах заблудиться. – {v treh sosnah zabludit’sya} – In three pine trees to stray – about those, who are confused in the simplest questions.

В ногах правды нет. – {v nogah pravdy net} – In the feet there is no truth – the witty invitation to squat, to be sat down.

Быть не из робкого десятка – [byt' n'e iz robkovo des'atka] – To be not of the timid dozen. Not one to scare easily; not easily frightened, not a coward.

Быть не в своей тарелке – [byt' n'e v svoyey tar'elk'e] – To be not in one’s personal plate. To be not quite oneself, to be not quite at ease, to feel uneasy.

Быть на седьмом небе – [byt' na s'ed'mom n'eb'e] – To be in the seventh heaven. To be overfilled with joy, to be supremely happy or satisfied.

Быть на ножах – {byt’ na nozhah} – To be on the knives. To display mutual hostility.

Больной вопрос – {bol’noy vopros} – a sore question. An urgent problem that is difficult to solve.

Белый билет – White ticket – document, which frees from the military responsibility due to the health status.

Белены объелся – {beleny ob’elsya} – Henbane it ate – (it was coarse-simple.) – reason lost, behaves as abnormal, reckless. Henbane – poisonous plant.

Белая смерть – {belaya smert’} – White death – narcotics.

Белая зависть – {belaya zavist’} – White envy – envy without a feeling of vexation, irritation by possibilities or by the successes of other.

Белая ворона – {belaya vorona} – White crow – person, who sharply separates by anything among his surrounding people

Бежать сломя голову – {bezhat’ slomya golovu} – To run [slomya] the head- it is very rapid, swiftly to run (to rush, to rush).

Ахиллесова пята – {ahillesova pyata} – The Achilles’ Heel- the most vulnerable place in someone.


  1. roy barclay says:

    Russian idioms are essential reading for the serious student of the culture – they provide an insight not only into phrasing & use of words, but the psyche of the folk who devised them. My favourite Russian idiom is:”v kazhday ysteenye, yest dolya pravdi” – In every verity exists a grain of truth… This idiom is a masterwork of wordplay – juxtaposing both Russian words for truth, which has the effect of cancelling the other out, so creating a sarcastic negative out of 2 positives. How Russian is that in its acuteness of measured cynicism? & all the more ironic to me, considering that Russian differs from English in that a double-negative is not considered bad grammar, & indeed, using “no, not, nothing, never…” all in the same sentence, actually serves to emphasise the negativity of the statement. But in this idiom, the poignance is to contradict the statement of ‘truth’, by repeating its language partner, to question the basis of the truth. So, for me, this idiom is acutely ‘Russian’, & sums up the attitude of the people during the Soviet era, when they were brought up on a ‘truth’ too severe to question blatantly, in public…

  2. roy barclay says:

    Russian idioms say a lot about Russian life, so it is not surprising that many refer obliquely to a culture that seems to revolve around consuming vodka…Laying in after a night out drinking, so avoiding work, is alluded to in 2 idioms that both translate as; The plough is calling – “po tebe ploog plachet, a ti gavareesh…/ploog plachet po komoo-l…”
    0ther idiomatic references to a layabout person;”0n v osnovam slesar po khleboo!” – He’s a metalworker, specialist in bread! 0r, even more sarcastic;”geneey – sredee oodobreneey!” – Genius – of a dungheap!
    This idiom also serves to deflate the self-importance of someone who regards they are too clever to work, or does not have the constitution for it.
    Such a person might also be spoken of;”0n nye chilavyek, a mokraya kooreetsa!” – He not a man, but a wet hen!
    If you really wish to insult somebody’s thinking;”doomat – zhopay!” – To think – with ars! – has a simplicity that pleases me.
    “Teeshi yedish, dalshi boodish”, translates as – The slower you go, the further you get – an idiom that has inspired many other versions & has been exploited to comment on the 3rd world state of Soviet state roads. My personal favourite alternative; The faster you go, the fewer the potholes – but you F’up the suspension!

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