Lost in Translation: Russian Idioms and Their Meanings

Lost in Translation: Russian Idioms and Their Meanings
17 September 2023

To speak like a native, it is important to keep some idioms up your sleeve to bring out during conversation. However, some of these idioms have literal translations which are somewhat out of the ordinary, and if you were to say them in English you might get a few funny looks! This guide will hopefully help your Russian vocabulary and give you a few laughs along the way.Russian Idioms

Делать из мухи слона (T0 make a big deal out of nothing)

This first phrase literally translates as ‘To make an Elephant out of a Fly’. In other words, to make a big deal out of nothing. This could be used in everyday conversation to describe someone’s characteristics or when someone will just not stop complaining. For example; вы слышали, как она кричит? Да, она делает из мухи слона (have you heard her shouting? Yes, she is making a big deal out of nothing).

Заткнуть (кого-то) за пояс (To outshine someone)

In general conversation, this idiom means to outshine someone, however, its literal translation is rather odd. It translates ‘to put (someone) under one’s belt’. To utilise this phrase, you can use it to compare someone to someone else. For example; вы видели ее презентацию? Да, заткнула Марию за пояс (did you see her presentation? Yes, it outshone Maria’s).

Russian IdiomsОстаться с носом (To fail at something)

With it’s literal translation being ‘to be left with a nose’, it can be used in conversation when you want to say someone or something failed at something, messed around or did not get an expected result. To put it into practice, you could reply with this idiom when being asked about the result of something. For example; Команда выиграла? Нет, осталась с носом (did the team win? No, they lost).

Кот наплакал (Not enough to swear by, as scarce as hen’s teeth) 

With it’s literal translation being ‘a cat cried’, it implies something is so rare as a cat crying. Therefore, something very hard to find or virtually nonexistent. You could use this in a self-derrogatory style of humour. For example; У меня не хватает денег, чтобы купить эту куртку – кот наплакал (I have so little money that I can’t buy this jacket”.

В ус не дуть (To be as cool as a cucumber)Russian Idioms

Although this idiom means to be as cool as a cucumber, therefore a very relaxed person, it literally translates to ‘to not to blow into one’s mustache’ which makes little to no sense in English. The origins of this phrase are believed to have come from the past when it was extremely common for Russian men to have mustaches. You can use this idiom to describe someone. For example; Вы знаете Ивана? В ус oн не дует (do you know Ivan? He is very relaxed).

This blog was brought to you by Emily Gray, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz in Riga

These images were taken from Pexels

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