What is the Russian Авось?
Авось is a widely used Russian saying which expresses a very specific concept. Although you may find that it is often translated as ‘perhaps’ or ‘with hope’, these English phrases do not represent the deeper concept that lies behind the Russian авось. I spoke to native Russian speakers to try to find out what this concept means for them.
How can авось be translated?
A common response when I asked Russian speakers to explain авось was one involving the idea of hope. For example, one person told me that it is ‘the hope that something will happen’, and another expressed that авось is ‘hoping for a miracle or for something good to arise’. This is a hope against all odds, possibly when there is nothing you can do to control a situation or if you are leaving the consequences of something in the hands of fate, without trying to influence the situation yourself. Another native Russian speaker told me that авось implies a lack of structure or plans, thus a reliance on luck and hope.
Russian phrases that use авось
Надеяться на авось: This translates as to hope on авось, meaning to place all your hopes on things turning out to be in order as there is nothing you can do, or as you are not willing to act further.
Авось до добра не доведет: This means that авось will not lead to anything good. This expresses the idea that relying on авось is not a great idea, as the consequences of this are beyond your control.
Авось увидимся ещё: This means perhaps (авось) we will see each other again. Implied in this is that neither party will make great efforts to see the other, and any meeting in future will simply be due to a coincidence or a chance circumstance.
Авось повезёт: This means that maybe (авось) you’ll be lucky/something good will happen. The emphasis here is on the nature of the luck, which is not based on any deliberate actions, but rather on outside circumstances.
What is an авоська?
An авоська is a reusable net shopping bag. The name arises from the word авось, and explaining why will allow you to better understand the concept. During the food shortages in the Soviet Union people would often take a net bag with them when going out in the hope that they may come across some products which they could buy. This hopefulness, авось, gave the bag its name. Therefore, taking an авоська with you is a hopeful gesture, spurred by the understanding that something out of your control may lead to you finding food.
Musical «Юнона» и «Авось»
The concept of авось has been further immortalised by the musical which carries its name, «Юнона» и «Авось». This is a rock opera based on the real expedition of two ships, called Юнона and Авось, which were sent to California in 1806 in order to build relationships between the Russian-American Company and Spanish colonialists. The boat is called Авось as a result of the phrase авось доплывёт, meaning let’s hope/perhaps (авось) the boat will arrive at its final destination, suggesting the ramshackle nature of the boat and the need to rely on hope.
A famous song in the musical is called Песня моряков (Sailor’s song) «Авось». This song is based on the concept of авось, and has lines such as:
Наша вера сильнее расчета
Нас вывозит «авось»
(Our faith is stronger than calculation
We are carried by «авось»)
This example perfectly illustrates the concept of авось: it is a reliance on hope and luck instead of controlling the circumstances. You can watch the song here:
It is clear that авось cannot simply be translated, as it carries a deeper meaning than any possible English variant. However, I hope that the concept of авось now makes more sense to you, and that you can impress Russian speakers with your knowledge of typically Russian phrases.
Leila, currently studying and Liden & Denz St. Petersburg
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