Russian sayings are a great way to get to know the Russian character. They offer insight into the mindset of a people long on patience and short on money. Entire books have been written on these pogovorka (sayings), but I just want to touch on a few of the most commons ones I’ve heard since I’ve lived here in Sevastopol. When Iuse these, they make me fit right in with the people here.
Russians love to say, “In taste and color there are no comrades.” (Na fkus I svet, tovarisha nyet.) This is very close in meaning to the English, “To each his own,” but it’s more fun because it rhymes, and because it uses an old Soviet word ‘tovarish’, meaning comrade. Russians have another phrase which can roughly be translated as “To each his own,” and that is:
“Everyone goes out of his mind in his own way.” (Kazhdi skhohdit suma pa svoimu.) The difference is, this is usually used to describe more eccentric habits or tastes. If someone is making a mural on their wall from cigarette butts, you’d say, “Well, everyone goes out of his mind in his own way.”
One of my favorite Russian sayings is equivalent to our, “I wrote the book on that!” But it’s much sillier. They say, “Ya na ehtu sobaku syel.” I ate the dog on that! I’m sure some linguistics professor would be happy to enlighten me on the origins of that Russian phrase, but I’m too busy to track one down. And besides, it’s more fun to speculate, isn’t it?
If you want to convey in Russian something along the lines of, “I’m gonna let him have it!” or “Just wait til he hears from me about it!” you could say, “I’m going to show him Kuzkin’s mother!” For example, if my girlfriend tells me that the guy sitting next to her in class copied her answers and she somehow got in trouble for it, I’d say, “I’m gonna show him Kuzkin’s mother!” I’ve asked, by the way, but no one seems to know who Kuzkin is, or why one would be inclined to show people his mother.
Not that all Russian sayings are so different from ours. It’s equally interesting to me how many of them are so similar. For example, Russians love to say, “Live for a century, learn for a century.” (Vek zhivee, vek uchees.) In other words, “Live and learn.”
When a Russian person is hungry he’s apt to say, “I’m hungry like a wolf.” (Ya goloden kak volk.) And in the midst of drinks with friends, Russian is bound to call out, “Pei do dna!” Drink to the bottom…i.e. Bottom’s up!
So there you have it, my 7 Russian sayings to make you fit in!