Indo-European Roots of Russian

Posted on 28. Apr, 2016 by in History, language


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Learners of the more popular Germanic languages — English and German — and the more popular Romance language — French, Spanish, and Italian — may be tempted to think of all Indo-European languages in terms of these high-visibility languages. I’ve once heard someone say “Russian is so different from Indo-European languages.” Some languages of Western Europe may be related to each other more closely and have more shared features thanks to closer ties; however, Russian is, in fact, also an Indo-European language.

Russian belongs to the East Slavic language group, which is part of the Indo-European language family. Granted, it “split off” from the rest of the languages in the group a long time ago, but some core vocabulary illustrates their connection. Note that the English equivalent may not be a cognate of the Russian word.


The most obvious group of cognates with other Indo-European languages describes family relations. Some examples are:

  • мать (mother; you will remember that in oblique cases, мать becomes ма́тери, etc., which is much more similar to its cognates)
  • брат (brother)
  • дочь (daughter, oblique cases — до́чери, etc.)
  • жена́ (wife)
  • сестра́ (sister)
  • сын (son)

To give one example, in terms of etymology, the cognates of жена́ in other Indo-European languages appear in Armenian, Celtic, Germanic (“queen,” anyone?), Greek, and Indic languages.


Several things around the house also have Indo-European names, which have cognates in other languages.

  • у́гол (corner, angle)
  • дым (smoke)
  • ого́нь (fire)
  • дом (house)

The Hindi आग ‎(āg, fire) is a cognate of the Russian ого́нь.

Common Verbs

The next group is made of verbs denoting common actions and states.

  • веле́ть (to bid/order)
  • верте́ть (to spin)
  • ви́деть (to see)
  • дать (to give)
  • есть (to eat)
  • жить (to live)

An example of a cognate of верте́ть in another language is the German werden (to become).


Unsurprisingly, a lot of Russian numbers are also of Indo-European origin. One notable exception is со́рок (forty), which comes from an old measure used in hunting.

  • два (two)
  • три (three)
  • де́сять (ten)

The Greek δύο (two) is one of the cognates in this group.


glass of water

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Names of basic food items are also thought to come from the old Proto-Indo-European language.

  • вода́ (water)
  • мя́со (meat)
  • соль (salt)

The Spanish onda (wave) is one of the cognates of вода. Fun fact, whisky is another cognate.

Nature and Outdoors

Another group of words refers to plants, animals, and landscape features. Some examples are:

  • волк (wolf)
  • берёза (birch)
  • гусь (goose)
  • кот (cat)
  • бе́рег (coast)
  • гора́ (mountain)
  • мо́ре (sea)
  • луна́ (moon)

A cognate of луна in an Indo-European language outside of Europe is the Persian روشن (rowšan, light).

At this point, many of the cognates are hard to identify, so having this information may not be helpful in learning Russian. However, if you look at a Latin verb conjugation table and compare it to Russian, you will see that your knowledge of other Indo-European languages may, in fact, aid your Russian learning.

Show Me The Money: Slang Expressions for Cash in Russian

Posted on 21. Apr, 2016 by in language


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As you imagine, money is as popular a subject in Russian as it is in other languages. Apart from the neutral word де́ньги, there are multiple slang ways of referring to your hard-earned cash.

There are many slang words for money in English and other languages, too; each country will have its variations, to boot. The purpose of this article is to share some of the Russian money slang, and the approximate translation of the examples may not reflect your local slang terms for money.


Капу́ста literally means “cabbage,” but it is also a slang term for money. A frequent collocation is руби́ть капу́сту (“to chop cabbage”), meaning “to make money.”

Арти́сты―Де́ды Моро́зы “ру́бят капу́сту” на “корпорати́вках” и в клу́бах, е́здят по дома́м и выступа́ют на е́лках (Actors playing “Father Frost” make big money at corporate parties, in clubs, in people’s homes, and performing at New Year’s shows). [Зайцев Михаил. ЗДРАВСТВУЙ, ДЕДУШКА МОРОЗ // Труд-7, 2006.12.29]


Ба́бки is the plural of ба́бка, a familiar or pejorative way of saying ба́бушка, “grandmother, old woman.” In Russian slang, ба́бки refers to money. There are several variations of this word, including бабло́ and бабо́сы.

«У кого́ «ба́бки» в карма́не, тот в а́рмию не хо́дит» (The person who has some cash in their pocket doesn’t need to serve in the military). [Светлана Алексиевич. Время second-hand // «Дружба народов», 2013] — check out our earlier post about the writer!


dollar bills

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Зелёный is the name of the color green. Зеле́ные refers to US dollars because of the green color of the bills.

Де́ньги по росси́йским ме́ркам фантасти́ческие: большинство́ кома́нд вы́сшего дивизио́на обхо́дятся владе́льцам в 15-20 миллио́нов “зеле́ных” в год (This money is astronomical on a Russian scale — most top division teams cost their owners $15-20 million a year). [Олег Скворцов, Дмитрий Глухих, Анна Харитонова. Футбол не стоит денег (2003) // «Совершенно секретно», 2003.08.09]


Now that we’ve covered dollars, we might as well mention rubles. Rubles (рубли́) are colloquially referred to as деревя́нные, wooden. This conveys the sense of something bulky and not very valuable.

Нельзя́ сказа́ть, что сего́дня наш ру́бль ― совсе́м уж деревя́нный (You can’t really say that our ruble today is totally “wooden”). [Путевые заметки от Путина (2003) // «Московский комсомолец», 2003.01.14]


Лавэ́ comes from the Romani language and also means “money.” This word used to be associated with criminal jargon.

А нас не устра́ивает, что лавэ́ еще́ не у нас (We’re not happy that we still don’t have the dough). [Алексей Грачев. Ярый против видеопиратов (1999)]


This is another, perhaps currently less common, variation of “(a lot of) money.” This word is thought to be derived from the Turkic word for “head.”

На́до инициати́ву проявля́ть, чтобы башли́ отсте́гивали! (You need to show initiative to rake in the cash!) [Андрей Волос. Недвижимость (2000) // «Новый Мир», 2001]

For more general money vocabulary, check out our post on financial vocabulary.

What Panama Hat? Headwear in Russian

Posted on 14. Apr, 2016 by in General reference article

woman in a hat

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Many of you have heard about the recent “Panama Papers” (#panamapapers) scandal, where several celebrities, state officials, and business owners were revealed to have had assets in offshore companies. One of Vladimir Putin’s friends also featured in the leak, prompting satirical posters depicting the Russian president wearing a Panama hat and asking “Кака́я Пана́ма?” (“What Panama [hat]?”)

This recent leak probably reminded Russians that Пана́ма (Panama) is a country as well as a kind of hat, пана́ма — the latter usage is by far the prevalent one in Russian. Russian has a fairly detailed vocabulary for headwear, with several non-interchangeable names. Let’s take a look at the kinds of headwear in Russian.


winter hat Image from

Ша́пка is probably the first word that comes to mind when talking about hats. It usually describes the type of headwear used to keep one’s head warm and may be knitted, made of fur, or other kinds of fabric. Stylish summer hats cannot be called ша́пка.
Спа́ли не раздева́ясь, в пальто́, ша́пках, а то и в ва́ленках (They slept in their clothes, in winter coats, hats, and sometimes even felt boots). [И. Грекова. Фазан (1984)]

You may also come across the diminutive form — шапочка — seen in “Кра́сная ша́почка” (“Little Red Riding Hood”).


fedora Image from

Шля́па refers to hats resembling a fedora. The hallmark of a шля́па is a brim. This type of hat is considered stylish and somewhat retro. A straw hat is соло́менная шля́п(к)а.
Все они́ бы́ли в пальто́, в шля́пах, оживлённо разгова́ривали ме́жду собо́ю (All of them were wearing coats and hats and were talking excitedly among themselves). [М. А. Булгаков. Записки покойника (Театральный роман) (1936-1937)]

A popular saying is “Де́ло в шля́пе,” meaning that everything is going to be great — something like “and Bob’s your uncle.”

Сообщи́те ему́ свой но́мер ― и де́ло в шля́пе (Give him your number, and you’re all set). [А. Шубин. Путь к благополучию (2000)] 


baseball cap Image from

Ке́пка is basically a baseball cap or any hat with a peak (also known as visor or bill in English). Earlier designs for this kind of hat could include a softer, beret-like top and a shorter peak. The more military-style variation of a ке́пка may be called фура́жка. The latter word is also more likely to be used by older people.

На голове́ у него́ под капюшо́ном оказа́лась тури́стская ке́пка с пластма́ссовым козырько́м (Underneath his hood, he turned out to be wearing a tourist baseball cap with a plastic peak). [Алексей Моторов. Преступление доктора Паровозова (2013)]


sun hat image from

The now-infamous пана́ма is really a summer hat, meant to protect one’s head from the sun. Unlike the rich-Westerner-in-the-tropics English “Panama hat,” the Russian пана́ма is primarily used to describe the hats worn by young children. This word evokes potentially unfashionable headwear donned by toddlers and Soviet-era pensioners. A stereotypical пана́ма, or пана́мка, is made of fabric and not straw.

Сре́днего во́зраста мужи́к в шо́ртах и пана́ме отшатну́лся в сто́рону, как бу́дто он пыта́лся подслу́шать ее́ разгово́р (A middle-aged man wearing shorts and a sun hat recoiled as if he had been trying to eavesdrop on her conversation). [Василий Аксенов. Новый сладостный стиль (2005)]