Colloquial Praises

Posted on 23. Oct, 2014 by in General reference article

smiling couple

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If you took Russian — or any language, for that matter — you probably eventually arrived at a point when your teacher encouraged you to use words other than хороший (good) to praise things. Hopefully, you started using замечательный, чудесный (both mean wonderful),  восхитительный (delightful), великолепный (magnificent), прекрасный (great, beautiful), отменный (select, top-notch), отличный (excellent) and many, many others. However, if you only encountered these perfectly literary adjectives, some of the newer compliments may leave you confused. Let us look at the phrases that are more colloquial and less obvious.

1. позитивный

Позитивный looks like it is an international synonym of the Russian word положительный (positive) — and in many senses of the word, it is. It sounds much more natural to say положительные изменения (positive changes) or положительный результат (positive result) than the same phrases with позитивный. However, позитивный has the additional meaning of “upbeat,” “feel-good” when describing an attitude, ambiance, or personality.

У нас раньше был такой позитивный тренер*, мы на крыльях к нему летели. Он, может, и необязательный был, пропускал иногда. Но зато комплименты всем делал, прически замечал.

* an inspiring coach

2. модный

Модный comes from мода (fashion), so it can refer to clothes quite literally — модный костюм (fashionable suit), etc. It may also refer to anything en vogue, hip, or trendy. The implication often is that it is popular for now but won’t last.

В Москве все больше центров современного искусства (дизайна, фотографии и прочих модных творческих дисциплин*) — и в каждом таком центре обязательно придумывают что-нибудь для детей.

* trendy creative skills

3. вкусный

You would probably expect вкусный (tasty) to refer to food. This is, indeed, its primary function. There is also a slang usage meaning “fresh,” “compelling,” “enjoyable.” Mind that many people will find this usage annoying. It is certainly not universally accepted.

An example I saw on a web design blog is “вкусные приемы в веб-дизайне” (clever web design techniques).

4. креативный


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Once again, we have a word that looks like its English equivalent – creative. However, the Russian word has a much narrower range of applications. If you are talking about the creative process or creative occupations, you will probably use the word творческий — творческие профессии, творческое решение. The word креативный emphasizes the meaning of “inventive,” “resourceful,” “innovative.” You could say that творческий talks about the process, and креативный evaluates the result.

Обычно мы рассказываем, сколько людей посещает наш музей и какую часть составляет целевая аудитория их компании, придумываем варианты креативного брендинга*.

* creative branding (as you could tell)

Moreover, креативный refers specifically to the newly introduced occupations in Russia, such as a copywriter, designer, or marketer. It denotes creativity in a commercial or business setting. In the recent years, “креативный класс” has been used, sometimes in a derogatory way, to refer to the relatively well-off, educated, young office workers who have been active in political protests in Russia.

5. продвинутый

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a good equivalent for the English word “advanced.” Sometimes it can be captured by “углубленный”  (advanced English studies could be called углубленное изучение английского языка) or “высокого уровня.” Absent a succinct term, the word “продвинутый” is often used to stand in for advanced in Russian texts. The problem with продвинутый is that it is a colloquialism, as marked by Russian dictionaries. In other words, you could see the word “advanced” in an academic journal, but you cannot see “продвинутый” in any official text.

Продвинутый often refers to a tech savvy person or a person marching with the times in some other respect.

Московские ожидания по поводу того, что мамы в Италии все продвинутые* и разговаривают не только про подгузники, тоже не оправдались.

* moms in Italy are all sophisticated

I hope this was useful and will help you with the colloquial expressions in Russian. The examples come from

Could You Be a Russian Skywalker?

Posted on 22. Oct, 2014 by in Culture, News, Russian life

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So, you think you’re brave? Do you perform stunts that others won’t even try? Are you a photographer? Are you Russian? Is your name Kirill Oreshkin? A recent trend is growing in Russia among young adults and it involves taking selfies from atop some of the world’s tallest buildings, towers, and other man-made structures. In some instances these “Skywalkers” will climb over the edge of a building in an attempt to take the perfect selfie while holding onto the building with one hand. As one that is not particularly fond of heights, I could barely watch some of these videos without having to look away. When I was younger, my friends and I liked to go drink coffee, maybe have some wine, listen to music, dance, things like that. Guess that’s just not enough to stimulate people anymore.

Simply put, the best way to appreciate and understand what these daredevils are doing is see them in action. Here are a few youtube links where you can see Kirill in action:

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As I was watching the second link, my palms were getting sweaty. At least when Evel Knievel performed his epic stunts, he was paid and had a team that took precautionary measures to ensure that the physics worked, the equipment worked, and that people involved in the planning were trained. These selfie enthusiasts seem more like they are regular people with cell phones, guts, and money to travel to various structures and spend on legal entanglements.

As previously stated, Kirill Oreshkin is one of many that are involved in this sport. Donning masks to hide their identity before attempting to climb, Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov, have climbed the yet-to-be completed Shanghai Tower in China. This building stands at just over 2000 feet tall and is the world’s second tallest building. These two daredevils have made headlines in Egypt and Prague for their bravado – if that’s what you’d call it. Here is a link to see what they’re up to:

YouTube Preview Image

I suppose that this is one of the unintended consequences of producing such small and very functional cameras. These crazy boys and girls are not usually professional photographers or climbers – what they are is BRAVE. Others may have better adjectives but I’ll stay positive. While I do not advocate anybody risking life and limb in order to take photos of themselves and videos like these, I will respect what they’ve done in order to make a name for themselves, entertain some of us, and give me ideas to write about. In some ways I can relate to what they’re doing; when I was younger I climbed on top of a tree to impress my friends, unfortunately, I did not have a cell phone to capture it! Well maybe that isn’t quite the same thing!

Time Paradoxes in Russian

Posted on 16. Oct, 2014 by in when in Russia


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Human perception of time is culture-specific, so it’s no wonder that simply learning the words to talk about time is not enough. You need to understand how Russian speakers see time so their words and actions can start making sense to you.

Time of the day is organic…

You probably learned time of the day (время суток) in your elementary Russian course. If so, you may remember that утро (morning), день (day/afternoon), вечер (evening), and ночь (night) follow our internal clock more than they respect the formal am/pm distinction. For example, English allows for constructions like “2 in the morning;” Russian does not.  Any time when people are normally be sleeping is referred to as ночь. So, 2 in the morning will be 2 часа ночи (not утра). Утро sounds acceptable for hours from about 4 am. This is very approximate.

There are no hard and fast rules, but you can search for what’s used more by using an internet search or a corpus. For example, there are only four real matches for “4 часа вечера” in the Russian National Corpus and 46 matches for “4 часа дня.”

…but time of the year is not

I was surprised when I heard someone tell me in September that autumn would be coming soon. (That was in the US — let me know if it’s the same in your culture!) In my mind, we had crossed into autumn as soon as September 1 rolled around. However, some cultures measure seasons by solstices (солнцестояние) and equinoxes (равноденствие).

Not so in Russia. In the Russian mind, the first day of the first month of a season is the first day of that season. So, December 1 (первое декабря) is the first day of winter, March 1 (первое марта) is the first day of spring, June 1 (первое июня) is the first day of summer, and September 1 (первое сентября) is the first day of autumn.

We are always in a hurry…

horse race

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If you have been to Russia — of the vicinity — you will know that patience is not Russians’ strongest suit. In line (в очереди) at the bus stop or at vendor stands, people will wiggle their way past others and try to get to the front first. If someone is walking too slow, we run around them with annoyance. Public transport drivers close the door when the passenger has barely gotten through the door and take off before the passengers are seated. Perhaps the scarcity of the first post-Soviet years or a smaller personal space have shaped this attitude. In any case, going to — and coming back from! — Russia may require some adjustment to the pace you go about your day at.

…but we are always late

At the same time, your average Russian is not very punctual. Schools and workplaces encourage being on time, but from their insistence you can tell that advice is not always followed. People are much more tolerant of procrastinating (the verb to describe this action is затягивать; откладывать на потом). This often leads to crunch time (аврал) and things being done at the last moment (в последний момент).

Did you notice anything remarkable about Russian attitudes towards time? How are they different from your country?