What Is Better: Beating Around the Bush or Pulling a Cat by Its Tail?

Posted on 29. Jul, 2015 by in History, language


The short answer is neither because the expressions are synonymous. If you are pulling a cat by its tail in Russia you are, in many cases, simply beating around the bush. Set expressions in any foreign language can frequently leave you baffled and confused. I remember my first encounter with the saying “thinking outside the box.” It was shortly after I moved to America. My date was desperately trying to explain to me what it meant but for some reason it was not registering. I am sure you have or will have similar instances and I encourage you to share them in the comment section. In the meantime, I will shed some light on some of my favorite Russian set expressions.

  1. Тянуть кота за хвост

    Translated literally: to pull a cat by its tail

    Origin: unknown

    Meaning: to linger, to avoid doing/telling something, to wait unnecessarily long, to beat around the bush

    Ладно, хватит тянуть кота за хвост. Говори, зачем пришёл.OK, enough beating around the bush. Tell me why you are here.

    Босс, я им триста раз сказал закончить работу, а они по-прежнему тянут кота за хвост.Boss, I told them to finish the job a hundred times but they are dragging it out for all it’s worth.

  2. Игра не стоит свеч

    Translated literally: the game is not worth the candles

    Origin: apparently, this expression has something to do with playing cards. If the bets are too low to justify the candles used to lit the table, one would say the game is not worth the candles.

    Meaning: the saying means that the payoff is not worth the effort that went into a particular undertaking. This saying is synonymous with the English “the juice is worth/not worth the squeeze.”

    Я решил остаться в Самаре. В моём возрасте эта игра не стоит свеч.I decided to stay in Samara. At my age this juice is not worth the squeeze.

  3. Водить за нос

    Translated literally: to walk someone by their nose

    Origin: the saying has something to do with what used to be a common street fair attraction. In the old days gypsies in Russia used to walk bears by a ring threaded through their nose; they used to entice bears into doing certain things by showing them the treat but not giving it.

    Meaning: to promise and not deliver, to pull one’s leg, to pull a wool over one’s eyes, to deceive

    Она его уже пять лет за нос водит.She’s had a wool over his eyes for five years now.

  4. (Прийти) к шапочному разбору

    Translated literally: to come when they are collecting their hats

    Origin: this saying came into existence when Russian men used to put their hats in a pile before entering church since wearing a hat was not allowed. After the service was over, everyone took their hat from the pile on the way out. If someone showed up when everyone else was picking up their hat, they obviously missed missed the service.

    Meaning: to be really late, to miss something, to come after the event is over

    Вы, девушка, пришли к самому шапочному разбору. Я все хорошее уже продал.You, young lady, came way too late. I already sold all the good stuff.

If you have a favorite Russian set expression or a story associated with one, I invite you to share them in the comment section!


Describe Your Trip in Russian: The Beach

Posted on 27. Jul, 2015 by in General reference article, Russian for beginners


Last time we talked about exploring Old Town attractions in Russian. This time, let us go to the beach (на пляж)! This is a popular destination for people around the world, and you may hear Russian speaking on one of the beaches.


First, what are some of the things you find at a beach?

Лежа́к (sometimes referred to as шезло́нг, although they are not identical) is a beach chair. This word comes from лежа́ть (to lie down). You may want to арендова́ть/взять в прока́т/взять в аре́нду лежа́к (rent a chair).

You will also need to bring a полоте́нце (towel). This word is etymologically related to пла́тье (dress) and плато́к (handkerchief). Finally, you could bring or rent a зо́нтик (umbrella).


Of course, you will need a купа́льник (swimsuit). It can be сли́тный (one-piece) or разде́льный (two-piece). Swim trunks are called пла́вки. As Jenya pointed out, don’t be shocked if you see a few briefs or speedos at the beach — that is the normal option for many Russian men.

Before you head into the sun, don’t forget your солнцезащи́тный крем (sunblock), known colloquially as крем от со́лнца (the л is silent). Finally, со́лнечные очки́ (sunglasses) will prevent you from squinting (щу́риться).

Those who like to snorkel (пла́вать с ма́ской) will need a ма́ска (mask) and a тру́бка (snorkel). If you are really serious about it, you will probably also use ла́сты (fins).



Some people want to show off their tan (зага́р) when they come back, so they like to загора́ть (tan). Be careful that you don’t get sunburned (сгоре́ть), though!

Others like staying active and swimming (пла́вать). Плавать is the active swimming, while купа́ться (to bathe) can mean just going in the water to splash (плеска́ться). The most skilled swimmers will also dive (ныря́ть). Children may build sandcastles (стро́ят за́мки из песка́).


The sea (мо́ре) is home to many lifeforms, including fish (ры́бы), seaweed (во́доросли), coral reefs (кора́лловые ри́фы), crabs (кра́бы), and shrimp (креве́тки). Some of the sea inhabitants are not so pleasant to run into, as is the case with the sea urchins (морско́й ёж; морски́е ежи́) or, heaven forbid, аку́лы (sharks).

What is your favo(u)rite part of a beach vacation? Do you prefer to lay out in the sun (лежа́ть на со́лнце) or splash in the water (плеска́ться в воде́)?



The Curious Case of Russian Prefix “Without”

Posted on 22. Jul, 2015 by in language, Russian phonetics

You might have noticed that some nonnative English speakers (myself included) have a way of “inventing” new words. They might say things like “unproper” instead of “improper” or “misagreement” instead of “disagreement,” etc. The abovementioned prefixes all have a similar meaning, a meaning that points to the opposite of the word they are attached to. That observation made me wonder if learners of Russian are facing similar challenges. To help conquer these challenges, I will give you some info on the curious Russian prefixes БЕЗ- and БЕС-.

The meaning of the prefixes без-/бес- can be best described as without, with the exception of. Before we go any further, I would like to clarify that there is also a preposition без; it has the same meaning but this can be a topic of a separate post. A prefix, obviously, is a part of the word so you write it together with the word, a preposition stands alone. It is usually fairly easy to distinguish the two:

  1. Она спокойно, без эмоций протянула ему кольцо. – She gave him the ring calmly, without expressing any emotion.

  2. Концерт закончился в девять. Она играла хорошо, но безэмоционально. – The concert was over at nine. She played well but without any emotion.

As you can see, the first example has preposition без in it followed by the noun emotions, while the second has an adverb with the prefix без. The meaning in both cases is essentially the same. I believe, this is how this prefix came into existence: certain words were used with this preposition frequently enough to morph into one word.

Later, according to certain sources, бес (a version of this prefix) was added to the Russian language to make certain words sound better.

The trick to knowing when to use без and when to use бес is fairly easy to master. You might know that in Russian all consonants are divided into voiceless and voiced. Remember!

-If the root of the word begins with a voiced consonant (such as б, в, г, д, з, ж, й, л, м, н, р) or a vowel, then use prefix без

If the root of the word begins with a voiceless consonant (such as п, ф, к, т, с, ш, х, ц, ч, щ), then use prefix бес.

Now let’s look at some examples.


бездельник — a lazy person, a deadbeat

безоблачный день — a clear day, a day with no clouds in the sky

бездетный — childless

безграмотный — illiterate

безжалостно — ruthlessly, relentlessly

бездарность — a person of little talent, a poor performer

безнадежность — despair, hopelessness

беззубый — toothless


беспризорник — an orphan

бесправие — lack of rights, lawlessness, powerlessness

беспокойство — anxiety, uneasiness

бестолковый — clueless

бессонница — insomnia

беспочвенный — ungrounded, unfounded

бесконечный — endless

бесплатно — free of charge

You might wonder what is so “curious” about this particular Russian prefix. A few hours ago I might have thought the same thing but in the process of brushing up on my Russian for this post I came across a few articles that state that a large number of Russian Orthodox Christians flat out refuse to use the prefix бес. This is due to the fact that бес, coincidentally, also means demon, devil, or evil spirit in Russian. Needless to say, they feel uncomfortable with this association and use без in all cases even if бес- is technically correct.

On that note, I wish you безупречного здоровья, бескорыстных друзей и безропотых спутников жизни!