Авось! or a Really Russian Expression Posted by on Aug 3, 2009 in Culture, language, Traditions

Have you ever wondered if the things that work (i.e. are able to function/have a function) in Russia can ever work outside of Russia? I sure have! For example, in Russia your best friend’s «бабушка» [grandmother] will shower your breakfast «гречка» [buckwheat] with «масло» [butter] and «сыр» [cheese] until all of these three ingredients melt together to become one tasty, brown and yellow high-calorie dish that’ll last in your stomach until… next week. And – because this dish was served to you in Russia – you do not gain any weight at all, but everything just goes to serve (as in the Russian phrase with which they always answer your «спасибо» for serving you this surprisingly healthy meal) «на здоровье!» [for (your) health!]. In Russia this type of breakfast is a sure way of building up a storage of energy for the next long, cold «зима» [winter], whereas in the rest of the world the exact same kind of meal will not have any other results than clogged veins and a drastically changed waistline.

«Почему, почему [why, why?] one may wonder indeed. But as a matter of fact the phenomena mentioned above is far from the only thing that works in Russia but has been proved to be unworkable in a large number of other countries in the world. One of the most exciting things that are ‘really Russian’ because they work only in Russia is the expression «авось». «Авось» should be pronounced with a long, stressed «о» sound, and then the «ь» [soft sign] on the letter «с» in the end of it makes the s-sound long and very, very soft – imagine it combined with a j on the end and then practice until you think you’re pronouncing this word like a three year old. That’s when you’ve found the correct pronunciation! «Авось» can be used in a number of different situations in Russia (all of them are however rather similar, but let’s not get into details right now…) and that’s why it also belongs to different parts of speech and can be translated differently into other languages. «Авось» can be «наречие» [an adverb] and then it means ‘perhaps; maybe; possibly’. This can be illustrated in two popular Russian expressions you’re bound to hear sooner or later:

«Авось повезёт!» – [Maybe (we’ll/I’ll/you’ll) get lucky!; or: have some luck!]

«Авось Бог поможет!» – [Perhaps God will help!]

«Авось» can be «существительное» [a noun] and then it is «мужское» [masculine] and thus known first and foremost as «русский авось» which is what is said about the alleged unconcern of Russians and their tendency to rely on luck. «Авось» can’t be translated into other languages without almost entirely loosing essential parts of its meaning, but it can be translated into other Russian word, like «безосновательная надежда» [groundless; unfounded hope], «случайная удача» [accidental; unexpected; random luck; success; fortune] and «поступок в расчёте на удачу» [an act calculated on luck]. This you can find in the expression:

«Делать что-то на авось» – [To do something and hope that maybe somehow you’ll get lucky and things will turn out alright even though you have done nothing else but hope to make this particular thing turn out alright].

The week before I left Yekaterinburg and Russia for going home to Sweden to see my family and friends (yes, currently and for another month and a half I’m going to be outside of the Great Motherland and inside My Own Motherland) I had a conversation with one of my Russian friends. She told me that when she was a student she would only study half of the questions for every exam – «на авось». I was very surprised when I heard this because it is surely not something I would ever consider doing myself; perhaps that’s a sign that I’m not really Russian even after half a decade in the country? My friend told me that studying «на авось» [counting only on luck] really worked out for her. She finished university with «красный диплом» [a red diploma] which is what you receive if your grades consist of no more than 20% «хорошо» [‘good’; B or 4] and the rest is all «отлично» [‘excellent’; A or 5]. After this I decided to try out «авось» for myself. Last Saturday, on the 1st of August, I took the TOEFL test in English in Stockholm and during the week before it I decided to prepare for it only by way of «русский авось», i.e. by not preparing at all. I figured that I speak pretty good English anyway and that I’ve lived in Russia long enough to become a little bit Russian myself so maybe I can make use of truly Russian privileges like counting only on a little bit of luck and nothing else. But during the test it hit me that I’m not in Russia anymore. And what if this really Russian way of thinking only works in Russia?

In three weeks I’ll receive my results and only then we’ll know for sure if we can count on «авось» also in other parts of the world!

When in Rome… not only Russians tend to rely on «авось», sometimes also foreigners in Russia do so. Like when my German friend on the way back from the Pilorama Festival last weekend saw this truck stuck in mud and said: «Авось поможем [Maybe we can help!] And that’s when he put his four wheel drive to the test…

… but not always will «авось» be anything else but a «частица» [particle] meaning ‘suddenly; what if; maybe’. We couldn’t help the truck but had to wait for a caterpillar to arrive and pull him out of the deep, thick Ural ground… 

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  1. Dana:

    I am very sorry about posting this as a comment, but I just simply can’t find a way how I can post a new message on here.

    Anyhow, I on behalf of newly established classical music internet broadcast company due to launch at the end of summer am looking for native Russian language speakers for translations from English into Russian.

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  3. Johanna:

    Haha, you are too good for the TOEFL test, your English is very near native and probably better than that of many native speakers.

    What do you need TOEFL for? Please don’t say you are abandoning Russia for the US??? !

  4. G L Penrose:

    My Dear,

    You forgot the only impotant noun, ‘avoska.’ The string bag carried in the bad old soviet days wadded in a pocket that could carry home anything from a kilo of luki to half of a baranina.

    You are a treasure, keep writing.


  5. Melissa:


    Just wanted to say thank you for these blog posts. I am currently learning Russian and I find your entries both inspirational and helpful.