Russian Language Blog

As Good As Dead: Macabre Russian Sayings Posted by on Apr 17, 2018 in language

Russian has its share of gallows humor, so I have put together a list of sayings having to do with the dead.


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Горбатого могила исправит

Горб is a hump, so горбатый is a hunchback (not a very nice way to describe someone). Могила is a grave, and исправить is to correct or fix. So, this saying literally means “(only) the grave will fix someone’s hump.” This saying is used to talk about someone who is set in their ways and impossible to change. Equivalents include “A leopard can’t change its spots” or “Old habits die hard.”

Как был ты менто́м, так им и оста́лся. Горба́того моги́ла испра́вит.
Once a cop, always a cop. A leopard can’t change its spots.
[Андрей Житков. Супермаркет (2000)]

Как мёртвому припарки

Мёртвый is a noun that has the form of an adjective: мёртвый, мёртвая, мёртвое, мёртвые. This word is related to the verb умира́ть/умере́ть (to die) and the noun смерть (death). Припа́рка comes from пар, steam, and is poultice, a kind of a treatment. Together, this saying means “poultices for a dead person.” In other words, it described a useless solution or one that comes too late. A possible equivalent is “flogging a dead horse.”

И большинству́ льго́тное налогообложе́ние бу́дет уже́ как мёртвому припа́рки.
For most, tax breaks won’t be of any help.
[Владимирова Елена. СЕЛУ ОБЛЕГЧИЛИ БРЕМЯ // Труд-7, 2003.11.14]


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В гробу видал

Гроб is the word for a coffin or casket. Вида́ть may but doesn’t have to be used instead of ви́деть when talking about having seen something ever/in your life. So, literally, this saying translates to “I’ve seen something in my grave.” It means you have no use or don’t care for something or someone. This saying is pretty colloquial and probably shouldn’t be used in polite company.

Я в гробу́ вида́л все корпорати́вные це́нности вме́сте взя́тые.
I couldn’t care less about all corporate values combined.
[Евгения СУПРЫЧЕВА, Оксана ЖУРАВЛЕВА. Рис. Валентина ДРУЖИНИНА. Начальник нам и царь, и бог, и гуру! // Комсомольская правда, 2007.11.28]

Ногами вперёд

Нога́, plural но́ги, can refer to either the leg or the foot. Вперёд means ahead or forward, as in “where to?” (The answer to “where (at)?” would be впереди́). So, the saying means “with your feet forward” or “feet first.” This is a reference to the Russian custom of carrying dead people out of the building with their feet first. The saying describes a situation where someone is so unwilling to give up their job, position, or power that they will stay there until they die.

Когда́ я получа́л пре́жнюю кварти́ру, из кото́рой, ду́мал, уйду́ то́лько «нога́ми вперёд», мне каза́лось, что лу́чше и не быва́ет.
When I was getting my previous apartment, where I thought I’d stay for the rest of my life, I thought it couldn’t get any better.
[Елена РЮМИНА.. Николай Караченцов: Пока я читал сценарии, сын мотался по тюрьмам! // Комсомольская правда, 2004.10.26]

Are there any other “dead man” saying you know in Russian? Have you heard any of the ones listed above?

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Jen:

    Hi Maria, how come you don’t indicate ударение anymore? In my opinion, that was one of the main strengths of your blog.

    • Maria:

      @Jen Hi Jen, thank you for catching this — looks like I published it before it was ready! Take a look now, with the accents in.