Russian Language Blog

Chill out! (Or, “is your refrigerator running?”) Posted by on Dec 11, 2012 in language

На прошлую неделю к нам привезли новый холодильник (“Last week, a new refrigerator was delivered to our place”) — потому что старый холодильник давно дышал на ладан. Literally translated, that’s “the old fridge had long since been breathing the incense”[i.e, the incense from its own funeral Mass]. Which is to say that it стоял одной ногой в могилу (“was standing with one foot in the grave”). Короче, если допустим, что старый холодильник был человеком, то уже несколько месяцев он отхаркивает кровь. (In summary, if we suppose that the old refrigerator was a person, then for the past several months it’s been coughing up blood.)

But just recently, the fridge’s вентилятор (“fan”) completely failed — the practical result of which is that the морозилка (“freezer section”) перестала хранить температуру ниже нуля (“stopped maintaining a temperature below zero”), even though the refrigerator was running. Luckily, the freezer stopped working в Чёрную пятницу, and thus we were able to get a very good price on a replacement, despite having to wait for the delivery.

Anyway, for more than a week we were trying to rescue the frozen foods by keeping them in a кулер (guess!) along with a few chunks of сухой лёд (“dry ice”).

So this little adventure put me in mind of the different Russian words that relate to low temperatures.

Freezing (and Melting!)

Although freezing and melting are opposite processes, they both occur at the same temperature — so it makes sense to discuss them together.

But let’s start with “freezing.” As is often true in Russian, you need to pay close attention to whether the English meaning is transitive or instransitive, because the verbs will be different in Russian. “To freeze” in the intransitive sense of превратиться в лёд (“to have become ice”) can be rendered by the perfective замёрзнуть — whose conjugation is pretty easy, as long as you don’t forget it’s one of those -нуть verbs that drops the suffix -ну- in the past tense.

замёрзнуть (“to turn to ice; to die of cold” — perfective)
Past замёрз, замёрзла, -о, -и
sing. pl.
1st замёрзну замёрзнем
2nd замёрзнешь замёрзнете
3rd замёрзнет замёрзнут

This perfective has two different imperfectives you can choose from: мёрзнуть conjugates in exactly the same way, only without the за-, while замерзать behaves like читать — which is to say, я замерзаю, ты замерзаешь, etc. Generally speaking, these two imperfectives are totally interchangeable. So to express “At what temperature does water freeze?”, you can say:

При какой температуре вода мёрзнет / вода замерзает?

Or, for “Help me, I’m freezing to death!”:

Спасите меня, я мёрзну / я замерзаю!

However, that’s just the intransitive verb. If you mean “to cause something or someone to freeze”, then the most general verb is (по)морозить, which conveniently has fixed stress:

я морожу
ты морозишь
они морозят

past: он морозил, она морозила…
imperative: морозь(те)

(Reminder: for verbs of the -и- type, a consonant mutation — if there’s one at all — will normally occur in the 1st-person singular only.)

Depending on the context, морозить can mean either “to harm by freezing” or “to preserve by freezing.” Thus:

Изморозь морозит апельсиновые деревья.
The hoarfrost is freezing (ruining) the orange trees.
Я морожу апельсиновый сок на потом.
I’m freezing the orange juice for later.

If you want to clearly emphasize the idea of “preservation by freezing,” then you can use the pair замораживать/заморозить. Thus, Можно замораживать клюкву, или это её портит? — “Can one freeze cranberries, or does this ruin them?”

And one other important point about морозить — you can use it impersonally, without a nominative subject, to mean simply “It’s freezing!”. So if your отепление (“heating system”) is broken, you could say В комнате морозит! (“It’s freezing in here!”).

But as I mentioned at the start of the post, I was until recently dealing with the opposite problem: my freezer was much too warm, and everything was melting. Once again, “to melt” can be either transitive or intransitive. If you mean “to stop being solid and become liquid,” then the pair you need is таять/растаять:

я таю
ты таешь
они тают

past: он таял, она таяла…

This word can generally be used for substances that melt at room temperature, or at any rate, below the boiling point of water: снег, мороженое, сливочное масло, шоколад, даже воск (“snow, ice cream, butter, chocolate, even wax”):

Теплеет на улице и наша снежная баба скоро растает.
It’s getting warm outside and our snowman will soon melt.

And the corresponding transitive verb (“to cause to melt”) is растапливать/растопить (я растоплю, ты растопишь…) — as you can probably guess, it’s related to such words as тёплый (“warm”) and топливо (“fuel”). For example:

Она растапливает пчелиного воску в столовой ложке.
She is melting some bee’s wax in a tablespoon.

There is, by the way, another set of verbs that mean “to melt”: (рас)плавить and (рас)плавиться. But these are used in the contexts of metallurgy and volcanoes — i.e., when you’re talking about extremely high temperatures. (Народ расплавил свои золотые серьги и монеты, чтобы сделать телец. — The populace melted their golden earrings and coins, to make a calf.)

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  1. Jeannie:

    Замечательный весёлый блог! Спасибо Роб!

  2. Yelena:

    Lol, sounds like my old car is feeling the exact same way your old fridge did – одной ногой в могиле. But it’s still running, особенно если под горку (especially if going downhill).

  3. Marcus:

    Вода не может мерзнуть, она может только замерзать. Мерзнуть значит испытывать холод.

  4. Bob:

    “Is your refrigerator running?” – One of the oldest telephone pranks known to man 🙂

    It makes me wonder if there’s a Russian equivalent to “Do you have Prince Albert in the can?”

  5. Vega:

    Мерзни, мерзни, волчий хвост! Слова из сказки, в которой лиса надоумила глупого волка ловить рыбу в проруби на хвост. Она ждала, пока хвост замерзнет, то есть оледенеет вместе с водой, а не просто будет испытывать холод, из чего я делаю вывод, что слова можно использовать как синонимы, или можно было раньше, а теперь рекомендуется их разделять?