Russian Language Blog

“Didja hear the one about…?” (Some Russian анекдоты) Posted by on Aug 22, 2012 in Culture, language

Russian анекдоты are not only a fascinating source of insight into Russian culture, but often provide a great opportunity to learn some important grammar and vocabulary. Here are just a few examples I’ve collected from the Internet — hover your cursor over the yellow-highlighted terms for some additional commentary on word usage.

Political humor, of course, was the basis for countless subversive jokes about the Soviet system. This one-liner stands out as an all-time great, demonstrating that Краткость – душа остроумия (“brevity is the soul of wit”):

Капитализм – это эксплуатация человека человеком, а коммунизм – наоборот.
Capitalism is the exploitation of Man by Man, but Communism is the exact opposite.

On the other hand, the following example begins as an apparent joke about the tendency of Soviet media to harp on Western failings — but then it goes in an entirely different (and apolitical) direction:

— «Послушай, дорогой» — обращается жена к мужу — «я тут прочла в газете, что Запад ужасно загнивает. У них там инфляция, безработица, проституция, дома терпимости…»
— «О!» — воскликнул муж.
— «ЧтоО!”?»
— «Да так, ничего. Просто я вспомнил, где забыл свой зонтик.»

–“Listen, darling,” said a wife to her husband, “I just read here in the newspaper that the West is in a horrible state of decay. Over there they’ve got inflation, unemployment, prostitution, brothels…”
–“D’oh!” exclaimed her husband.
— “Why do you say D’oh!?”
— “Er, um, y’know, it’s nothing. It’s just that I suddenly remembered where I lost my umbrella.”

Of course, humor about marital strife (and adultery) can have cross-cultural appeal — for, as Alexander Dumas fils famously observed, “The bonds of marriage are so heavy that it takes two to carry them… and sometimes three!” Another joke on this theme:

— «Ну, и чем вчера закончилась твоя ссора с женой?»
— «О, она приползла ко мне на коленях…»
— «И чего сказала?»
— «Вылезай из-под кровати, подлый трус!»

— “So, how did your argument yesterday with your wife turn out?”
— “Oh, she came crawling to me on her knees…”
— “And what did she say?”
— “Climb out from under that bed, you low-life coward!”

And sometimes the incompatibility of spouses is apparent before the wedding:

— «Боря, я не хочу выходить замуж за такого жмота, как ты! На, забери своё кольцо
— «А где коробочка?»

— “Boris, I don’t want to get married to a miserly cheapskate like you! Here you go, take your [engagement] ring back!”
— “Um, where’s that little box it came in?”

There are any number of “ethnic jokes” in Russia, as in most other countries. Perhaps the most distinctive sub-genre are those related to the чукчи (“Chukchi“) — the indigenous Siberians whose traditional hunter/gatherer lifestyle is analogous to the Inuit of North America. While some of these jokes are potentially racist, in many cases the Chukchi are essentially cast in the role of “shrewd redneck heroes” — culturally unsophisticated, and sometimes speaking broken Russian, but possessing a high degree of innate common-sense:

Чукча и русский геолог собирают камушки на берегу океана. Вдруг видят направляющегося к ним полярного медведя. А ружья нету.
Чукча хватает лыжи и начинает их надевать.
— «Бесполезно, нам конец!» — говорит геолог — «Полярный медведь бегает со скоростью 40 км в час! Всё равно ты не сможешь бежать быстрее медведя.»
— «Чукча и нэ надо бэжать быстрее бэлого медведя. Чукча надо бежать быстрее бэлого геолога!»

А Chukcha guide and a Russian geologist are collecting stone samples near the ocean shore. Suddenly they see a polar bear heading towards them. But they have no gun.
The Chukcha grabs his skis and starts putting them on.
–“It’s no use, we’re doomed!” — says the geologist — “A polar bear can run at a speed of 40 km per hour (~25 mph)! Even with skis, you won’t be able to run faster than the bear.”
— “Chukcha no gotta run faster than white bear. Chukcha gotta run faster than white geologist!”

Of course, no survey of Russian humor would be complete without at least one vodka joke. I love this one for the darkly funny punchline:

Звонок в Скорую Помощь:
— «Аллё-о-о, мы… тута… пьём…»
Дежурный бросает трубку.
Опять звонок:
— «Аллё, мы… тута… пьём…, а Вася… не пьёт…»
Дежурный бросает трубку.
Опять звонок:
— «Алло, трубку не вешайте!!! Мы тут пьём…, а Вася… не пьёт, не дышит. Он штопор проглотил…»
— «Так что же вы СРАЗУ не сказали?! Щас выезжаем!!! А вы какие-нибудь меры приняли?»
— «Да! Бутылки вилками открываем.»

A “nine-one-one” call to the Ambulance Service:
— “Hurlllo-o-o, we’re over here… havin’ some drinks…”
The on-duty operator slams down the phone [lit., “throws the receiver”].
Again the phone rings:
— “H’lo, we’re… drinking… here, but Vasya… isn’t drinking…”
The guy on phone-duty slams down the receiver.
The phone rings again:
— “Hello, don’t hang up!!! We’re drinking here…, but Vasya… isn’t drinking, nor breathing. He swallowed the corkscrew…”
— “Why didn’t you say so IMMEDIATELY?!? An ambulance is heading out right away!!! And have you taken any emergency measures?”
— “Yes! We’re using forks to open the bottles.”

And speaking of macabre jokes, here’s another brilliantly succinct example proving that “brevity, etc.”:

Вчера в кустах нашли скелет чемпиона мира по пряткам!
Yesterday, under some bushes, they found the skeletal remains of the Worldwide Champion in Hide-and-Seek!

And, finally, since a lot of the jokes above are not quite “G-rated,” here’s a classic that’s safe for kids:

Вопрос: Маленькое, зелёное, и камни ест — что это такое?
Ответ: Маленький, зелёный камнеед!

Q. It’s little, green, and eats rocks — what is it?
A. A little green rockeater!

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  1. David Roberts:

    Rob в “И чего сказала?” Почему чего и не что?

  2. Rob:

    David: As far as I know, the difference is one of register, not grammar. Что она сказала? would be the preferred form in formal writing, but Чего она сказала? gives it a much more colloquial, less formal sound (as befits the Andy-Capp humor in the joke)!

    But this use of чего with сказать should not be confused with the tendency to prefer the genitive after verbs of wanting, desiring, needing, expecting, etc. (e.g., искать, хотеть, ожидать, требовать). Using чего after such verbs would be the formal standard in many circumstances, and would not bring the sentence down to an “informal register.”

  3. Stas:

    Rob, I’ve never heard about Краткость – сестра остроумия; it was always Краткость – сестра таланта