Russian Language Blog

Filler Is Like Filler Does Posted by on Aug 14, 2012 in Culture, language

It occurred to me the other day that one of the (many) subjects we haven’t discussed on the Russian blog is the subject of fillers. Somehow we have been, like, totally overlooking the lorem ipsum of Russian language and it’s basically time to, you know, just do it.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about Russian equivalent of all those likes, sweets, awesomes, dudes and whatevers – they are used like all the time at like all levels. Sure, dudes who overuse them are made fun of, but really, it’s like в чужом глазу и соринка видна, а в своём и бревна не заметишь, типа (looking for a speck of sawdust in another’s eye while not noticing a log in one’s own, kinda).

Of course, most of the times we use filler is in spoken language which makes it annoying, but also fairly easy to ignore: в одно ухо влетело, в другое вылетело (into one ear and out of another). Except, like, lately our conversational style started to dominate our written communication, what with all the chats, status updates, e-mails and what have you. You know what I mean.

You might be interested to learn that “filler words” translate into Russian as слова-паразиты, meaning words-parasites. Apart from sounding gross, it sort of does a better job at exposing the true nature of such words. Filler sounds too innocent, IMHO. Now, parasites don’t just infest, they suck the juices out of their host, in this case out of великий могучий русский язык (the great and mighty Russian language).

But don’t be too quick to dismiss filler words. There are at least a couple three of good reasons to learn them:

1. They are being widely used both in conversations and in popular culture. Unless you plan on reading nothing, but the Russian classics, you will need to know these words.

2. Do you know there’s a theory that cross-fertilization aka sex evolved as a way of fighting off parasites? I’m not saying there’s direct correlation between how many filler words you use and how much action you get (case in point – Славик и Димон from Наша Раша, but more on this later). I’m just saying that, hey, it’s like you never know, dude, and there’s gotta be a good reason for things.

3. Learning filler words might appeal to your fun, competitive, or obsessive side. Can you, like, put together a sentence completely out of filler words? (Hint: this lady could) How about explaining a complex idea? Or putting a new spin on literary classics, such as ну, типа – я вам пишу, чего ещё в натуре. This is a riff on Я Вам пишу, чего же боле (I write – what more is there to say?), the famous opening line of Tatiana’s letter to Eugene Onegin.

Hopefully you’re eager to learn some слова-сорняки (filler words, lit: word-weeds), so here are some of the most common ones:

  • Ну – well
  • Это or эта – well
  • Типа – well, kinda
  • Как бы – sort of
  • В общем – basically, so
  • Слышь – y’know
  • Блин – a very mild expletive, so mild that even well-mannered children and young women sometimes use it. When used as a filler, it carries no meaning whatsoever (some might argue that it has infinite number of meanings)
  • Бля – a slightly “saltier” version of the above, usually used by teenagers and adult males.
  • В принципе – theoretically
  • Ёлки-палки or ёлы-палы – it sounds funny, but don’t try to translate it as “fir trees and sticks”. Instead go with “holy guacamole” or something.
  • Это самое – whatsit, whatchamacallit
  • Собственно – as a matter of fact
  • Значит – so; yep, even though when used normally, the word значит has the meaning of “it means”, as a filler it means nothing
  • Скажем – say
  • Однозначно – sure thing
  • Так сказать – sort of, kind of
  • Жесть – sick, awesome, sick-awesome, harsh, heavy
  • В натуре – actually, for real
  • Прямо скажем – to be honest
  • Короче – bla-bla-bla, long story short
  • То сё, пятое десятое – this and that
  • Реально – for real
  • На самом деле – actually
  • Круто – cool
  • Конечно – totally
  • Фишка or прикол – point as in “the point of this discussion is…”
  • Прикольно or по приколу – fun

And now let’s practice, practice and practice

1. Fill in the blanks Он звонил каждый день, присылал цветы, дарил плюшевых медведей, __________ мы снова вместе (He called every day, sent flowers and teddy bears, _________ we are back together)

a) значит
b) короче
c) в общем
d) b or c

2. How many filler words can you use in the phrase Быть или не быть, вот в чём вопрос (To be or not to be, this is the question). Hint: use the following words – блин, типа, ну, короче, фишка, эта, слышь.

3. Read this прикольное стихотворение (fun poem) by Emma Moshkovskaya

Жил-был этот, как его,
Ну, значит, и того,
Жило это самое
Со своею мамою,
Был ещё один чудак –
Это, в общем, значит так,
И его любимый зять.
Звали зятя
Так сказать.
А жену звали ну…
А соседа звали это…
А его родители –
Видишь ли
И видите ли…
А ещё какой-то э-э-э
Жил на верхнем этаже…
И дружили они все…
Ну и значит, и вообще.

Note: here чудак can be translated as “dude”. Э-э-э is another filler that you will hear often, especially when someone is struggling to come up with a proper word.

Or search YouTube for Славик и Димон videos. These are characters from a popular show Наша Раша (Our Russia), two young men whose conversations are half slang, half fillers.

Of course, the list of fillers in this post is far from exhaustive. Just remember, almost any word or phrase, used often enough and не к месту (inappropriately) can become a filler. It’s like filler is like filler does, totally, dude.

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  1. Rob:

    Or search YouTube for Славик и Димон videos.

    I couldn’t understand some of their dialogue, but the constant references to прикольные чики (“cool chicks”) immediately reminded me of the “Czech brothers” from 1970s TV, who were always chasing after “hot foxes with large American breasts”!

    P.S. Is there a connotative difference between чудак and чувак when you mean “dude”?

    I’ve been told that чувак simply comes from “boy” по-цыгански (in Rom/Gypsy), but чудак would kind of imply “weird,” wouldn’t it?

    (I’ve heard чудо природы with the meaning “freak of nature,” for instance.)

    • yelena:

      @Rob There is some overlap between чудак and чувак. But there’s also some overlap between чудак and мудак. Do you see an opportunity for a Venn Diagram here, lol. Чудак can be used to describe strangers even if they are not weird as in Тут подходит ко мне чудак и просит закурить.

  2. Jason:

    What about “дон?” I heard that about six zillion times in a video recorded interview with the Chechen warlord Hamzat Gelayev, and wondered if it was мат or filler.

    • yelena:

      @Jason Jason, as far as I know, there are two meanings for the word “дон”. There’s the river Дон and also дон can be a title (like Дон Жуан or Дон Корлеоне). I’m not sure how it ties into the interview that you’ve watched. Do you have a link to the video? That’d be helpful.

    • yelena:

      @Jason Ah, I think I found that interview you’re talking about. It’s part of the BBC documentary. Yes, Hamzat Gelayev uses the word дон all the time in it. But it’s not a Russian word, not the way he uses it. I searched online a bit and it looks like the word that sounds like дон is a Chechen word that, translated to Russian, means короче. Now, короче itself is a terrible pest, a filler word that technically means “to keep it short”, but can be used as “anyway” or “like” or any other filler.

  3. David:

    Does вроде бы fall into this category? I saw some online hand-wringing about the Russian hockey team’s disappointing Olympic showing, and the poster started off with не из Финляндии судья, арена вроде бы своя. And is there any difference in usage between вроде and вроде бы? Thanks.