Russian Language Blog

Just a Bit About Fruits Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Culture, language


As promised, it’s time to talk fruits and berries. Of course, since this is not a gardening blog, but a blog about Russian language and culture, instead of growing advice there will be lots of useful phrases and expressions. Ready?

First, the word фрукт itself is interesting. Its main meaning is “fruit”, but when applied to a person, it means “a piece of work” as in

Её бывший оказался ещё тот фрукт – ей сказал, что поехал в командировку, а сам – к любовнице. (Turns out, her ex was some piece of work like when he said he was going on a business trip, but instead went to his lover.)

Клубника (strawberry) – the diminutive клубничка also means pretty much anything X-rated or erotic. As one woman complained about her husband who spent much of his retirement flipping through lingerie ads:

Старый чёрт, а туда же, на клубничку потянуло (The old devil is heading straight for the tasty morsels).

Малина (raspberry) – if you have all you want, if the toast пусть наши мечты обалдеют от наших возможностей (may our dreams be in awe from our (financial) capabilities) describes your life, then for you жизнь – малина (life is sweet). On the other hand, if someone “moved your cheese” or “took a jelly out of your doughnut”, you can complain that they испортили всю малину.

Яблоко (apple) – the phrase яблоко от яблони не далеко падает means exactly the same as “an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Remember one of the meanings of редиска from an earlier post? There is also a saying – яблоко румяное, да внутри – червоточина (lit: a pretty apple, but with a worm inside; appearance can be deceiving).

Груша (pear) – all Russian children know the answer to this загадка (riddle) – висит груша, нельзя скушать (a pear is hanging, but you can’t eat it). Do you know what it is?

Не растут на вербе груши (lit. pears do not grow on willows) – this is an expression used to say that two things just don’t go together or their combination is nonsensical as in

Работа у меня любимая, но малооплачиваемая, в общем, не растут на вербе груши. (I love my job even though it pays very little; the two just don’t go together).

Клюква (cranberry) – the most famous expression is развесистая клюква (a tall tale). The origin of this expression is quite interesting, but unfortunately the relevant Wiki page is only available in Russian. In short, the expression was used in a 1910 play that poked fun at Western stereotypical portrayal of Russian culture. Sadly, not much has changed in over 100 years. Most times I watch a Hollywood movie or a show on Fox that has some (usually evil) Russians in the plot, I keep thinking нда, это просто развесистая клюква (well, what a bunch of nonsense).

Бузина (elderberry) – admittedly, this is not a very well-known berry, but the expression в огороде бузина, а в Киеве дядька is. Literally it means “elderberry is in the garden and the uncle is in Kiev”. Figuratively, the meaning is “mixing apples and oranges”.

Have I missed anything? What other Russian sayings with fruits and vegetables in them do you know? And don’t forget, post your answers to the “pear” riddle in the comments.

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  1. Lilia:

    Ха! Я из Тайване. ; )

  2. Rob McGee:

    Let’s not forget плод, which also means “fruit” — although my impression is that it means “fruit” more in the botanical sense than in the culinary sense. Like, if I’m not mistaken, a тыква (“pumpkin” or “squash”) is a плод, but normally wouldn’t be called фрукт.

    And there’s a famous Biblical phrase with плод: “По плодам их узнаете их”By their fruits you will recognize them. (Note that the first их is a gen. pl. showing possession, while the second их is acc. pl.)

    My first guess on the pear riddle was “язычок нёбный” — a term I only learned a few days ago while researching a planned post on anatomy. But from Googling, that does not seem to be the traditional answer, so I’ll let someone else guess!

    • yelena:

      @Rob McGee Lol, Rob, that’s another interesting guess. But David had the correct answer – лампочка. Regarding плод. Yes, it means fruit in the botanical sense. Both pumpkins and tomatoes are botanically fruits (if I’m not mistaken), but both are called овощи in Russian with the only exception being in biology textbooks.

  3. Rob McGee:

    I’ve heard изюминка (literally “one little raisin”) used figuratively, but I’m not 100% sure about the best translation.

    Sometimes it seems to be close to je ne sais quoi in the sense of “that undefinable special quality”, but according to ru.wikipedia, изюминка was also used to translate the title of the American film Punchline.

    • yelena:

      @Rob McGee Rob, I’ve not seen this movie, so I can’t say why the title was translated the way it was, but изюминка, used figuratively, is indeed ‘je ne sais quoi” as in “в настоящей женщине должна быть изюминка, но в чем она заключается – это загадка” (every woman must possess an undefinable special quality, but what exactly should it be is a mystery)

  4. Sarahjane:

    “висит груша, нельзя скушать”

    Эта груша на ёлочке?

    • yelena:

      @Sarahjane Well, that’s a good guess and a very original one, Sarahjane. But the expected answer in Russia is лампочка (light bulb) since it’s pear-shaped.

  5. Sarahjane:

    Just realised! It’s the pear tree itself, isn’t it?

    “Расцветали яблони и груши…”

  6. Sarahjane:

    I should add, an excellent post, thank you. I never knew about that other meaning of фрукт; how fascinating. If you call a man a fruit in English, of course, you can generally expect a bloody nose. 🙂

  7. Rob McGee:

    Sarahjane: I seem to recall that in Wodehouse, Bertie Wooster and his pals sometimes use “fruity” in a way that seems closer to “a piece of work” or maybe “dodgy; shady”. But of course, Bertie’s manner of expressing himself was often highly unusual!

  8. David Roberts:

    груша =лампочка (pear-shaped light bulb)? Just a guess.

  9. David Roberts:

    Sarahjane and Rob – I think fruit in the sense Sarajane implied was originally a Liverpool expression. In other parts of the country “Old fruit” would have been a common way Bertie Wooster and his chums would address each other. Another Liverpool peculiarity is that you could, and some people still do, refer to any girl as a tart (I saw your tart in Tesco yesterday, she told me…etc) without any offense to her or her boyfriend – the word just means a young woman. But not recommended to try it.

  10. David:

    Some interesting linguistic points in this post:

    I think фрукт and плод look to be derived from the same root, since they can be interconverted simply by single well precedented consonant mutation:

    ф to п (p, b, f, v all interchange in language evolution (and in Welsh grammar). eg latin pater, german Vater, english father).
    р to л (these letters are indistinguishable in many south east asia languages)
    у to о (vowels are interchangeable in language evolution)
    к disappears – (like the k in english knight)
    т becomes д (think of American pronunciation of “got to go” – “godda go”

    So фрукт can be converted to плод, and we could do it the other way round

    Boondocks is interesting – comes from filipino bundok = mountain (maybe everybody knows that in USA?, but not so in UK).

    I’m made up about лампочка – feel like I’ve gained a grade!