One Hard-Working Russian Word Posted by yelena on Oct 18, 2011 in Culture, language, Russian for beginners
Do you know that in Russia the expression “birthday suit” translates as «костюм Адама» if talking about a male and «костюм Евы» if talking about a woman. But «фиговый листок» means exactly the same thing, a fig leaf, in its proverbial sense. Just be careful with the stress or you end up saying “worthless leaf” which, come to think of it, is exactly what this proverbial leaf was.
I know, I know, I am expected to write a post about Russian curse words. I do have a couple of really good excuses for not having it ready just yet. But it is in the works. In the mean time, consider this an introduction into the world of Russian words not usually found in textbooks.
The words «фиг» and «фига», in their meaning of “the bird” aka “the highway salute” aka “the finger” aka “f***k off” gave rise to countless words and expressions that are, in themselves, a study in the richness, complexity and flexibility of the Russian language.
At a glance these words seem to be related to a fig tree. If that was the case, «фиговое дерево» [fig tree], and not birch, would be a Russian national tree (on the basis of linguistic influence). However, it doesn’t seem to be related to the words I’m going to talk about. Besides, «фиговое дерево» is not even the most popular translation. Instead, it is «инжир» or «смоква». Note the stress is on the first vowel. But more on this in just a little bit.
As for the «показать фигу» [to flip a finger] gesture, it’s not done using just the middle finger. Instead, the whole hand is made into a fist with the thumb tucked in between the pointing finger and the middle finger. Would it surprise you to learn that this gesture has more than one name – «фига», «кукиш», «дуля», and «шиш».
The expression «фиг тебе» really means “you won’t get anything from me”. So it’s not nearly as obscene as “f***k off” translation that it sometimes gets. The gesture and the words, although not nice, are mild enough to be used even by women and children such as in phrases:
«Смотришь в книгу, видишь фигу» [Looking at the book and seeing nothing] – an expression favored by teachers and mothers.
«Фигу тебе с маслом!» [lit. You get a nothing with butter on it] – innocent enough that elementary school-aged children use it freely.
«Иди на фиг!» [Go to hell!] – acceptable even around youngsters, although not exactly the best way to handle things.
But let’s move on from the basics to some more advanced words. One of the most useful words in Russian language is «фигня» which can mean a nothing, a trifle, nonsense, stuff and a range of other things.
An amusing article with a title «Фигня как социальное явление» [Фигня as a social phenomenon] classifies «фигня» into two broad categories of «абстрактная» [here: transcendental] and «конкретная» [specific].
So basically, you can use this one word to describe pretty much everything going on around you or with you. In fact, have you ever read a book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – and it’s all small stuff”? I think, if it ever were to print in Russian, a perfect title would be «Не страдай фигнёй; а кстати, всё – фигня».
This brings us to two popular phrases in the “verb + «фигня»” format:
«Страдать фигнёй» also «маяться фигнёй» also «заниматься фигнёй» – to waste time doing something or obsessing over something that’s small, meaningless, useless, etc. Also, to procrastinate as in «С понедельника перестаю страдать фигнёй и начинаю искать работу» [On Monday, I will stop procrastinating and will start looking for a job]
«Пороть фигню» – to talk nonsense as in «От стеснения он сбился с мысли и начал пороть фигню» [He felt so ill at ease, that he lost his thought and started talking nonsense]
But let’s move on to bigger and more complicated words. The noun «фигня» can be used to create all sorts of fantastic and highly useful words, such as
«Фиговина» [a thing, an object] – if you find yourself in an informal setting and desperate to remember a Russian word for some (any) object, you can use this word instead. For example, «Саша, ты вчера эту фиговину искал?» [Sasha, were you looking for this thing yesterday?]
«Фиговый» [worthless, rotten] – stress is the key here. When «и» is stressed, the adjective has a meaning of “of a fig tree”. When «о» is stressed, the meaning changes dramatically – «фиговая жизнь» [lousy life], «фиговое качество» [poor quality], «фиговый помошник» [worthless helper].
«Офигеть» [to flip over, to freak] – this verb can also be used as an exclamation. The emotions covered by «офигеть» can be either positive or negative.
- «Я офигел, когда официантка принесла счёт» [I freaked out when the waitress brought over the check].
- «Концерт был – офигеть!» [The show was awesome!]
- «Офигеть как холодно!» [It’s freakishly cold!]
«Офигенный» [unbelievable] – do not confuse with «фиговый» (bad) since «офигенный» is usually a good thing, except when it’s not.
- «Концерт был просто офигенный» [The show was simply unbelievable].
- «За билетами на концерт была офигенная очередь» [The line for the tickets to the show was unbelievable]
“Пофиг» also «пофигу» [screw it] – when you just don’t care about something. For example, «мне обычно эти концерты вообще пофигу» [usually I don’t care a bit about these shows].
«Пофигист» – if you are a laid-back person who doesn’t really care about too many things or doesn’t react strongly to much; if you tend to say “screw it” and “whatever” to pretty much whatever, this is a good descriptive for you.
«Фигово» [crappy] – oh, this can be used in so many ways to describe conditions of various objects, as in «сделано фигово» [of inferior workmanship] and persons, i.e. «на душе фигово» [feeling blue] as well as global phenomena «на Ближнем Востоке сейчас фигово, что и говорить» [it goes without saying, the situation in the Middle East is discouraging].
How socially appropriate are these words and phrases? They are inoffensive (usually) in informal conversations with people you know well. However, keep in mind that «фигня» is really a euphemism for a much stronger-flavored word familiar to Russians «от мала до велика» [young and old], the one that is not fit to print or say «в приличном обществе» [in a polite company].
Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.