Russian Phraseology: Head Posted by josefina on Mar 19, 2008 in language
It is a well-known fact among students of any given language that it’s not when you understand what people say or even when you can answer them in a correct enough way for them to understand you that you have mastered the language. You can not say that you truly know a language until you not only know how to use phraseology, but also do in everyday speech. The phraseology for every language is highly specific, and in many cases sentences using the same imagery may not correspond to the same meaning as in another language. And, of course, vise versa. One of the best ways to start learning, or at least getting acquainted with, phraseology, is taking it bit by bit, step by step, not by meaning but by imagery. That’s why I have decided to divide this series of mine [I promise that I’m going to post at least one post on the subject a week, and also constantly be on the look-out for phraseology used in common speech in Russia, in books, movies, music and magazines] into different parts according to what part of the body is used in the expression. Because Russian, as most languages do, has a vast spectrum filled with remarkable idioms that involve different body parts.The first post, as you might have guessed already, will be about expressions using the word голова [head]. Вы готовы [are you ready]?
I decided to start with the head for many reasons, both because it’s on the top of the human body [logically enough] but also because it is in my favorite Russian expression, one that I can simply not live without in Russia. На свою голову – literally means ‘on one’s head’ but should be translated into English as ‘to one’s cost’. Here is a tiny dialogue to illustrate this idiom: – «Ну как ты выступил на конкурсе поэзии, Боря?» [Well so how did it go with your performance at the poetry slam competition, Borya (short form for ’Boris’)]- «Я на свою голову выступил – никто даже и мне не аплодировал» [I went there on my own cost – nobody even applauded me].
Often in Russia people will tell you «не ломай голову!» when you’re trying hard to remember something, or figure something out. What they’re saying is “don’t break your head!”, but what they mean is “don’t rack your brains!”. In other words, or in English, you could say that what they’re trying to tell you is that it doesn’t really matter and you should take it easy. To illustrate this idiom, and a couple of others, here’s a little longer dialogue for you to enjoy:
– «Мне так стыдно, но не помню, где мы с тобой встретились» [I’m so embarrassed, but I don’t remember where we met]
– «Не ломай голову!» (молчание) «Это было в 89-ом в Берлине» [Don’t rack your brains! (silence) It was in 89 in Berlin]
– «Ничего себе! А я же готов был отдать голову на отчесение, что это было в 91-ом в Варшаве» [You don’t say! And I was ready to stake my life on that it was in 91 in Warsaw]
– «Как же! Я же и в Польше никогда не бывал, поэтому там мы с тобой вряд ли могли бы познакомиться» [What do you mean! I haven’t ever even been to Poland, so that’s why we can’t possible have gotten acquainted there]
– «А в Праге был?» [But have you been to Prague?]
– «Может быть и был, но плохо помню» [Maybe I’ve been there, but I don’t remember very well]
– «Так бывает, дружок. Вылетит всё из головы на старости лет…» [That’s the way it is sometimes, my friend. It all escapes one in old age…]
Here’s a little list of Russian expressions using the word ‘head’:
Вылететь из головы –– to escape one
Быть на голову выше всех – to be head and shoulders above someone
Вешать голову – to hang one’s head
Гладить кого-либо по головке – to pat someone on the back
Дать голову на отсечение – to stake one’s life on it
Хоть головой об стену бейся – to bang one’s head against a brick wall
Сам себе голова – one’s own master
У меня голова кружится – I feel dizzy
Свалить с больной ноги на здоровую – to lay the blame on someone else
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