Russian Language Blog

Russian Phraseology: Head Posted by 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]?


Found on a wall in Екатеринбург [Yekaterinburg]: ”In this world there is no lie or truth, no good or bad, there is only life and death”.

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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  1. meheranjali:

    Большое вам спасибо за вашу помощь. Ваш сайт – просто отлчно. Есть куда обратиться с вопросами. Иначе, раньше, бывало очень трудно.
    Некоторые вопросы, возникщие у меня……..

    1.«оба и полтора» относятся к какому разряду числительных?
    2. 40,100 как могут быть производными числительными? Разве они состоят из двух корней?
    3.»Поговорить, посмотреть, подумать, поболеть, покашлять – являются одновидовыми глаголами с.в. , т.к. они обозначают действие недлительное, ограничённое во времени.» Насколько это верно?

    С уважением,
    Мехеранджали (Индия, г. Пуне)

  2. Nadia Russ:

    Actually about death and life I dissagree. Why? With nice people life is better. So, I guess, nice things and people exist.
    I had no chance meeting bad people before 2000. But things happen and…

    In 2000 I met Felix Komarov. Reason – art project – exhibition. I was in a hurry, just came from the Bahamas and wanted make an exhibit. Club Moscow (F. Komarov owned) was not the best place to do that, but I thought “that’s OK, I have great art reputation, and even this venue won’t spoil it..”
    Someone from Ukrainian institute of America (I will not tell his name) told me: “Be careful, he is a bad person…”
    I responded: “He did nothing bad to me!!!”

    Problem started when Felix Komarov won’t let make holes in walls to hand on paintings. Paintings were on the tables. Second unconvenience – Komarov couldn’t make up his mind how long exhibit will be.
    When press-reporters wich were very attracted to my artwork & wanted write about it (‘New York Post’ and ‘NY Daily News’) asked questions about details of this exhibit, we could tell them nothing. As a result exhibit turned low profile.

    I didn’t learn then.

    Year after I proposed to Felix Komarov to make his portret, which he suppose to deliver as a my gift to Art Museum in Moscow.
    Practicaly for me it was not important what would be on that canvas, that I wanted donate to museum. Why I offered his face? because it would stimulate him to contact museum and do it fast. I was playing on his ambitions, his willing to be famous.
    What I really wanted – to have my artwork in top art museum in Russia. I told him that work cost $5,000, special price (regularly I priced my canvases then $20,000-$30,000.) He said: “If I pay money, then it will be my painting.”

    He “generously” gave me $100.00 to get canvas or for taxy. I don’t remember, it was in 2001 in Miami. And I lived in Ft. Lauderdale.

    When I finished work and passed canvas to him, he gave me… NOTHING. His words:”You told me that it cost $4,000. Also I did for you exhibit in Moscow…”

    If go to HIS level of “CHEAPNESS”, I’d remind to him, that in return for this ugly opportunity to exhibit in Moscow Club, that took my energy and gave nothing in return, he got his club promotion (that he loves very much – fame!)in the ‘NY Daily News’ and ‘Hellenic Times,’ who mentioned in announsments this venue during my exhibit.

    If I’d be practical I’d took painting back, and said “Good Bye.” But I didn’t.

    I asked him in return to help to my mother, who was ill then. She broke her leg in her 70th, and heeded in some extra help, even she had someone who took care daily. I asked Felix to purchase and send to her anything she need. He agreed. I was in NYC, she was in Ukraine. He was in Moscow.

    When my mother called to Felix to ask some little things, he was busy, passed telephon to somebody else, then they hang up. After this incident my mother next day got strok. Her neighbours wrote to me email: “You said that Felix Komarov is good person… He was hasty and mean. Your mother would never said that he is nice…”
    Any way, my mother died in few days after conversation with Felix Komarov…
    Thre is another canvas, that I started with his face together with first one, but ended with emaginative pink color and lines. I didn’t realise that cought his character from the beginning (left part.)
    This painting together with “Miss & Her Admirer” was published in NY Arts magazine in 2004 with article by Olga Chemokude-Doty “Nadia Russ: NeoPopRealism.” And now for 4 years on the internet as a sign of his… I don’t know what. I asked Abraham Lubelski to take out this image and put another one. But it still there.

    Year ago Komarov came to NYC with decision to buy this painting – this pink face. He came to place where I store it on 38 Street, and offered… $2,000.
    It was insult to me. He rised price to $4,000. It was extreamely insulting.
    My artwork is in about 10 museums worldwide. I created new syle and … work hard!
    And as an artist I need support, and respect of my achievements in art field.

    People think that Felix Komarove is helping artists, and that he is a philantrop… I can tell from my personal experience, that it is not true. He is trying to help himself. And artists are the best he can use for that without giving nothing in return.
    If I wtite to him bill for my expences: time, effort, money I spent on his EGO, it will be as minimum $1,000 000.

    And it is not a joke. He likes new ideas. He told me: “If you have new idea, call me!”

    But every new idea needs support.

    Komarov doesn’t like to support, but he likes to get benefit from ideas.
    It related to projects with custom stamps, gifts-tShirts items, glass plates… No one of these projects were developed to big level. Why? because Komarov likes free sampling, and do not like to pay for the real thing. And what he cares less about… is ARTs and Artists.
    Forget about new ideas, Komarov!

    By the way, who is Felix Komarov?

  3. cheesemaniac:

    I’ve tried to think it over and I guess this is just a rumor. I hate rumors that ruin private life so advise you not to believe it and leave your comments by yourself.

  4. marina:

    I do not think it is a rumor. It is our life (sometimes.)