Russian Language Blog

Russian Phraseology: The Русская Душа! Posted by on Mar 24, 2008 in Culture, language

Already on the 28th of February 1866 a certain Mr. Fyodor Tyutchevёдор Тютчев] realized what a mystery the Russian Soul is to us ‘non-Russians’ and that’s probably what he was thinking of when he wrote these classical lines: «Умом Россию не понять, Аршином общим не измерить, У ней особенная стать, В Россию можно только верить» I’m not even going to try and translate this poem as beautifully as it deserves to be translated, not only because that’s not what I planned to write about today (what I really want to talk about today is phraseology with the word душа) but also because I can’t. It’s not that I don’t speak Russian well enough; I don’t know good enough English to do it. The general meaning of the poem is as follows: it is impossible to understand Russia with one’s mind, she [Russia is a woman in Russian language] is special and can’t be measured in the same way as other countries; in Russia one can only believe. And what better way to believe but by using our soul? In Russian language the frequency of the word ‘soul’ in every day speech is so high that I don’t even know where to begin, but I know that I want to speak about this, no matter how difficult it will be for me (I am after all an alien, despite all these years in the Motherland) because it is such a central, such a vital piece of Russia. If you don’t try your best to understand the Russian Soul, you’ll never even get the slightest chance of understanding Russia. The Russian Soul has its own logic (it really does, though at first it might seem to be the absence of logic). The Russian Soul is proud but deep, it is devoted but transitory, it is playful but serious. The Russian Soul is kind, open, tolerant, affectionate and always ready invite a stranger into their kitchen and serve them a cup of tea.


Душа (acc. душу; pl. души, pl. gen. душ, pl. dat. душам) – soul.

People – all kinds of people, from friends and family members to strangers who are devoted Russophiles or who have never even been to Saint Petersburg – ask me why I live, how I can live in Russia. They all have great, wonderful and strong arguments for why the choice to live in Russia is foolish, crazy and can only be made by romantic idealizing the Soviet Union, and when they speak like this all I can do is listen to them. Yes, life in Russia is hard. Yes, the weather is bad, buildings old, the water bad and the air polluted. Yes, here people don’t smile on the streets, and yes, in stores and restaurants people are cold and sometimes even irritated with you for being a customer. Yes, on a daily basis you have to fight a brick wall of bureaucracy if you want to get anywhere. Yet I love living in Russia. Despite of all this I can’t imagine a place where I’d rather be [perhaps Prague, but that’s another story] right now in my life. This is of course irrational, it is very much illogical, also a little bit irresponsible (concerning health), but only if you haven’t known the Russian Soul. If you’ve never met, never seen, perhaps never even heard of the Russian Soul life here becomes not only difficult but impossible. In Russia, where the thick line between private and public resembles an iron curtain [no pun intended!], your life here will not make sense until you’ve created your own personal space and separated this from all kind of public areas. It is in this personal space that you will learn how to «говорить по душам» [talk heart-to-heart, lit. “to speak on the souls”].

The Russian language is full of idioms using the word «душа» and most of them are very common in daily speech. Since I’m still searching for a proper form to present this kind of material in, I think I kind of messed up with my last post on this subject, the one about ‘head’, I have decided to do it like this: present a list with idioms and every once in a while in between them present sentences that show how to use the idioms. If anyone of you readers has a better idea, do feel free to enlighten me. I want to make my posts more ‘understandable’ and I’m ready to compromise my ‘originality’ in order to do so.

В душе – inwardly, in one’s heart; at heart
«В душе он про неё думал плохо» = “Inwardly he thought bad things about her”

Всей душой – with all one’s heart
Для души – for one’s own pleasure
Жить душа в душу – to live in perfect harmony
«Первые годы после свадьбы мы жили душа в душу» = “During the first years after our wedding we lived in perfect harmony”

Душа общества – the life of the party
Душой и телом – heart and soul
За душой – to one’s name
На душу населения – per capita
Ни души – not a soul
«Вчера, вопреки обычному, в бассейне не было ни души» = “Yesterday, unlike usually, there wasn’t a soul at the public swimming pool”

От всей души – from the bottom of one’s heart
Смеяться от души – to laugh heartily
«Я всегда от души смеюсь, когда смотрю «Нашу Рашу» = “I always laugh heartily when I watch “Nasha Russia” (comedy TV-show in contemporary Russia)

По душе (+dat.) – to one’s liking
Говорить по душам (note the different stress!) – to talk heart-to-heart, or (jokingly) to talk seriously with someone
С душой – with feeling
Сколько душе угодно – to one’s heart’s content

У меня душа не на месте – I’ m worried (lit. my soul is not in place)
Брать грех на душу – to take the blame (lit. put the sin on [one’s] soul)

Душевно – mentally; sincerely
«Знаешь, сегодня мы с ним так душевно поговорили, что, как мне кажется, он скоро меня на свидание пригласит» = “You know, today I talked so sincerely with him that, as it seems to me, he’ll soon ask me out on a date”

Душевный – mental, emotional; sincere, heartfelt
Душенька (Душечка) – dear, darling, sweetheart
«Душенька, налей мне ещё чашечку кофе со сливками и тремя кусками сахару!» = “Sweetheart, pour me one more (little) cup of coffee with cream and three sugar cubes!”

I really like the last word – Душенька – I think it’s like calling the person you love ‘my soul’ or, even better, ‘little soul’.

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  1. Anyse Joslin:

    Guess what? I may know a lot, but I also have a lot to forget. (Maybe you can look for words and phrases that have to do with forgetting!)

    How did I subscribe to this blog or/how can I tell others to subscribe to this blog?

    I am in a Russian group here in Sacramento, CA, and I strive to give them pointers to the best sites out there that deal with Russia or life in Russia. Of course, yours is THE BEST and don’t let that go to your dyshen’ka!

    Also, how can one view earlier posts?

    Take care.


  2. Dale:

    Not all Russian speakers are Russian Orthodox Christians. And while the Russian use of Soul is not always in keeping with Orthodox Christian teaching. The faith had a strong role in shaping the use.

    To add more to your understanding of Russian use of Soul, I recommend reading Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy’s The Law of God in Chapter 4 “The Life of the First People in Paradise”, sub heading: Discussion About Man, and the soul in the disussion in Chapter 7 “Discussion of the Fall into Sin”. I do not own a copy of the Russian original only the English translation. The book is commonly sold at many Church book stores of the Russia Orthodox Church. The book is a good reference for information of the Russian Orthodox faith. The book is helpful for understanding the Christian aspect of the Russian culture.

  3. loser:

    soul is everything and yet nothing

  4. Dennis MacLeay:

    May I suggest the following translation by me for the beautiful lines of Tyuchev about the enigma that is Russia?:

    Russia can’t be fathomed with the mind
    All normal measures she defies
    Her truth is of a special kind
    Which faith alone espies.

  5. Rick Yount:

    “Душой и телом – heart and soul”

    Since тело means “body,” wouldn’t this phrase be translated “soul and body’?

    Or is this simply “the way it is”?

  6. Josefina:

    Rick, of course the phrase should be translated into “soul & body”, but because that’s not an expression in the English language in the same way as it is in Russian (according to the dictionaries I use)I choose to go with the ‘standard’.

    I suppose you’re right – that’s “the way it is”.

  7. Anonymous:

    I love Russia. She is the real creator of totally different culture. Russian energy, russian dynamism is a grivitational force for all cultures. Ther is no such country as Russia!

  8. Stas:

    Брать грех на душу – to take the blame (lit. put the sin on [one’s] soul) – idiomatic expression meaning to knowingly commit something morally or legally unlawful.

  9. Kate:

    Can you use “душечкa” to address a man in a letter? Or what is the masculine form?