Russian Language Blog

Russian Web Tips: Posted by on Mar 10, 2008 in language

In May three years ago I tried to get on a bus in Omsk [Siberia] but was refused entrance by the conductor with the words: «Нет местов!» It was the first time I had ever heard a Russian make a mistake when speaking their native language and that may have been the reason as to why I was not frustrated with being forced to wait for the next bus. Instead I felt a strange sense of superiority – already after eight months of studying Russian in Russia I knew very well that the word «место» [place; seat] in genitive plural is «мест» and therefore the correct way of saying that there are no seats available would be «нет мест». Of course I had heard from my teachers at Омский государственный педагогический университет [Omsk State Pedagogical University] that Russians, like all other people, make mistakes in their own language, and some far more serious than saying местов or проблемов, but until I heard it with my own ears I hadn’t been able to believe it to be true. One of my teachers in Omsk, with whom I constantly fought on the issue of whether it is correct to say «в Украине» [in Ukraine] or «на Украине» [in the Ukraine] after the Orange Revolution of 2004, gave me a link to an excellent webpage constructed to help Russians speak better Russian: But don’t let that scare you if you feel your Russian is barely beyond the stage of reading the Cyrillic alphabet – it’s motto «Говорим и пишем правильно: культура письменной речи» [we speak and write correctly: the culture of written speech] clearly shows it’s for anyone who should feel inclined to so-called «ботаничество в области русского языка» [nerdiness in the area of Russian language].


Some see nothing more than a poster advertising the Philologist Day at Ural State University, others see a new way of using a famous poem by legendary 19th century poet Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov: «И скучно, и грустно, и некому руку подать…»

The website deals with every aspect of the Russian language, and is one of the best ways to procrastinate online and feel like you’re learning something useful at the same time. On the site you can find all sorts of dictionaries, textbooks and articles, which are updated often and regularly and can help you find out just about everything you’ve always wanted to know about the Russian language. You can even send in your own questions, or read the answers to the questions of others. Some of the material found on the site is just «для ботаников» [for nerds] – but since when was being a nerd, which in Russian goes by a word that could just as well be translated into ‘botanist’, necessarily a bad or even a negative thing? I’m sure everyone has already understood that it is indeed “nerds that will inherit the world”.

What triggered me to write a post about today was a little note I found way down on the bottom of the main site of the webpage today. It was an annunciation of a new dictionary called «Дар слова» by Михаил Эпштейн, and in particular it’s 188th edition concerning part 5, going under the title of «Чувства и отношения» [feelings and relationships]. Here are the examples as posted on the site:

Дружево – кружево дружеских отношений.

Отношенчество – склонность к выяснению и обсуждению отношений.

Тёрщик – тот, кто любит тереться о богатых и знаменитых.

Побежалый – пошлый в высшей степени.

In my strictly personal opinion number two and number four are the funniest. It’s seems like Russians always «выясняют отношения» so then there should naturally also be a substantive for it, and since «пойти» in past perfect is «пошел/пошла/пошли» and «побежать» in past perfect «побежал/побежала/побежали», it seems perfectly logical that the superlative for the adjective «пошлый» [petty, shallow, coarse, vulgar, banal] should be «побежалый».

I think there’s a little ботаник hidden in all of us.

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  1. larry:

    First I want to say thanks.I am trying to learn and although when you sometimes write in Russian without telling me what it means I dont understant it is overall very helpfull.I just wanted to say thanks.I save each one so next time I see my feancee I may not know some words yet or be able to say them ,still working on trying to read most of my studies so far tell me how to say things not read .I have 3 or more diferant courses .The one thing I would like to learn is the alphabet as she writes but that diferant.She uses almost nothing but vowels i,e,o with diferant accents .I have the Russian alphabet just no way to translate to either English or Russian.The words help since even if I cant say them next time I see her I can show her knowing what they mean so she understands and can teach me how to say them correctly.So thanks and keep going.

  2. Lisa:

    Thanks for your blog!

    I’m something of a ботаник about Russian words, too, and particularly appreciate the words at the end of your post. Побежалый is great!

    It’s interesting that you mention uses of different prepositions to talk about being “in” Ukraine. I was taught, in the ’80s, to use на, but I began to notice consistent use of в sometime this century. A Ukrainian woman that I asked advocated heavily for в, which really does make more sense since Ukraine isn’t an island, like Cuba. Old habits are hard to break, though.


  3. VoIP Blog:

    Huh… Slightly addled, but on the whole I like this post. You’ve got some fresh ideas. But please, write more lucid.

  4. Stas:

    Here is the link to short article which sheds some light on the question of the use of в/на Украину. It looks like that the use of на and в in relation to the countries and geographical areas is defined by the habit and tradition.