Russian Language Blog

Shave and a haircut, two bits! Posted by on May 23, 2013 in language, Russian for beginners

Even if you don’t know the words, anyone who’s ever seen an old Bugs Bunny cartoon will recognize the seven-note melody of “Shave and a haircut…” — it’s classically used as a musical accompaniment to punctuate the end of a joke.


And I instinctively hummed the tune after I found this great little анекдот online, concerning a visit to a парикмахерская (“barbershop” or “hair salon”), and filled with useful vocabulary related to haircuts, shaving, and grooming. Here’s the joke in Russian — I’ll save the translation till the bottom of the post, but there are a few pop-up notes to give you some help:

Мужчина с маленьким мальчиком заходят в парикмахерскую. После того как мужчине сделали стрижку и побрили, он встал, вынул расчёску и тщательно причесался, посадил мальчика в
кресло, и говорит парикмахерше:
— «Мне надо сбегать за сигаретами. Буду через пару минут!»
Но мальчика уже успели подстричь, а мужчины всё не было.
Парикмахерша говорит:
— «Ну и куда же исчез твой папа?»
Мальчик отвечает:
— «Это не мой папа. Он просто подошёл ко мне на улице и сказал: “Ну пацан, сегодня мы с тобой подстрижёмся на халяву!”»

Before we get to the specific vocabulary about cutting hair and other things that a barber does, let’s take a quick look at the very last word in the punchline, since the joke doesn’t make sense without it! Халява is a somewhat slangy term meaning “a freebie,” and it’s typically used in the expression на халяву, which is similar to the English “on the house”:

В казино мы выпили на халяву.
They “comped” our drinks at the casino.

Incidentally, I’ve heard that casinos often water down their free drinks (they don’t want gamblers getting too drunk), but why complain? As the saying goes, на халяву и уксус сладкий — “when they’re giving it away free, even vinegar is sweet”!

A парикмахерская is a shop where you go to get your волосы (“hair on the head”) clipped and/or groomed. With the work being done by a парикмахер (masc.) or a парикмахерша (fem.). The services available may include a стрижка (“simple haircut/trim”) for both sexes; a причёска (“fancy hairdo/hairstyling”) for women; and for men, a бритьё (“shave”). Some shops may also trim and style a man’s усы (“mustache”) and борода (“beard”).

The various tools of the trade include cutting implements such as ножницы (“scissors”) and the машинка для стрижки (“electric hair-clippers”). For men, some barbers still do old-fashioned shaves with a бритва (“shaving razor”), although many guys prefer to do it at home with an электробритва. And чтобы расправить волосы (“in order to smooth/fix the hair”) after it has been cut, a парикмахер will also use a расчёска (“comb”) or a щётка для волос (“hairbrush”), both of which come in various shapes.

That covers some of the Russian equivalents for nouns like “hairdo” and “razor”, but in order to say “I forgot to shave this morning!” or “How much do you charge to trim a woman’s hair, no styling?”, you’ll need some basic verbs.

First, there’s стричь, which can mean “to cut someone’s hair” (стричь волосы кому-нибудь) or “to give someone a haircut” (стричь кого-нибудь), depending on the construction you use. A synonymous phrase is делать стрижку кому-нибудь, literally “do a haircut for someone”. In any case, it suggests a relatively simple cut-and-trim without a lot of fancy styling. The conjugation pattern is somewhat similar to мочь (“to be able”):

стричь (“to cut [hair]” imperf.)
Past стриг, стригла, -ло, -ли
sing. pl.
1st стригу стрижём
2nd стрижёшь стрижёте
3rd стрижёт стригут
Imperative стриги(те)!

As far as I know, the most commonly used perfective is подстричь (same conjugation as above), though sometimes you might run across остричь or постричь. But the prefix под- can imply “just a little bit; not too much” — which is, of course, what one often says after sitting down in a barber’s chair!

Attaching the so-called “reflexive” -ся to стричь will usually give the meaning “to have your hair cut by someone else”. If you actually cut your own hair and you want to make this clear, you could use a сам(а)/себя type of construction together with the phrase сделать стрижку, like so:

Ты подстригся в парикмахерской? = Тебя подстригли в парикмахерской?
–Нет, я сам сделал себе стрижку дома.

Did you get your hair cut (did they cut your hair) at the salon?
No, I gave myself a haircut at home.

The verb брить (“to shave”) has a one-syllable infinitive ending with -ить, so you might logically THINK that it conjugates like пить, “to drink”. But, instead, it’s:

брить (“to shave”, imperf.)
Past брил, брила, -о, -и
sing. pl.
1st брею бреем
2nd бреешь бреете
3rd бреет бреют
Imperative брей(те)!

The perfective for this one is побрить. And for this verb pair, the -ся form happens to have a literally reflexive meaning — (по)бриться is “to shave (oneself)”:

Кодга Миша брился сегодня утром, он нарочно не брил верхнюю губу, потому что он хочет отрастить усы.
When Mike was shaving this morning, he deliberately didn’t shave his upper lip, because he wants to grow out a mustache.

The derived adjective бритый means “clean-shaven”. But if you haven’t shaved for a while, the небритый (“unshaven”) regions may be covered with щетина — which here means “stubble,” although more literally it’s “bristles”, as on a щётка (“brush”) or a кабан (“wild boar”).

And the perfective расчесать (imperfective расчёсывать) is “to comb or brush” the hair:

расчесать (“to comb, to brush hair”, perf.)
Past расчесал, расчесала, -о, -и
sing. pl.
1st расчешу расчешем
2nd расчешешь расчешете
3rd расчешет расчешут
Imperative расчеши(те)!

For example:

Русалка расчёсывает свои длинные волосы серебряным гребнем .
The mermaid is combing her long hair with a silver comb.

The verb pair причёсывать/причесать also refers to combing/brushing the hair, but it has another sense: “to style someone’s hair” (hence the already mentioned noun причёска, “a hairdo”). As with брить(ся), the combing/brushing verbs have -ся forms that are truly reflexive. Thus, Русалка причёсывается is a complete sentence meaning “The mermaid is combing her hair”, even though the noun волосы isn’t used.

And now, finally, here’s how the joke translates:

A man and a little boy drop into a barber shop. After they’ve given the man a haircut and a shave, he stood up, pulled out a comb and carefully combed his hair, sat the boy in the chair, and then says to the hairstylist: “I need to nip out for cigarettes. I’ll be back in a couple minutes!”
But by the time they’d already finished trimming the boy’s hair, the man still wasn’t back.
The hairdresser says, “Well, where did your dad disappear to?”
The boy answers, “That’s not my dad. He just came up to me on the street and said, ‘Well, kiddo, today you and I are getting our hair cut on the house!'”

♪♫ Shave-and-a-haircut, BUMP-BUMP! ♪♫

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  1. Rob:

    Incidentally, the “comb” on a rooster’s head is called a гребешок, while the type of edible mollusc known as a “scallop” in English is a морской гребешок.

  2. xixvek:

    Two questions:
    In the joke shouldn’t the stress be сбЕгать (perfective in the meaning of “quick round trip”) rather than сбегАть (imperfective of сбежать)?
    And doesn’t волосы work for hair anywhere, not just on the head? I know some languages have different words, but I thought in Russian it was all волосы.
    Thanks for this post and all your others – I learn something every time!

  3. Rob:

    @xixvek: — Yes, you are totally right about the stress of perfective сбЕгать, and I’ve fixed that.

    Also, you’re right about волос meaning “a hair” anywhere on the body. I meant to say that when it’s used in the plural волосы, it’s typically understood to mean “hair on the head collectively,” unless some modifier is used in reference to the armpits or whatever.

  4. CBS:

    Hello Rob,

    Thank You for all your work.
    Somebody told me ,that брoет is correct,when a female person shaves you.Strange?

    OT,but have You already seen БенниХилизацыя?



  5. Unreadable:

    There are a couple of funny (funny ha-ha, not funny strange) expressions related to “стрижка” and “бритьё”.

    One is supposedly a sign on an old-timey sort of barber shop about a century ago, written in kind of a quaint way a simple, not very educated person would say it: “Парикмахтер Елисей — стрижка, брижка волосей!” It rhymes, too. I leave it as an exercise for your readers to correct all the peasant-speak here.

    The second expression is probably more modern and is a question based on the first one. So, let’s say you told your little kid about “парикмахер Елисей” and that the sign is wrong. Next thing you have to ask him/her how to make it right. “Как правильно: стрижка-брижка или стритьё-бритьё?” It is, of course, a trick question. So, what’s the right answer?