The Russian art of spitting Posted by ryan on Feb 18, 2022 in Grammar, Idioms
As it turns out from Bota’s blog from Tuesday, today is День Пельме́ней in Russia! This dish, of course, is one of my personal favorites, not only to eat, but also to make. But what if you take a bite of a пельме́нь and realize you don’t like it? Or maybe you’re a вегетариа́нец vegetarian and realize that this dish is, in fact, for meat lovers? Тьфу! This is what you say in Russian when you are mimicking the sound of spitting, the subject of today’s blog, which is about spitting.
Spitting holds a special place in the hearts of Russian people, which is reflected in the many sayings centered around this verb. Here are a few of them.
Let’s start with the word we’ve already learned. This word is a междоме́тие interjection that mimics the sound of someone spitting. You can say it as an expression of disgust, hatred, or disapproval for something:
—Ты лю́бишь креве́тки?1Do you like shrimp?
—Креве́тки? Тьфу!2Shrimp? Yuck!
You can say it when you make a mistake (usually verbal, that is, you misspoke). Also, the most important meaning of this word comes in the following form:
Тьфу-тьфу-тьфу, что́бы не сгла́зить!
Here, this expression, used in rapid succession three (also sometimes two) times is the exact equivalent to knocking on wood in English. This is sometimes accompanied by the speaker turning their head and spitting on the imaginary чёрт devil that stands on their left shoulder. Сгла́зить means “to jinx something.”
If you are wondering how this strange combination of letters is pronounced, you can hear it pronounced in the video below, from the 1973 Soviet classic «Ива́н Васи́льевич меня́ет профе́ссию»:
Here Miloslavsky says –Тьфу на вас!, which is an expression of disrespect, something kind of like “go to hell.” It is also an interjection by itself, like it Тьфу ты! Damn it!:
Тьфу ты! Опя́ть телефо́н на рабо́те забы́л!3Darn it! I forgot my phone at work again!
We just dove right in without establishing our word network. The verb of “to spit” is плева́ть (я плюю́, ты плюёшь) and the perfective form is плю́нуть. The noun is плево́к. Плева́ть is usually used in the infinitive along with the dative case, as seen in the example here: Мне плева́ть! is a similar way of saying Мне всё равно́! I don’t care! You can use this with any noun to express this same idea. Ему́ плева́ть he doesn’t give a damn, всем плева́ть nobody gives a damn, президе́нту плева́ть the president doesn’t give a damn. When you want to say you don’t care about something, you use the preposition на: Мне плева́ть на твоё мне́ние! I don’t care what you think! (lit. ~I spit on your opinion!)
Плева́ть в потоло́к
To spit at the ceiling. Who spits at the ceiling? I guess in Russia, lazy people do. This is something similar to some expressions you may know, such as безде́льничать to do nothing, па́лец о па́лец не уда́рить to not hit one finger with another, or сиде́ть сложа́ ру́ки to sit with folded arms.
Плева́ть про́тив ве́тра
To spit against the wind. This expression is more descriptive and quite similar to something we would say in English. The expression means to do something pointless, a small effort against a much bigger force. Also, when you spit into the wind, the spittle gets blown back in your face, right?
Когда́ ста́лкиваюсь с пробле́мами в шко́ле, я пыта́юсь закры́ть глаза́ – боро́ться всё равно́ означа́ет плева́ть про́тив ве́тра. When I run into problems in school, I try to ignore them (close my eyes) – fighting only means spitting into the wind.
Piece of cake! In the meaning of something very easy to do:
У него́ темпера́мент. Его́ раcсерди́ть – раз плю́нуть!4He has a temper. Enraging him is a piece of cake!
We have covered a few meanings that have something to do with spitting. Do you know any more? What would be your favorite?
- 1Do you like shrimp?
- 2Shrimp? Yuck!
- 3Darn it! I forgot my phone at work again!
- 4He has a temper. Enraging him is a piece of cake!
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