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And the Winner Is… Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Culture, language, The Russian Emotion

Warning: This is a very long post and the winner is announced at the very end of it. 


«Время подводить итоги конкурса» [It’s time to wrap up our contest].

Before I announce «победитель» [the winner], I got to say this – Russian blog readers ROCK! The total of 83 comments is a new record for this blog. But as I wrote before, this is one of the situations when «качество» [quality] means more than «количество» [quantity].

«Огромное спасибо» [Huge thanks] to Rob, Minority, and Delia for fielding the questions and offering help with grammar, translation and additional research. Richard, thank you for your most interesting questions, especially about the word «пошлость» [vulgarity or kitsch].

Overall, the comments confirm my belief that this is a blog where comments oftentimes provide more valuable information on the topic than the posts themselves.

One of the contributors, Stephanie, added a wonderful saying «повторение – мать учения» [repetition is the mother of learning]. It is a very popular one, so let’s roll with it. I’d like to quickly review some of the entries and add my own «три копейки» [two cents-worth; lit. three kopeks] to them.

JT’s entry: «Всё идёт по плану» [All is going according to the plan]

«План» in Russian usually means “plan”, “draft”, or “plot”. It can also mean a “topographic map”. Curiously, it also means «анаша» [hashish].

Mark’s entry: «Говорят, что кур доят» [Don’t believe everything you hear; lit. Some say chickens can be milked]

One of «самые вкусные» [tastiest] of Russian candies are called «Птичье молоко» [lit. Birds’ Milk]. You can usually find them in the Russian stores in the US, although they lose much of their “melt-in-your-mouth softness” after the lengthy transport and storage.

Richard’s entry: «Я не я, и лошадь не моя» [I didn’t do it! Lit: I’m not myself and the horse isn’t mine]

This one made me smile as I haven’t heard it much after moving to the US! There’s a particular word that comes to mind when I hear this phrase – «отнекиваться». Typically translated as “to say no” or “to disavow” it loses some of its linguistic charisma, just like another wonderful word – «поддакивать» [to say yes].

Alison’s entry: «любовь – не картошка» [love is not a potato]

Ok, this sounds cryptic, but there’s a second part of the saying: «любовь – не картошка, не выкинешь в окошко» [love is not a potato; it can’t be thrown out of the window]. So true! After all, «любовь зла, полюбишь и козла» [love is cruel]. Another weird love and gardening saying is «прошла любовь, завяли помидоры» [love ended, tomatoes wilted].

Delia’s entry: «подложить свинью» [to play a dirty trick or to cause a major inconvenience; lit. to lay a pig near someone]

If you are wondering why pigs were singled out for the purpose of lying near someone, it’s because pigs, in Russia, are usually associated with «нечистоплотность» [impurity, frequently of thoughts or intentions]. Sounds interesting? Then find out more in this post about different animals in Russian sayings.

Simon’s entry: «Нет худа без добра» [every cloud has a silver lining]

The well-known corollary of this is «нет добра без худа» [good luck brings bad luck]. One of the traits that foreigners notice in Russians is a certain measure of fatalism. Another saying that goes with it is «в каждой бочке мёда есть ложка дёгтя» [every barrel-full of honey has a spoon-full of tar].

Drew’s entry: «Кто,кто? Конь в пальто» [Who? Who? A horse in a coat!]

Thanks, Drew, for reminding me of this saying! I wish there was something as universal in English to slow the barrage of the “Knock-knock. Who’s there?” jokes. Sometimes the mythical «дед Пихто» [Grandfather Pikhto] is substituted for the proverbial horse. There’s much speculation as to who this Grandfather Pikhto is, but some say that he’s a spirit of the «тайга» [boreal forests] which are abundant with «пихты» [fir trees]. As to the horse in a coat, it’s popular enough that there’s a statue of it in the town of Sochi.

Olia’s entry: «Словами сыт не будешь» [One can’t live on words alone]

Thank you, Olia, for this entry. It goes particularly well with the giveaway theme. Although matreshkas aren’t particularly nourishing either. Another good phrase along the same lines is «кормить обещаниями» [to feed with promises] and a corresponding «обещаниями сыт по горло» [fed up with promises].

Rob’s entry: «Россия – родина слонов» [Russia – the motherland of the elephants]

Rob always provides exhaustive comments, so the only thing I can add to his explanation is this link to a page on Lurkmor.ru

Kate’s entry: «успех – это успеть»

Richard asked for the best way to translate it. Let’s see… «успеть» has a meaning of “to have time” and “to make it” (as in “to be on time”):

«Последние сто метров до причала пришлось пробежать, но нам удалось успеть на паром» [We had to run the last one hundred meters, but we made it to the ferry]

So I’d translate the phrase as either “success means having enough time” or “success means making it”. As another Russian saying goes, «кто не успел, тот опоздал» [you snooze, you lose].

And finally… the big announcement of the winner. Cue in «барабанная дробь» [drum roll]… First, I filtered out the comments of those readers who graciously removed themselves from participation. Then, I the rest of the comments (51) through a random number generator

Congratulations, Agata, on becoming the official winner of the Transparent Russian blog giveaway. You will be receiving an e-mail from Transparent shortly.

Once again, my heartfelt thanks to all who participated in the contest and commented on the blog post.

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  1. JT:

    Всё идёт по плану is an idiom for when things go poorly based on the song everyone with a guitar knows how to play by the same name by group ‘Гражданская оборона’

  2. Barry:

    Richard’s entry: «Я не я, и лошадь не моя» [I didn’t do it! Lit: I’m not myself and the hours isn’t mine]

    I guess you mean horse 🙂

    • yelena:

      @Barry Nice catch, Barry 🙂 I can’t tell you how many times I mistyped it when writing the draft of the post. I thought I corrected all of the typos, but turns out I missed this one.

  3. Richard:

    Поздравляю Агата! 🙂

    Большое спасибо Елена! Я действительно люблю Ваш блог, это – привосходный способ узнать разговорный русский язык.
    Я надеюсь, что я буду читать и писать русский язык более плавно из-за вашей работы над этим блогом!

    This blog is great and it really helps me with my Russian, especially with everyday speech and with expressions not found in the dictionary; I’m glad I stopped lurking! LOL

  4. Richard:

    Yelena, thanks for the meaning of “успех – это успеть”! Успевать/успеть is a very flexible verb and I think I’ll have to think about it for a few days, reread some of the comments on “успех – это успеть” before I can put this one to rest! 🙂

  5. Rob McGee:

    Richard, I had another thought about the verb успевать/успеть.

    On the contest thread, Delia gave the example of someone rushing to board a subway train just as the doors were closing and sighing “Уфф, успел!”

    In English, that “Уфф, успел!” could be translated “Whew, I made it!” or even more emphatically, “Whew, I just barely made it!”

    So, успевать/успеть means “succeed,” but with the added implication of a difficult success that was in the nick of time or by a narrow margin or one step ahead of failure.

    On the other hand, the noun успех simply means “success,” without any necessary suggestion of “snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, just in the nick of time.”

    But if you want a verb that means “to succeed” or “be successful” with the implication of “thriving and prospering and excelling by a wide margin,” and without emphasizing “just barely, in the nick of time,” you can use преуспевать/преуспеть, as Delia recommended.

  6. Richard:

    Thanks again Rob! I’ve copied all of the stuff that you’ve given me regarding успевать/успеть!


  7. David:

    I never realised before that the “успе” root is so versatile. I only knew it from the title of a chemistry journal Успехи Химии (Progress in Chemistry).

    Thanks to Yelena and everyone who posted such fascinating comments

  8. Richard:

    David, that’s one of the things that I really love about Russian: the ability to use root words as building blocks. I’ve looked up “успех” in my dictionary and then checked all of the surrounding entries that use “успех” as a basis for other words with related meanings. It’s fascinating to see how the different words all lead back to that one building block.

  9. David:

    Now “успе” seems to be turning up everywhere! I’ve just been reading the report of last nights football match between Manchester United v Barcelona inДни.ру-интернет газета and I found: Для каталонского клуба это уже четвертый успех в самом престижном еврокубковом турнире.

  10. David:

    Re «в каждой бочке мёда есть ложка дёгтя» I’ve come across a very similar expression but it isn’t tar. To be sure of keeping it clean I’ll use asterisks for the neuter noun (I’ve really no feel for where it lies on the spectrum between highly offensive and innocuous): ложка ****a в бочке мёда, corresponding to the english “there’s a fly in the ointment”. The word мёд (honey) is, I’m sure related to the English “mead”, which is an old name for beer made from honey.

  11. Rob McGee:

    David — does the word you’re thinking of start out like the English word “government”?

    If that’s the one you have in mind, Russians have told me that it’s in the category of “vulgar and low-class, but not obscene.” (It’s not considered to be мат, which is the filthiest category of Russian “cuss words.”)

    It has also been said that “the Russian language has several different words for crap, but has no word for sh!t.”

    Still, one should be careful about using that г-word, just as I avoid saying “crap” in front of young children, even though it’s not a very strong word in English.

  12. David Roberts:

    Thanks Rob – spot on! I found the expression in my Dictionary of Russian Slang and Colloquial expressions – a fascinating book to dip into every so often. Another one that I like, perfectly clean but would be highly offensive to a lady who’s just asked how her new dress looks on her “Как корове седло” (lit. like a saddle on a cow).

  13. Rob McGee:

    David — since I said that “Russian has several words for crap,” it may be worth mentioning that one of these is the noun дерьмо.

    Again, this word is vulgar, but not necessarily obscene, and it’s worth knowing because it’s the basis for the humorous political term дерьмократия, which obviously plays on демократия, “democracy.”

    You could translate it as either “dungocracy” or more loosely “dumbocracy,” although neither of these perfectly captures the pun of the Russian.

    I first learned this word from a 1921 Soviet propaganda poster that had the following rhyme:

    Хотело новое дерьмо
    Упречь трудящихся в ярмо.

    A new piece-of-crap wanted
    To harness the workers in a yoke.

    This rhyme is accompanied by a карикатура which clarifies that the дерьмо in question is Aleksandr Kolchak, a leader of the anti-communist “Whites.” (He was executed in 1920, which is why the 1921 propaganda used the past-tense verb хотело!)

    And as a Russian friend explained to me, упречь (“to harness”) is a rather archaic verb, so it’s difficult to find in dictionaries. Nowadays one would say either запрягать/запрячь or впрягать/впрячь.

  14. Rob McGee:

    Another one that I like, perfectly clean but would be highly offensive to a lady who’s just asked how her new dress looks on her “Как корове седло” (lit. like a saddle on a cow).

    Ha, this reminds me of a great scene from the sci-fi series Firefly!