Russian Language Blog

When Russians Get Busy, They Say… Posted by on Aug 5, 2011 in Culture, language, Russian for beginners

On my «личный» [personal] blog I frequently start new posts with «извинение» [an apology]. It goes something like this: “Well, it’s been a while since my last post, but things have been crazy-busy here”. Until very recently I didn’t think much of the “crazy-busy” phrase, but how would I say something like that in Russian?

As I reflected on the many options, I once again though of how «велик и могуч русский язык» [great and mighty the Russian language] really is. Not to mention how «изощрённый» [intricate] it can be.

The simple and straightforward way for me would be to say «я была очень занята» [I was very busy] or «у меня было много дел» [I had many things to do]. My friends do know me as somewhat of a «деловая колбаса» [busy bee; lit. busy sausage]. Be careful using this idiom though since it adds a note of irony and even a hint of scorn to an otherwise full-bodied «комплимент» [compliment].

«Быть занятым» [masculine of “to be busy”] or «быть занятой» [feminine of “to be busy” is a good phrase to use. However, so many of my posts, e-mails, phone calls and Facebook messages start with this apology, I have to use something else for variety.

Have you heard a word «запарка» [steaming]? I love it. The excuse «у меня тут запарка» is so evocative of how a very busy person might feel – overheating, with «пар» [steam] escaping with every breath, just about ready to boil over from all the activity. A good English equivalent would be “to be in a lather”.

Note: do not confuse «запарка» with «зоопарк» [a zoo]. The two words sound startlingly similar, especially if carelessly pronounced, but mean totally different things as in «я в запарке» [I’ve worked myself into a lather] and «я в зоопарке» [I’m at a zoo].

Another great “busy” word is «загруженный» [loaded] as in «У меня расписание очень загруженное на всё лето, так что отпуска не будет» [My schedule is loaded for the entire summer, so I won’t have a vacation].

An even more informal way of saying the same thing would be «На работе полный загруз и отпуска не будет» [It’s crazy-busy at work, so no vacation]. Or in my case, I’d have to write «Извиняюсь за молчание, на работе загруз» [Apologies for the silence, work’s been crazy-busy].

The word «напряжённый» [intense] can undergo a similar transformation and become a very informally used noun «напряг» [pressure]. It’s not exactly the same as being busy, of course, but my experience tells me that whenever things in life get «напряжённые» [intense], people tend to «быть в напряге» [be under pressure] and get very busy.

Sometimes I complain that my time is «забито какими-то мелочами» [taken up by little things]. A friend likes saying that his «дни забиты под завязку» [days are chock-full].

But my absolutely favorite way of complaining about the problem of not having enough time is to say «я в постоянном цейтноте» [I’m in a constant acute shortage of time]. «Цейтнот» is a direct borrowing from the German “Zeitnot”, a chess term known in English as “time trouble” or “time pressure”.

So how do you say that you have been busy?

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  1. Robin:

    In German, “Zeitnot” is stressed on the first syllable, but the o is long, and it is not a chess term but generally means being pressed for time. That just for those who’d like to know. 😉

    • yelena:

      @Robin Robin, I had no idea how to pronounce Zeitnot correctly in German. Might come in handy one day (at least I won’t embarrass myself like I did the other day ordering a gyro at a cafe and totally mispronouncing it 🙂

  2. Alex:

    Where I am from we usually say “запара” instead of “запарка”, but it’s quite informal, so it’s better to use it with friends ore something. Also you can use here: “извини, работы привалило/подвалило”, or the most informal: “[работы столько, что ]мозг закипает”, “я в напряге”

    More official way is: “весь в делах” or “в работе по уши”, “у меня куча работы”, “эта неделя очень интенсивная”

    • yelena:

      @Alex Alex, it can go either way with “запара”/”запарка”, but you’re right on – it’s very informal. I really like the more business-appropriate versions you submitted, especially “в работе по уши”.

  3. Delia:

    How about аврал? We use it pretty often too. У нас на работе аврал.

  4. Yelena:

    Delia, it’s so great to hear from you! Been a while 🙂 Аврал is a great example. Thank you for reminding me about it.

  5. Delia:

    Hi Yelena
    Your sentence “извиняюсь за молчание…” заставило меня содрогнуться :)! It has nothing to do with being busy, but it’s a great opportunity to discuss the verbs извиниться и извиняться:
    I’m sure many Russian students and/or learners will have fun!

    • yelena:

      @Delia Hi Delia. Sorry, your comment got sent to Spam for some reason (probably because of the links, since all your other comments always get automatically approved). Wow, I’d never “заставляла содрогаться” anyone before. I’ll add it to my list of accomplishments 🙂 (The list is pretty short and as I’m getting on in years, I’m in a hurry to expand it.) Seriously though, thank you for the links! I do recommend all the readers to check them out. Actually, just bookmark the site and use it when in doubt as to how to use or write any Russian word.

      I guess what made you shudder, Delia, was the fact that “я извиняюсь” is not grammatically correct; it is a very informal and conversational way of expressing an apology. I’m just glad I edited my original version of “я дико извиняюсь” 🙂 But there’s still hope for me as an aspiring writer, since apparently the great Dostoyevski used it in the same sense I did – to apologize for not keeping in touch. BTW, I loved how on the forum (your second link) the conversation veered into the discussion of “теоретически умею” phrase.

  6. Minority:

    I use “аврал”, “дедлайн” [which means “dead line”)], “меня разрывают на части” [I’m torn up], “работаю в поте лица” [to work by the sweat of one’s brow], “поджимают сроки”, “пашу как вол” [something like “to work like a dog”], “я устала как собака” [“I’m tired like a dog”], “кручусь как белка в колесе” [“I’m like a squirrel in a cage”].

    Hm. I think, you can use other words in a phrase “пашу как…”. Such as: “пашу как проклятый” [“to work like a cursed man”], “как лошадь” [like a horse], “как ишак” [like a donkey]. Oh, btw, there’s a verb “ишачить”. I guess, you wouldn’t find it in a dictionary, but it means the same – “to work like a mule”.)

    Well, word “пашу” (inf. “пахать”) means “to plough”, but of course nobody uses it literally. It means “to work very hard”.

    • yelena:

      @Minority Наташа, вот я сейчас и пашу, как лошадь, так как сроки поджимают и надо вешать новый пост 🙂 As usual, you are “кладезь полезной информации о русском языке” [a fount of useful information about Russian language].

  7. Delia:

    HI Yelena! Yes, I enjoyed that forum and the discussion about “теоретические способности” too and I love (and hate!!!) “Я дико извиняюсь”

  8. ley:

    я в хоботе, да у меня такие хобота! [I’m in trunk, i’ve got such big trunks!] It’s a teen slang but still may be used and understood by adults 🙂

  9. transfer123abc123abc:

    Super strona, Niezmiernie mi się podoba blog.