Russian Language Blog

Word of the week: «Прикалываться» Posted by on Sep 27, 2008 in Uncategorized

In my post from last week, “On Free Magazines & Expats in Russia”, I used the verb «прикалываться» without thinking twice about it. I did so even after I searched for a proper translation of the word into English without finding one. My trusted Kenneth Katzner dictionary only translates «прикалывать» [impf, pf«приколоть»] as either 1. to pin (to), or 2. colloq. to stab to death. Clearly, that was not the meaning I had intended when using the reflexive version of the same verb. I was going for the action that my Russian-Swedish dictionary translates as ‘joking’. Neither stabbing to death nor pinning intended, I assure you! But having come across the trouble of finding a proper English translation of this verb effortlessly for most readers, I had to find the real and true meaning of it. It proved a little harder than I had imagined, since this word is common slang in Russian (try googling ‘joking’ and you’ll see my point!).

The first thing I found was this discussion on Gramota’s forum, where it says:

ПРИКАЛЫВАТЬСЯ, -аюсь, -аешься; несов. (сов. ПРИКОЛОТЬСЯ, -колюсь, -колёшься), над кем-чем, на что и без доп. Шутить, острить, разыгрывать кого-л., смеяться над кем-чем-л., весело реагировать на что-л.

Шутитьto joke, jest; to play (with); to make fun (of); to trifle (with).

Остритьto sharpen; to make jokes, to crack jokes.

Разыгрыватькоголибоto play a trick (or a joke) on somebody.

Смеятьсянадкемчемлибоto laugh at somebody/something

Веселореагироватьначтолибо to react happily; merrily; ‘with great fun’ on something

But the best translation for the word – without making any kind of fuss about it whatsoever – I found in the «Толковыйсловарьдлябестолковыхвзрослых» [Defining Dictionary for Stupid Grownups]. There it all is explained simply as:

Прикол – шутка, что-то интересное [a joke, something interesting].

Прикалываться – шутить [to joke].

Приколисты – шутники [jokers.

And now for a little bit of completely useless [I hope!] yet interesting information as a finishing touch to today’s post. While searching around ‘runet’ I also found that the meaning of «прикалываться» is explained in «Словарьворовскогожаргона» [Dictionary of thieves’ jargon] as «советоваться, делитьсямыслямисосуждёнными» [to consult; seek the advice of; to share thoughts with convicts]. I doubt it will come in handy for any reading this but then again, who knows?

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  1. Marc:

    Колоть, the root, means to poke or to jab. With the suffix при, here meaning “just a little bit” (as in приплатить (to pay a tip) or пригасить (to turn down the lights)), the verb means something very close to the image I have of the origin of the word “ribbing” in English – poking someone in the ribs during teasing. I have a feeling that the other meaning of the verb (to pin something (a badge) to something (a lapel)), uses the “onto” meaning of the suffix при, and might thus be etymologically different.

  2. Anna:

    This is one of my favorite words! Thanks for putting the spotlight on it.

  3. Dennis:

    May I suggest the following American jargon for “прикалываться”:

    ___to just be kidding around(with)
    ___to just be fooling around (with)
    ___to just be hanging out (with)
    ___to just be shooting the breeze (with)

    There are other (rather vulgar) equivalents also.

  4. Dmitri Minaev:

    There’s also an adjective прикóльный. I thought it should mean “funny”, but my son explained to me (with difficulty) that it’s more like “interesting” or “curious”.

  5. stas:

    I think that the difficulty in finding the translation for the word of the week is because it is a rather new addtion to the contemporary slang. I don’t recall this word ever mentioned before mid-eighties. Or just it was never popular at that time in a Russian Far East where I grew up. Anyway as I remember, it was pure slang among young people only. It’s just in a last ten years this word made into the mainstream, it seems.

  6. Delia:

    Another addition: the form ПРИКОЛИСЬ! imperative, singular, is used pretty often at the end of a story meaning a surprise, meaning “Can you believe it? Can you imagine something like that?”