The following bilingual Russian MiniLesson is meant to build your vocabulary by providing Russian phrases within English text. Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.
Russian has many phrases that describe disagreeable situations. For example, “сесть в лужу/галошу” literally means “to sit in a puddle/galoshes” and most often describes a situation where one has “slipped up.” If one finds one’s self between a rock and a hard place in Russia, one can use the phrases “между молотом и наковальней” or “между двух огней”. Similarly, “попасть впросак” means “to be in a bind.” By the way, trying to use “впросак” outside of this idiom will find you in a bind; it is generally not done.
Along slightly different lines, our favorite phrase that we unearthed was “опростоволоситься” which means to be without a hat. In 18th century Russia, it was very shameful to be seen in public without a hat (остаться с простыми волосами), and this phrase, while a bit old fashioned now, is still used with the meaning of “to mess up” or “to be caught with one’s pants down!”
Another older phrase is “собаку съел, а хвостом подавился.” “Собаку съел” means “He nailed it.” The addition of last part, however: а хвостом подавился“ means that “he choked at the end” or “he choked on some small detail.”