Russian MiniLessons: Russian Bummers

Published: October 1, 2008

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.”

About the author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life,, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an PhD from West Virginia University in Political Science. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource.

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Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson is the Assistant Director for The School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS) and Communications Director for Alinga Consulting Group. In those capacities, he has been managing publications and informative websites covering geopolitics, history, business, economy, and politics in Eurasia since 2003. He is based in Moscow, Russia. For SRAS, he also assists in program development and leads the Home and Abroad Programs

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