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 leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

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Josh Wilson

Josh has lived in Moscow since 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian with SRAS. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Home and Abroad Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik. He has previously served as Communications Director to Bellerage Alinga and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

View all posts by: Josh Wilson