The Life Behind Russian Sayings

pogovorkiRussian popular sayings – поговорки [pagavOrki] – were developed through centuries and of course, like everywhere else in the world, are reflections of traditional lifestyle. If you write about Russian life you may need to use some, but they will hardly help unless you understand the “story” behind every saying. Here are a few examples.

Не имей сто рублей, а имей сто друзей. Friendship is better than money.

Literaly, it is translated like “Don’t have 100 rubles, but have 100 friends”. Friendship is very important to Russians, because to them, it is an equivalent of ability to survive. Many animals prefer to live in pecks, or flocks, or herds, and so do Russians. They believe that if you have a lot of friends, you are garanteed against trouble. If you were poor and hungry, your friends would pitch in and help you get what you need. If you feel depressed, you don’t need a councelor – just visit your friend and let him listen to you (you have probably heard about Russian overnight sittings with vodka in kitchens). If you need motivation, go to your female friend (each Russian man tends to have one) and sob out your sorrows to her: she will always know what to say to support you. This is why, if you ask a Russian what is most important in life, the answer will not be “having money”, it will be: “having many good friends”.

С мира по нитке – голому рубашка. If everyone pitches in and helps, you’ll have what you need.

This saying is a follow up to the previous paragraph. It literally says: “take a little thread from the world and a poor (naked) man will have a shirt.” Again, it confirms that Russians have a great love of community, The belief is strong that they can succeed together, while a lonely man is doomed to fail.

Два сапога пара. Two peas in a pod.

The saying “two boots are a pair” does not only remind you about cold Russian winters, it is used to describe two people who are compatible and close. Behind these words, there may be an implication that you’ve got to expect the same behavior from the people who have been friends for a very long time. People learn from each other, they share experiences and opinions, and as Russians prefer communal life to individualistic lifestyle, many have similar looks on life. Honestly, for many people these are not even looks on life, they are just imprints of other people’s opinions, which got stuck to one’s memory and became their views, too. This is why many Russians seem alike in their approaches to life. Two peas in a pod!

В тихом болоте черти водятся Still waters run deep

This is a rough equivalent to the English saying, meaning literally: “in quiet swamp, demons can be found”. The Russian saying is somewhat darker and may imply that the person being described may display unexpected behavior. This saying is always uttered as a warning. Russian history is filled with stories of betrayal: each generation can recall numerous examples of detecting  informants, squeals, snitches, and spies in communities which had seemed to be quite supportive and friendly (there are numerous examples of this in literature, too), so this phrase remains popular through centuries. Every child can hear it from mother now and then, from a very early age. I think this may be the reason of the Russians’ odd behavior: with all their openheartedness, they remain a bit suspicious about everyone they deal with, because… who knows? Still waters run deep… In quiet swamp, demons can be found!

Баба с воза – кобыле легче It will be easier without him/her.

“When a woman gets off the carriage, it is a relief for the horse”. This saying is not really a complaint about a woman’s weight (though sometimes this may be the case, too), but a note that it is relieving for the whole company when someone undesired has finally left.

I think it might also be a metaphor to women’s love to talk. If she speaks a lot and then finally leaves, it is a relief!

Нашла коса на камень. He ran into a brick wall.

In Russia, this saying is interpreted like “the scythe found a rock” refers to a common problem that makes you stop what you are doing. Usually, the saying means that some event has interrupted a process, so it must be fixed now. In past, it was often related to farm works. Today, you can hear this phrase during working discussions in offices, when someone repeatedly refuses to agree with common opinion and this hampers the whole working process.


There are hundreds of idioms in Russian language, and really many of them are widely used in everyday life situations. I will share more some day, If you like.


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  1. The Life Behind Russian Sayings | Golden and Gray

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