Magazine article Russian Life

Fishing with Dried Pasta. (Survival Russian)

Magazine article Russian Life

Fishing with Dried Pasta. (Survival Russian)

Article excerpt

There are thousands of Russian idioms, proverbs and aphorisms. Many are explained in language textbooks and dictionaries, yet most rarely find their way into everyday speech. Some are so archaic as to be meaningless, others so overused as to become boring. As old folkloric wisdom is discredited, language users fracture old idioms into new ones. These usually pop up in colloquial speech or on the internet, yet they cannot be ignored, for they tell us a lot about the language and the creativity of those using it.

Russian provides endless opportunities for wordplay. Consider the following idiomatic centaurs: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (The noodles on your ears are not dry yet). It is a hybrid of two idiomatic expressions: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (to hang noodles on someone's ears, meaning to dupe someone) and [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]the mother's milk has not dried on your lips, meaning you are still green). Another pseudo-idiom reads: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (you didn't even bat an ear). This is a mix of [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (didn't bat an eyelid) and [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (didn't twitch an ear, meaning paid no heed to).

Pseudo-proverbs are often made by slightly altering one word, as in the English witticism, "Chaste makes waste." [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (You reap what you risk), reads the anti-proverb, contradicting the time-honored [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (You reap what you sow).

Or there is this nonsensical remake: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Yogis don't fire jugs). The original reads [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Gods don't fire jugs), which means "It can't be that hard, you'll manage."

Anti-proverbs often rebel against the morals of the original, as in "If at first you don't succeed, you're average," or "Love is blind, but neighbors aren't." [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (If you like riding on the sledge, go ahead), proclaims the neo-proverb, reworking the concept that, if you like riding on a sledge, you also must pull it [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Another rejects the need to work hard to achieve something: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (You can't catch a fish without a pond). …

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