Magazine article Russian Life

A Little Filler, You Know, Can Go a Long Way

Magazine article Russian Life

A Little Filler, You Know, Can Go a Long Way

Article excerpt

Survival Russian has been a regular feature of Russian Travel Monthly for nearly a year. As we have consistently received positive feedback on it, it will also be a regular feature of Russian Life. Our Survival Russian course assumes only a modest knowledge of Russian, mainly the ability to read Cyrillic, plus a basic command of grammatical rules.

Everybody frowns upon the nonsense phrase and the filler. But only the highest of the high-brow seem to avoid them in everyday language. Russian, too, has its very own arsenal of filler words. And for the foreigner searching desperately for the right word or phrase, these fillers can provide relief, humor, and even escape.

Let's start with the direct Russian equivalent for the ubiquitous English "you know." Russians say this, but rarely and in a different way - For example, (You know, I prefer).

This is perfect Russian, but very few native speakers would use it nowadays - you will most likely hear it in a Chekhov play or in TV interviews with film and theater critics.

A synonym for this phrase is (you see), which, stylistically, sounds the same. The most common and stylistically neutral phrase is (so to say). This one can be heard on TV, radio, and on the street. Another set phrase is (let me put it this way or shall I say).

If you want to sound like President Yeltsin in his impromptu (i.e. unwritten) speeches, use (you understand). Otherwise, this turn of phrase seems to be owned by the older generation of Soviet-style apparatchiks. It's an ideal device for say, the head of a former collective farm reprimanding his fellow kolkhozniki for low milk production.

Yeltsin and other highly-placed personages use (you understand) when they are getting tough with somebody. Mind you, none of them studied their Russian in Tsarskoye Selo (an imperial lyceum where many a Russian poet, including Pushkin, were educated).

The most common filler used by all generations in Russia is (so). For example: (So, I told him...).

The most fashionable filler, mainly used by the younger generation, is the now-famous (in short). However, it doesn't make the story any shorter. This story will, for sure, contain several dozen koroches (In short, we came there, and I said, in short, to him. …

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