Boardroom Buzzwords: Russia’s 8 Most Commonly-Used Jargon (And How to Interpret Them at Work)
If you are learning Russian as a second language, you certainly have your work cut out for you, and it can be even more difficult when you take into account various slang terms and colloquialisms they don’t teach you in textbooks. Russia, being a vast country whose culture includes hundreds of different ethnicities and goes back over a thousand years, has a wide range of creative, poetic, and just plain bizarre figures of speech. From the modern profanities known as mat to age-old proverbs, you can be sure that you’ll never fully grasp the Russian language until you are comfortable with their most popular jargon.
1. Chort! Blin! If you’re looking for a mild interjection to shout when you stub your toe, or perhaps to express surprise, either of these is appropriate and similar to shouting, “Darn!” in English. Chort literally means a tiny imp or hobgoblin. Even sillier, blin means “pancake.”
2. Gopnik. A subculture common in Russia and other ex-Soviet countries, the word gopnik comes from the term gop-stop, which means a street mugging. As such, gopniks are aggressive lowlifes who linger on street corners drinking vodka from soda bottles and eating entire bags of sunflower seeds to keep from smoking. To be compared to a gopnik is not a compliment.
3. Chuvak. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with being called a chuvak which is an abbreviation of chelovek, the Russian word for “person,” and roughly means “dude” or “buddy.”
4. Musor. Literally “trash” or “garbage,” musor is also used as a slang term for the Russian Militsia—it is moderately offensive, and the equivalent of referring to American police officers as “pigs.”
5. Chainik. Another mild insult that literally translates to “teapot,” to call someone a chainik is to say that they are a dummy.
6. Net khuda bez dobra. Although this is a more archaic saying, it’s a philosophy you will run into continually, both in the business sector and in day to day life. Literally it means “there is no evil without good,” and perfectly illustrates the resignation and perseverance of the Russian mindset.
7. Veda nikogda prikhodit odna. Building off of the previous proverb, this one means “trouble never comes alone,” which is part superstition, part preparedness.
8. Volkov boyatsya – v lec ne khodit. Particularly good advice for anyone: “If you’re afraid of the wolves, don’t go into the forest.” More or less, it means stay out of situations where you’re in over your head—if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!
Russians really take their proverbs seriously, as can be seen in their phrase, “A saying is like a flower; a proverb is like a berry.” Not only can it be fun to learn a few of a language’s idiosyncrasies if you’re planning to travel there, it is also key to understanding the culture. Learn more about Russian sayings by sending us an inquiry about lessons, or take our free online Russian language test!