15 Funny Russian Sayings

Man peeking through snow covered window

David Trood / Getty Images

Colloquialisms and funny sayings make up a significant part of the Russian language and culture. Old Soviet comedies and jokes have provided a lot of material for some of these sayings, while others originate in modern popular culture and even in classic literature. Russians often shorten their sayings and expect others to understand what they mean, so don't be surprised if you find yourself missing whole layers of meaning when you don't know a particular saying.

In this article, you will learn some of the most popular Russian colloquialisms and funny turns of phrase so you can take part in Russian conversations like a pro.

01
of 15

Рыльце в пушку

Pronunciation: RYL'tse f pooshKOO

Translation: snout (covered) in down

Meaning: guilty, dirty, bad

Originally an expression used in a famous fable by Krylov, The Fox and The Groundhog, this phrase means that someone is getting up to something they shouldn't.

Example:

- Да у него самого рыльце в пушку. (da oo nyVO samaVO RYL'tse f pooshKOO)
- He's not all that innocent either.

02
of 15

Потом доказывай, что ты не верблюд

Pronunciation: paTOM daKAzyvai, SHTOH ty nye vyrBLYUD

Translation: then you will have to prove that you are not a camel

Meaning: to have to prove something obvious

This very popular saying came from an episode of the famous Soviet comedy sketch The Tavern of Thirteen Chairs (Кабачок "13 Стульев") that mocked the absurdity of Soviet bureaucracy and whose character had to provide evidence of not being a camel. Once proven that he was not a camel, the character was asked to bring further evidence of not being a Bactrial camel with two humps, and then again that he wasn't a Himalayan camel (a play on his surname Gimalaisky).

Example:

- Нет, тут надо осторожно действовать, а то потом доказывай, что не верблюд! (NYET, toot NAda astaROZHna DYEYSTvavat', a TOH paTOM daKAzyvai, shtoh ty nye vyerBLYUD)
- No, you have to be careful here or you'll have to jump through hoops to prove you're innocent.

03
of 15

Давать на лапу

Pronunciation: daVAT' na LApoo

Translation: to give onto the paw

Meaning: to give a bribe

Example:

- А ты им дай на лапу, они и пропустят. (a ty eem DAI na LApoo, aNEE i praPOOStyat)
- Give them some money and they will let us through.

04
of 15

Смотреть как баран на новые ворота

Pronunciation: kak baRAN na NOvy-ye vaROta

Translation: to stare like a ram at the new gates

Meaning: to stare at something in shock, to be stunned into silence

Use this saying when someone stares at you as if they have seen a ghost or as if they have never seen you before.

Example:

- Ну что ты уставился, как баран на новые ворота? (noo SHTOH ty ooSTAvilsya, kak baRAN na NOvy-ye vaROta)
- What are you looking at, did you see a ghost?

05
of 15

А что я, лысый/рыжий?

Pronunciation: a shtoh ya, LYsiy / RYzhiy?

Translation: And what am I - the bald one/the redheaded one?

Meaning: Why me?

Used to express unfairness at being picked to do something unpleasant, this saying is very informal and comes from the idea that being bald or having red hair is rare and can make someone stand out.

Example:

- А почему вы меня спрашиваете, что я, лысый? (a pacheMOO vy myNYA SPRAshivayete, SHTOH ya, LYsiy)
- Why me?

06
of 15

Без задних ног

Pronunciation: bez ZADnih NOG

Translation: without one's hind legs

Meaning: like a log

Use this phrase when you describe someone who is so tired they are sleeping like a log.

Example:

- Дети так наигрались, спят сейчас без задних ног. (DYEtee tak naeeGRAlis', SPYAT seyCHAS bez ZADnih NOG)
- The kids have played so much that they are sleeping like logs now.

07
of 15

Будто курица лапой

Pronunciation: BOOTta KOOritsa LApai

Translation: like a chicken with its foot

Meaning: chicken scratch, illegible handwriting

You can use this expression when talking about someone's handwriting—it is a known fact that chickens' handwriting is pretty bad!

Example:

- Пишет как курица лапой. (PEEshet kak KOOritsa LApay)
- His handwriting is like chicken scratch.

08
of 15

Медведь на ухо наступил

Pronunciation: medVED' NA ooha nastooPEEL

Translation: a bear has stepped onto one's ear

Meaning: to have no musical ability

Example:

- Если честно, то ему как медведь на ухо наступил. (YESli CHESna, to yeMOO kak medVED na ooha nastooPEEL)
- Between us, he has no musical ability.

09
of 15

Выводить из себя

Pronunciation: vyhaDEET' iz syBYA

Translation: to force/lead someone out of themselves

Meaning: to cause someone to lose their temper, to get on someone's "last nerve"

This is a useful phrase when someone is being infuriatingly annoying.

Example:

- Ты меня специально из себя выводишь? (ty myNYA speTSAL'na iz syBYA vyVOdish?)
- Are you deliberately winding me up?

10
of 15

Как собака на сене

Pronunciation: kak saBAka na SYEnye

Translation: like a dog on hay

Meaning: dog in the manger

An expression similar to a dog in the manger, this Russian saying is used in the same way: to describe a person who won't let others have something they don't have a use for themselves. As in the example below, this expression is sometimes used in its longer form, but most of the time you will simply hear the first part of it—как собака на сене.

Example:

- Ты прям как собака на сене: и сам ни ам, и другим не дам. (TY PRYAM kak saBAka na SYEnye, ee SAM ni AHM, ee drooGHIM nye DAM)
- You're like a dog in the manger: you don't want it but you don't want anyone else to have it. (Literally: you don't eat it and you don't let others have it.)

11
of 15

Отпетый дурак

Pronunciation: atPYEtiy dooRAK

Translation: a fool who has been given their last rites

Meaning: an incorrigible fool

Example:

- Не обращай внимания, ты же знаешь, он отпетый дурак. (ne abraSHAI vniMAniya, ty zhe ZNAyesh, on atPYEtiy dooRAK)
- Don't pay any attention to him, you know that he's an incorrigible fool.

12
of 15

Канцелярская крыса

Pronunciation: kantseLYARSkaya KRYsa

Translation: a clerical rat

Meaning: an office worker, a clerk

Example:

- Надоело быть канцелярской крысой. (nadaYEla BYT' kantseLYARSkai KRYsai)
- I'm so tired of being office plankton.

13
of 15

Как сонная муха

Pronunciation: kak SONnaya MOOha

Translation: like a sleepy fly

Meaning: to move sleepily

This phrase is used to describe someone who is moving slowly or feeling sleepy.

Example:

- Я сегодня совсем как сонная муха хожу. (ya seVODnya savSYEM kak SONnaya MOOha haZHOO)
- Today I'm so sleepy and tired.

14
of 15

Смотреть сквозь пальцы

Pronunciation: smatRYET' SKVOZ' PAL'tsy

Translation: to look through the fingers

Meaning: to look the other way

Example:

- Они на всё это смотрят сквозь пальцы. (aNEE na VSYO EHta SMOTryat SKVOZ' PALtsy)
- They always look the other way.

15
of 15

Как в рот воды набрал

Pronunciation: kak v ROT vaDY naBRAL

Translation: as if one has a mouth full of water

Meaning: cat's got your tongue

Example:

- А ты что стоишь как в рот воды набрал? (a TY shtoh staEESH kak v ROT vaDY naBRAL)
- And what are you standing here for and not saying anything?