Forbidden fruit is the sweetest.
The best offense is a good defense.
We can all benefit from sage advice to lead a better life.
Some of us read self-help books and take courses, while others listen to stories from their mothers and grandmothers.
But the blueprint for a life well lived may be easier to find to within our very own language.
Learning idioms is a great way to discover colorful ways of encouraging ourselves to do the right thing, persevere in a tough situation or achieve a goal.
Because every culture is different and the morals and beliefs of people may vary from one country to another, it’s interesting to learn idioms from around the world.
Plus, this process has the added benefit of helping you learn a foreign language by exposing you to new words while focusing on cultural context rather than literal meaning.
While not all idioms will provide universal truths, all Russian idioms will help you learn something—if not better morals, then at least you’ll pick up some new Russian words!
What Are Idioms?
Idioms are cultural sayings that can’t be understood from their literal meaning. When reading or hearing idioms, they may sound silly at first, but the hidden meaning of these phrases can actually be quite powerful and deep.
Every single language has idioms. In English, some popular ones include:
- Pay the piper—which means you have to face up for your actions
- Jump the gun—meaning to do something too early
- Actions speak louder than words—doing deeds matters more than mere words
These are everyday sayings that you probably take for granted, but if you take the time, you’ll realize how much these idioms can teach us.
What Is the Purpose of Idioms?
Idioms are typically age-old sayings that can’t be traced back to a specific individual or event. They are phrases that are handed down through generations with a few specific purposes, and people like to use them for different reasons:
- They provide advice. Many idioms are phrased in a way that they provide a viewpoint or advice, without saying it directly. For example, sayings such as “don’t add fuel to the fire” encourage the listener not to make a situation worse.
- They use vivid language. Idioms are fun to say and fun to hear because they use vivid and use colorful language.
- They engage the listener. When you say things like “don’t kick a man when he’s down,” it’s an entertaining way to engage the listener and get their attention. Plus, idioms are relatable because they play on our emotions!
- They use humor. Many idioms are funny, which is another way to engage someone’s interest. Plus, it just may make you laugh when you translate the literal meaning of the actual Russian words into English.
Why Learn Russian Idioms?
Why take the time to learn Russian idioms? First of all, they’ll help you learn Russian by learning new words. While you may use flashcards to learn Russian vocabulary, another easy way to improve your Russian is by learning idioms.
Another benefit is that you’ll better understand Russian by finding themes that are unique to its culture. In order to truly learn a language, you need to immerse yourself in the culture. Idioms help you do just that by combining common Russian beliefs, like the importance of the homeland, hard work and family.
Idioms are short and easy to remember, which makes them perfect for learning Russian. You can memorize an idiom and use it in a variety of different scenarios, helping you navigate the Russian language.
13 Russian Idioms as a Blueprint for a Better Life
Below you’ll find 13 Russian idioms divided into four sections—advice and inspiration about working hard; about love; about home and family; and about how to have a better life outlook. Each idiom will be written in Russian and will include a literal and a figurative English translation.
Russian Idioms About Persevering and Working Hard
1. Кто рано встаёт, тому Бог подаёт.
Literal translation: “Those who wake up early are served by God.”
Figurative translation: “God rewards those that rise early.”
Don’t forget that Russia was a communist country for over 73 years. And what did these communist leaders strive to get from their people? Hard work.
You will find that many Russian idioms promote this very goal, encouraging workers to rise early so that they can secure a better life for themselves and their country.
2. Лучшая защита – нападение.
Literal translation: “The best defense is an attack.”
Figurative translation: “The best defense is a good offense.”
Russia has been subjected to many wars, most notably World War I and World War II. As a result, some of their advice for persevering might sound very militaristic. However, all this idiom is trying to impart is that sometimes, to protect yourself, you need to be prepared and often initiate the process first.
Literal translation: “Without effort you won’t even pull a fish out of a pond.”
Figurative translation: Similar to sayings such as “no pain, no gain,” and “nothing comes easy,” this Russian idiom reminds us that nothing can be done without sufficient effort.
Russians have a harder life than most Americans. They don’t have as many cars and have to walk or take public transportation in the dead of winter, and they don’t have as many modern conveniences such as dishwashers and dryers. Therefore, this saying promotes hard work to encourage everyone to realize that without it, nothing is possible.
Russian Idioms About Love
4. На вкус и цвет товарищей нет.
Literal translation: “There is no friend for taste and color.”
Figurative translation: “Everyone’s tastes are unique.”
This Russian idiom is used to express the fact that each individual chooses his or her own friends or romantic partners. Russian families are typically very close, with many children living with their parents until their wedding day (and many still live at home even after getting married).
This idiom reminds mothers and fathers that their sons and daughters have their own tastes, and should be able to pick a partner of their own choosing.
5. Запретный плод сладок.
Literal translation: “The forbidden fruit is sweet.”
Figurative translation: “Forbidden fruit is the sweetest.”
Along the same lines as the idiom above, this saying implies that when a relationship is forbidden, you want it even more. It’s meant to advise parents not to stop their children from dating the person they prefer.
6. От судьбы не уйти.
Literal translation: “You can’t leave your fate.”
Figurative translation: “There’s no escape from fate.”
This idiom can be applied to many different contexts, but a popular one is to tell us that we’re all destined to be with a certain person. No matter what we do about it, we won’t change the course of fate.
Russian Idioms About Home and Family
7. В гостях хорошо, а дома лучше.
Literal translation: “A guest’s house is nice, but it’s better at home.”
Figurative translation: “It’s nice to visit others, but home is best.”
This idiom stresses the importance of home life and reminds listeners that while vacations and new experiences are fun, home is where the heart is!
8. Яблоко от яблони недалеко падает.
Literal translation: “Apple doesn’t fall far from the apple tree.”
Figurative translation: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
This idiom reminds us all that children are very much like their parents. It’s quite common for elderly Russians to compare kids to their parents, commenting that a child misbehaves or acts out just like their parents once did.
9. Где родился, там и пригодился.
Literal translation: “Where you were born is where you are most handy.”
Figurative translation: “You are most useful in the place of your birth.”
Much of Russia is to a large extent populated by people who live in villages. However, modernization has caused many younger Russians to leave their villages and move to the city to work or attend college.
This idiom stresses the importance of your motherland, and encourages residents not to leave the city of their birth. And if they have to leave, they should come back once they have educated themselves, in order to help their countrymen.
Russian Idioms for a Better Life Outlook
10. Лучше поздно, чем никогда.
Literal translation: “Better late than never.”
Figurative translation: “It’s better to start something late than never at all.”
Just like the English idiom, this saying motivates us to accomplish a goal, even if we do it later than we originally planned.
11. Век живи—век учись.
Literal translation: “Live for a century, learn for a century.”
Figurative translation: “Live and learn.”
Russians are big on education, and not just from classes and courses, but also from the book of life! This idiom stresses to the younger generation that the elderly know best, and it motivates them to keep on learning.
12. Будет и на нашей улице праздник!
Literal translation: “Our street will have a holiday, too.”
Figurative translation: “Our time will come.”
Russian life hasn’t always been easy. At different points in time, Russians had to stand in long lines to get access to food, were not paid their salaries for years on end and they endured many other hardships. Telling each other that their time will come encouraged Russians to keep going and hope for the best.
13. Всё хорошо в своё время.
Literal translation: “Everything is good in its time.”
Figurative translation: “There is a time and a place for everything.”
They say that there is a season for everything, and that holds true in Russian as well.
Along the lines of the previous idiom, this one also encourages listeners to be hopeful and wait for their piece of happiness. It reminds young children not to grow up too fast, and that they’ll mature in their own time.
If you’ve enjoyed learning these 13 Russian idioms, there are plenty more out there. Idioms will help you improve your Russian while also give you smart advice for a better life!
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