There’s a proverb for every occasion

One of the more popular Russian sayings is “Rabota ne volk, v les ne ubezhit”, which translates as: “Work is not a wolf; it’s not going to run off to the forest” (the English equivalent would be: “Work isn’t going anywhere – it can wait”). Another is: “Skazhi, kto tvoi druz’ya i ya skazhu kto ty” (“Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are”). The meaning is clear enough: who you choose as your friends reflects who you are. There is a never-ending supply of sayings about friendship, such as: “Drug dlya vcekh, drug nikomu” (“A friend to all is a friend to none”).

But while these are easy to understand, there are many which are likely to leave those new to the language scratching their heads. Take “Baba c vosu – kobyle legche” (literally: “Once the woman gets off the cart, it’s easier for the horse”). The phrase has an extremely popular English counterpart – “Good riddance!” – but the style of Russian proverbs and sayings, which tend to paint a picture or scenario instead of saying something outright, and of course the sheer prevalence of their usage, can leave beginners baffled or under the impression that they are being spoken to in some sort of code.

There seems to be a saying in Russian for just about anything imaginable. If a person is not happy with their looks, for example, their loved ones may comfort them with, “s litsa vodu ne pit’”. In English it would be “beauty is only skin deep”, but the Russian version translates literally as: “Water is not to be drunk from your face.”

While the richness and abundance of Russian proverbs may seem frustrating to some, it’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of the language – there are thousands of these sayings, each guaranteed to not only make you think, but also unravel just a little bit more of the elusive puzzle that Churchill was talking about. More often than not, once you get past the enigmatic wrapping of the puzzle, you will find the same universal truths you’d find in any language – expressed, of course, in an utterly Russian style.

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