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4 Incredible Russian Idioms

A penny for your thoughts? In English we have a ton of different idioms that sound a little ridiculous. The same is true for other languages, especially if you’re approaching them as a language learner.  Listening to native speakers use proverbs and idioms in natural speech can throw you off, like when they say something that seems to mean ‘galloping across Europe’ but they’re talking about a shoddy paint job. Never fear! We’ve come up with a list of some interesting and difficult-to-translate Russian phrases for you to pepper your vocabulary with during your next conversation:

Idiom #1: Галопом по Европам (Galopom po Yevropam)


This idiom actually means ‘galloping across Europe’ which doesn’t seem to make very much sense at all. You might think that it has something to do with travelling, or maybe with the type of vehicle you want to take from point A to point B. It doesn’t actually mean any of those things. It’s a phrase that means, ‘to do something hastily, or haphazardly’. You could use it when you’re talking about a rushed-job that someone did for you, or you could use it to talk about your colleague that leaves all of their work until the last minute.

Idiom #2: На воре и шапка горит (Na voray ee shapka goreet)


Looking at the literal meaning of this idiom, you may find yourself at a loss: ‘The thief has a burning hat’. Ok? What on earth does that mean? Well, roughly translated it means “His troubled conscience betrays itself.” Think of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, where the heart seems to beat through the floorboards, declaring guilt. This expression essentially captures that feeling of not being able to hide the real (or imagined) crimes you’ve committed.

Idiom #3: Хоть кол на голове теши (Khot-kol na gawlovee-tayshi)


You can sharpen an ax on top of his head,’ which does not mean that the person you’re talking about has a sharp head. Surprisingly this idiom is all about being difficult to deal with. It’s essentially a great way to say that you think someone is really stubborn, and it’s a handy phrase whenever you’re talking about some obstinate person in your life – hopefully, they don’t speak Russian!

Idiom #4: Грузить (Gruziyt)


This isn’t so much an expression as it is simply a verb that has an additional interesting meaning. With the correct usage you may find this just as helpful in your Russian conversations. It literally means, ‘to load’ like you would things onto shelves. Its double meaning, which is more colloquial, is to describe the act of telling someone something they don’t want to hear (like something confusing, annoying, depressing, inane etc.), which results in a negative reaction to the listener, like a headache or ruined day. You could think of it more as if someone is loading some negativity onto your brain, and imagine the resulting disastrous effects.  It’s absolutely beautiful, as I can’t count how many times I’ve needed the English version – something which is slightly more appropriate than “I can’t even.”


Whether you’re just starting out learning Russian or you’ve been studying for ages, idioms can throw a real spanner in the works when it comes to understanding others and expressing yourself in any language. Our individualised Russian courses are here to help – check out your current Russian level out for free right now!