Untranslatable Russian Words

Russian is such a rich language, full of shades of meaning, and many of its words are literally not translatable. This makes it both a nightmare to learn but also incredibly interesting, and being able to speak it is probably the only true way to actually understand Russians and how their minds work. Here are some of such words!

тоска (toska) – as Vladmir Nabokov put it: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.

бытие (bytie) – often translated as “being”, this word holds an added metaphysical meaning, indicating a state of hyper-consciousness or a very analytical mindset. Some even translate is a “enrichment of one’s life”.

душа (dusha) – while “soul” may apply to most contexts for this word, it indicates a combination of deeper inner elements including heart, spirit and feeling.

смысл (smysl)  it means both “meaning” and “sense” in Russian as it indicates a binding of thoughts (c + mysl), explaining in a very precise way how Russians make sense of things.

белоручка (beloruchka) – literally: a person with white hands. This word indicates a person who doesn’t want to do any rough or dirty work. It can also be used to refer to a lady or gentleman but in quite a sarcastic way.

капель (kapel’)a sunny day when water starts dripping from icicles

дача (dacha)translated as a vacation house in the countryside, it is not merely a second house, but involves a completely different pace and style of life (banya, fishing, singing over a bonfire..)

пороша (porosha) fresh powdery snow that fell during the night

попутчик (poputchik)used to refer to a total stranger who happens to be travelling in the same direction as you are and with whom you connect by sharing the deepest stories of your life.

недоперепил (nedoperepil)literally “under-over-drunk”, it indicates somebody who drank more than they should and less than they could.

терпение (terpenie) – this word does not exist in any other language and it means suffering through waiting.

почемучка (pochemuchka) – someone who asks a lot of many questions, often a child who keeps asking “why?”.

 

 

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