10 Russian words that cannot be translated into English

1. Poshlost

Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov, who lectured on Slavic studies to American students, admitted that he could not translate this word, which any Russian easily understands.

what poshlost (пошлость)?

Nabokov gives the following example: “Open any magazine and you will certainly find something like this – a family has just bought a radio (a car, a refrigerator, some silverware, whatever), and the mother claps her hands, overjoyed, the children gathered around her open-mouthed, the baby and the dog are leaning towards the table on which the idol has been hoisted… a little apart stands the father victoriously, proud breadwinner.

The intense”poshness“of such a scene comes not from the false exaggeration of the dignity of any particular utilitarian object, but from the assumption that the greatest joy can be bought and that such a purchase ennobles the buyer.”

“This word includes triviality, vulgarity, sexual promiscuity and soullessness,” added the late Professor Svetlana Boym of Harvard University.

2. Nadryv

German Wikipedia has an entire article dedicated to the word Nadryv (надрыв). It is a key concept in the writings of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The word describes an uncontrollable emotional outburst, when a person releases intimate and deeply hidden feelings.

Moreover, Dostoyevsky Nadryv involves a situation in which the protagonist lets himself think that he can find something in his soul that perhaps does not even exist.

This is why the Nadryv often expressed imaginary, excessively exaggerated and distorted feelings. part of the novel, Karamazov brothers, is called “Nadryvs.”

3. Khamstvo

Soviet émigré writer Sergei Dovlatov wrote about this phenomenon in the article “This Untranslatable Khamstvo”, commenting that “Khamstvo is nothing but rudeness, arrogance and insolence multiplied by impunity “.

For Dovlatov, it is with impunity that khamstvo (хамство) kills us outright.

It is impossible to fight it; you can only resign yourself to it. “I’ve lived in this crazy, wonderful, horrifying New York for ten years and marvel at the absence of khamstvo. Anything can happen to you here, but there’s no khamstvo. You may be robbed but no one will shut the door in your face,” the writer added.

4. Stushevatsya

Some linguists believe stushevatsya (стушеваться) was introduced by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who first used it figuratively in his short story, Double. This word means to be less noticeable, to fade into the background, to lose an important role, to visibly leave the scene, to get confused in an awkward or unexpected situation, to become gentle.


This Russian word can be translated as “emotional pain” or “melancholy”, but that doesn’t convey its full depth. Vladimir Nabokov wrote: “Not a single word in English can convey all the nuances of toska (тоска). It is a feeling of spiritual suffering for no particular reason. On a less painful level, it is the indistinct pain of the soul… vague worry, longing, longing for love.”

6. Byte

This word comes from Russian by ‘(to exist). In Russian-English dictionaries, this philosophical concept is translated as “to be”. However, bytie (бытие) is not just life or existence, it is the existence of an objective reality independent of human consciousness (cosmos, nature, matter).

7. Bespredel

Eliot Borenstein, professor of Slavic studies at New York University, explains that bespredel (беспредел) literally means “without restrictions or limits”. Translators often use “anarchy” (bezzakonie). In Russian, however, the meaning of bespredel is much broader and refers to behavior by a person that violates not only the law, but also moral and social norms.

8. Avos’

It is quite difficult to explain to people of other nationalities what this means. Interestingly, many people believe that to your’ (авось) is the main Russian national trait. To hope for avos is to do something without planning, without making much effort, counting on success.

9. Yurodivy

Yurodivys (юродивые) in ancient Rus’ were people who voluntarily renounced earthly pleasures in the name of Christ. These people looked like lunatics and led a wandering life with the aim of obtaining inner peace and overcoming the root of all sin – pride. They were appreciated and considered close to God. Their opinions and prophecies were taken into consideration and they were even feared.

10. Podvig

This word is often translated in English as “achievement” or “achievement”, but it has other meanings. Podvig (подвиг) is not just a result or the achievement of a goal; it is a courageous and heroic act, an action accomplished in difficult circumstances. Russian literature often mentions military, civilian podvigs and even scientist podvigs. Moreover, this word is synonymous with selfless acts, for example, a podvig in the name of love.

Source: Russia beyond the headlines

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