Russian Proverbs and Sayings

apollinary-vasnetsov-bazaar-17th-centuryRussian proverbs and sayings are keen winged expressions created by Russian people, or translated from ancient written sources and borrowed from literary works; they express wise ideas and thoughts in concise and witty form.
Many Russian proverbs are made of two proportional rhyming parts. Proverbs, as a rule, have both literal and figurative meanings (morals). There can often be several different versions of proverbs with the same morals. As compared to sayings, proverbs have higher generalizing meaning. The earliest preserved pieces of the ancient Russian writings that contain proverbs date back to the 12th century.

Proverbs can be found in some well-known works of Old Russian literature: The Tale of Igor’s Campaign (XII century), Praying of Daniel the Immured (XIII century), etc. Manuscript books of proverbs were released starting from the 17th century.
Some part of the proverbs that have taken roots in Russia was created by oral folklore; some of them were adopted from ancient phrase collections and religious sources.
Many of the proverbs originated from works by Russian writers, such as Woe from Wit by Aleksandr Griboyedov, Ivan Krylov’s fables, and others.
Russian people always respected and highly estimated well-aimed, wise and vivid aphorisms. There are good grounds for Russsian sayings: «A proverb will not break for ages», «Without corners the house is not built, without a proverb speech is not said». In proverbs and sayings people have truthfully reflected their vast life experience, struggle for better life, their history and attitudes. Figurative and wise maxims imply customs and traditions, expectations and hopes of the Russian people. Witty and caustically they deride their oppressors and such negative features, as impudence, falsity, perfidy, duplicity, conformism, money-grubbing, greed, and bribery.
painting1In all their shine and perfection Russian proverbs and sayings bespeak the shrewdness, vivacity and smartness of the national mind, its special talent to capture precisely the most characteristic traits of various things and phenomena. In a short and coined form national aphorisms very clearly and intelligibly convey sophisticated and big ideas, becoming that very “winged word”, which imparts keenness, precision and felicity to the Russian language.
Proverbs and sayings have existed from time immemorial, and are long-lived and steady. However, the structure of proverbs and sayings varies as time goes by. It is known, that majority of the proverbs used in the past centuries have gone out of use. For example, after the October revolution some proverbs associated with the imperial autocratic rule ceased to be.

Collectors of proverbs

Classics of the Russian literature carefully collected proverbs, putting them down after the common folks. A tireless expert collector of proverbs and sayings was Alexander Pushkin. Thus, in his article “Ancient Proverbs and Sayings” Pushkin gives a wide range of proverbs, with analyses of their historical sources, and literary form, as well as their direct and figurative meaning.
Vissarion Belinsky, Nikolay Chernyshevsky, NikolayDobrolyubov also highly appreciated folk aphorisms. As an 18-year old student, Dobrolyubov started collecting and writing down proverbs. He also studied theoretical works, made up collections of proverbs, and constantly used them in his literary reviews.
leo tolstoyThe great Russian prose writer Leo Tolstoy studied and collected proverbs throughout his entire life. The last book which he bought before leaving from his estate Yasnaya Polyana was Illyustrova’s book “Collection of Russian Proverbs and Sayings”. All that the people have thought over is embedded in proverbs and sayings, Leo Tolstoy emphasized. He greatly enjoyed reading of proverbs.
Among the draft manuscripts for his famed novel War and Peace there were found two pages filled up with proverbs far and wide. It was evidently part of his preparatory material for the novel. One page has 29 of proverbs, and the other has 33 of them. Tolstoy interlaced proverbs into his text as confirmation to his ideas, and used them in descriptions of characters’ peculiar features.
Another writer who paid enormous attention to folk proverbs was Maxim Gorky. He considered studying of folklore to be the way to gaining literary skill. According to him, proverbs and sayings are the genre of national creativity, which helps a writer to master the riches of the Russian language.
Proverbs and sayings offer accessible explanation to most complicated questions, supplement logic formulas with the power of the word picture, and give bird’s-eye conclusions of worldly wisdom.
Here are some of the Russian proverbs in English – Each one has it meaning in Russian and English

Russian Quotes – English Equivalents

Trust in God, but steer away from the rocks

So near yet so far

A beggar can never be bankrupt

You will never know what you can do till you try

Eyes are a window to the soul

Every family has it’s black sheep

Hanging out

You can’t take everything with you

Can’t live with them and you can’t live without them

When wine is in, Wit it out

When in Rome do as the Romans do

In the Kingdom of the blind the one eyed is a King

There’s no use crying over split milk

Every Dog has his Day

A Man can die but once

No Sweets without some sweat

Calm in the midst of the storm

As you sow, so shall you reap

Life is Short

Actions speak louder than words

Absence make the heart grow fonder

Loose lips sink big ships

Look before you leap

Kill two birds with one stone

Curiosity killed the Cat

Think first, then Speak

You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours

East or West – Home is best

Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you

A Man is judged by his deeds not by his words

Once a Wolf always a Wolf

The Early Bird catches the Worm

Second thoughts are best

When it rains it pours

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body

The Cat did it.

Deprive a mirror of silver and even Emperor won’t see his face

Honesty is the best policy

The lights are on but nobody is home

Love is evil, it will make you fall in love with a goat

Live with wolves, and you will learn how to Howl

Fish rots from the Head

The First Step in the Hardest

I ran from the wolf but ran into a bear

Fight Fire with Fire

A Drop in the Ocean

Like Father, Like Son

The Walls have Ears

Caught Red Handed

A picture is worth a thousand words

A rotten Apple spoils the Barrel

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire

Bears are bad Neighbors

Life is to Short

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

Still Waters run Deep

When it Rains, It pours

He who laughs last, laughs best

Honesty is the Best Policy

A Boaster and a Liar are First Cousins

A Fool’s Tongue runs before his Wit

A Clever Tongue will take you anywhere

Better Fed than Taught

His Eyes are bigger than his Belly

The Chain is no stronger than it’s weakest Link

Where love and advice exists, there is no grief

Every Cook praises his own Broth

Every Why has a Wherefore

Marriages are made in Heaven

Racism? But isn’t it only a form of misanthropy?

If there is any substitute for love, it’s memory

In an man who dies there dies with him

Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are

Love and Eggs are best when they Fresh

In a Quarrel, leave the room for reconciliation

If you go to war pray once……….

Here are some of the Russian Idioms

to sound the alarm

mindless man

things aren’t moving

all hell is let loose

to yell one’s head off

to come to one’s senses





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