10 English words that DON’T EXIST in Russian

Russia Beyond (Photo: Legion Media)
The Russian language is incredibly rich and has many different expressions and words that don’t exist in other languages (especially if it touches the spiritual sphere). However, sometimes it lacks the vocabulary for very simple things!

1. Toddler

The Russian language has many words to define a baby - ‘grudnichok’ is a newborn baby at breastfeeding stage, ‘malysh’ and ‘karapuz’ is a cute little baby. But, there is no certain word for a baby that has recently learned to walk, like toddler in English. Well, modern Russians cope with this by sometimes simply using the English word - toddler.

2. Siblings

Brother is ‘brat’ in Russian and sister is ‘sestra’. But there is no word for them collectively. If needed, a Russian would say ‘brother and sister’ (or ‘brothers and sisters’, like in church). Neither had Russian language originally a word for a cousin (‘dvoyurodny brat/sestra’ - lit. ‘brother/sister once removed’), however, Russians borrowed the word from French and, for about three centuries, it has also been ‘kuzen’.  At the same time, the Russian language has two different words for identical twins (‘bliznetsy’) and fraternal twins (‘dvoynyashki’).

3. Grandparents

Parents would be ‘roditeli’ in Russian, but there is no such word as grandparents. Russians would call them separately - ‘babushka’ and ‘dedushka’. While ‘praroditeli’ in Russian would be translated into English as forefathers or ancestors. 

It’s incredible how many weird words defining a relative are there in Russian. When, in English, you would simply say father-, mother-, sister- and brother-in-law, in Russian, there is a separate word for husband’s sister (‘zolovka’), husband’s brother (‘dever’), wife’s brother (‘shurin’) and wife’s sister (‘svoyachenitsa’)… and that’s not the whole list!

4. Forefinger and Thumb

Russians can’t say ‘thumbs up’! Russians call a thumb ‘big finger’ (‘bolshoi palets’). Forefinger would be translated into Russian as ‘Index finger’ - ‘ukazatelny palets’, middle finger has the same definition (‘sredny palets’) and the ring finger is called ‘unnamed’ - ‘bezymyanny palets’. However, Russians have one word for ‘little finger’ - ‘mizinets’.

5. Toe

Not because Russians don’t have toes… but they just call them fingers, too. Fingers of the feet. And they don’t have any specific names (unless it’s the big toe!).

6. Thirsty

A Russian can be hungry (‘golodny’), but there is no adjective such as thirsty in Russian. Thirst is ‘zhazhda’ in Russian, so if one wants to drink so badly, one can literally say ‘wants to drink’ (khochet pit) or ‘is suffering from thirst’ (‘stradat ot zhazhdy’). At the same time, ‘zhazhda’ in Russian is not always connected with thirst, but is about craving something, in general, not just water or food. An idiom is derived from it: ‘zhazhda vlasti’ - which would be literally translated as ‘thirst for power’.

7. Fun

“Have fun!” A phrase we could easily hear from an English-speaker. But, there is hardly anything like that in the Russian language. There is ‘razvlechenie’ (‘entertainment’) or ‘veselie’ (‘joy’), but that is something really strong. Russians would rather wish each other good luck (‘udachi!’) or to have a good time (‘vsego horoshego!’). 

8. Privacy

In modern days, Russians started talking about respect to personal life and boundaries. But, because of their Soviet past and decades of communal living, Russians didn’t have such a thing as privacy and, therefore, still don’t have a word for it (Read more about this phenomenon here).

At the same time, the word ‘private’ - ‘chastny’ (which means belonging to a private person, or private business which is not a state one, for example) - does exist. And the word ‘privatny’ is used for the same notion, which means being connected to a personal life, something intimate and closed from the public. 

9. Jetlag

In the late 20th century, Russians borrowed this word from English and started calling it jetlag, too. But, before, they primarily didn’t travel round the world much and didn’t encounter such a problem as time zone change syndrome (even in their own country, which has 11 time zones!). So, no notion, no word.

10. Challenging

If you say ‘challenge accepted’, there is a Russian equivalent to that - ‘vyzov’ - or a calling. But, something challenging or a challenge in life doesn’t have a strict translation. In the Russian language, it would just be difficult (‘trudny’, ‘slozhny’).

Dear readers,

Our website and social media accounts are under threat of being restricted or banned, due to the current circumstances. So, to keep up with our latest content, simply do the following:

  • Subscribe to our Telegram channel
  • Subscribe to our weekly email newsletter
  • Enable push notifications on our website
  • Install a VPN service on your computer and/or phone to have access to our website, even if it is blocked in your country

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

Read more

This website uses cookies. Click here to find out more.

Accept cookies