The Language of Overindulging

Обжорство: gluttony, overeating

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As someone who is always looking forward to my next snack or meal, I'm very happy in Russia. Russians are good eaters. They like good food, they like a lot of good food and they like to make every meal a celebration, be it a pot of уха (fish soup) prepared on a bonfire by a lakeshore, or кухня фьюжн (fusion cuisine) at a restaurant so trendy there is face control for shoes.

Alas, as one of my friends says: всё в меру (everything in moderation). Otherwise, you risk falling prey to one of the семь грехов (seven sins): обжорство (gluttony). Обжорство is defined in Russian as неумеренность и жадность в еде (immoderation and overindulgence in food). This isn't just packing it in at Christmas. It's when thoughts of food and eating take over your life. This kind of gluttony, say the pious, доводит человека до скотского состояния (reduces a person to the level of an animal).

In everyday life, you're likely to hear обжорство and its derivatives bandied about without the apocalyptic overtones. Обжорство can refer to any serious bout of overeating. На самом деле Новый год -- это праздник обжорства (New Years is really a holiday of overindulgence). Обжора (overeater) can be said either with love or disdain. You might say to a child: Какая ты обжора! Съела три куска торта! (What a little pig you are! You ate three pieces of cake!) But you might also use the word less kindly: Сварю на обед побольше картошки -- мой Вася такой обжора (I'm boiling a lot of potatoes for dinner. My Vasya really packs it in).

Прожорливый (voracious) can be neutral when describing animal behavior, but is generally pejorative for people. Прожорливый муж -- беда в семье (A husband with a huge appetite is trouble in a family). Cars can have voracious appetites, too. Прожорливая машина is what we call a gas-guzzler.

You can describe various levels of overindulgence by adding prefixes to the verb есть (to eat). Переесть can mean eating too much of something. В армии я переел каши. Теперь смотреть на неё не могу (In the army, I ate too much porridge. Now I can't stand to even look at it). Less commonly, it can mean "to out-eat" someone. Этот обжора всех переест (That pig will eat more than anyone else). Наесть is usually used to describe eating a certain amount of something. Наели в ресторане на три тысячи рублей (We put away three thousand rubles of food in the restaurant). Less frequently, but more vividly, it can be used to describe the signs of the good life. Он наел брюшко (He's developed a pot belly; literally, "eaten himself a belly").

When наесть gets turned into a reflexive verb, it means eating to one's fill. Наесться is a good word to use when your in-laws are trying to foist a third piece of cake on you. Честное слово -- не могу. Наелся (Honestly, I really can't. I'm full).

Объесть has one meaning that doesn't come up much in daily life: to eat something in a circle, the way a methodical goat might eat the leaves off a shrub. More commonly it is used to describe gobbling something up. Ты пригласил Васю?! Он же нас объест! (You invited Vasya?! He'll eat us out of house and home!)

The reflexive verb объесться is the word to use when you haven't just eaten your fill -- you're so packed, you can barely move. When your hostess asks: Наелся? (Have you had enough?), you sigh: Не то слово! Я объелся (That's an understatement! I'm stuffed).

But if you want to keep piling it in, you can say: Рот уж болит, а брюхо всё есть велит (My mouth hurts but my belly keeps asking for more).

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.