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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: The Word That Lands You in a Place or a Bind




If ruing the latest national or personal beda (disaster) or simple stroke of nevezeniye (bad luck) is an increasingly hard-worked aspect of spoken Russian these days, then ways of describing how the misfortune came about in the first place also deserve attention.


A minor blow may warrant nothing more than mne ne povezlo (I was unlucky). If you want to announce that something more unpleasant has happened, then next in the misery chain comes the stronger so mnoi sluchilas' nepriyatnost' (an unpleasant thing happened to me). If this would be the understatement of the year, say when your business has just folded, then it's time to go for the sufficiently calamitous ya popal v bedu (I have had a disaster).


The verb popast' is a handy way to avoid many complicated verbs and constructions. Essentially it means to get or land somewhere, and crops up in many contexts, such as in the fixed expression popast' vprosak (to put your foot in it; get in an awkward spot).


Just as a person can popast' v nepriyatnuyu situatsiyu (get in an unpleasant situation), the verb can be used to express direct motion: Kak mne popast' na vokzal/v London? (How do I get to the station/to London?) Popast' is also used when hitting a tsel' (target). When unknown attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade through the wall of the U.S. Embassy, amerikanskoye posol'stvo, in Moscow in 1995, the quip soon punning its way round town was Kak popast' v amerikanskoye posol'stvo? f Pritselit'sya i nazhat' kurok! (Just aim and pull the trigger).


The "get to" feel of popast' may be misleading, such as in the slang expression popast' na den'gi (money). Rather than coming into money, this tells of yet another misfortune, when a person has to part with a lot of money, perhaps due to a deception.


Popast'sya is the reflexive form. For those who are into subtle nuances, this conveys the idea of getting somewhere, but more by chance than design: Pis'mo popalos' mne (The letter made its way to me), or ryba popalas' na kryuchok (the fish got caught on the hook).


When applied to people, though, we are back to unpleasantries, since the reflexive form indicates landing in trouble, i.e. when the militiaman examined my expired visa, ya popalsya. Or more specifically, ona popalas' na krazhe (she was caught stealing), oni popalis' s polichnym (they were caught red-handed).


If misfortune strikes, some eternal optimist generally pipes up that it is always possible to naiti vykhod (find a way out, solution) and that you just have to preodolet' prepyatstviye (overcome the obstacle, difficulty).


So the next time a friend complains to you Spaniel-eyed that things never go their way, you can say i na nashei ulitse budet prazdnik (there will be a party on our street too, or "every dog has its day").