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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: Be Cool Like Russians About Chilly Weather




Two winters ago, as I made my way through the back streets from Tverskaya Ulitsa to a certain Irish pub, I jumped as a piece of ice the size of a football whizzed past my nose and smashed at my feet. Later, still in shock, I told a Russian friend how a sosul'ka, or icicle, had plunged from the rooftop above me and nearly taken my life. I paused dramatically, allowing him a moment for a horrified gasp or a quick Bozhe moi (My God!).


"Naah, that wasn't a sosul'ka, that was a ledyanaya glyba (ice block), he corrected me.


Apart from reminding me how ridiculous it is to try and impress Russians, of all people, with tales of winter hardships, the incident made me think there must surely be a hundred times more words in Russian for things connected with zima (winter) than most other languages.


There aren't, was my eventual conclusion. The winter here is colder and longer than where I come from, at least, but sneg is snow, wherever you find yourself shivering. True, it seems that in Russia more than most other places you have to be especially careful of the lyod (ice) on the sidewalk and heed the constant warning that it's skol'zko na ulitse (slippery outside).


In winter (zimoi), kids here like to igrat' v snezhki (play at snowballs), but rather than a snowman, they will lepit' snezhnuyu babu (build a snowwoman). She too has a carrot for a nose, but wears a bucket for a hat, and holds a broom.


Frost is moroz, but don't think Ded Moroz (literally grandfather frost) is Jack Frost - he is in fact Santa Claus, and is assisted by Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden). And not forgetting, of course, the snezhnyi chelovek (snow person), a figure known somewhat unfairly in English as the abominable snowman.


My original theory was slightly vindicated when I learned there are two words for snowstorm, depending on the strength of the wind and the amount of snow flying about. While a snowfall as such is a snegopad, the wind may whip it up into a metel' (lighter snowstorm) or, more seriously, a purga, which is a Jack London-style blizzard with howling wind and low visibility, and which might even bury your car in a sugrob (snowdrift).


Come wintertime, it's worth remembering the verb katat'sya, which broadly means to go for a ride or drive, since it crops up in the main outdoor pursuits of the season: katat'sya na kon'kakh (to skate), katat'sya na lyzhakh (to ski) and katat'sya na sankakh (to go sledding).


But since what comes down must first go up, you may well be told lyubish' katat'sya, lyubi i sanochki vozit' (if you like sledding, you have to like pulling the sled, too), which is also a common saying for all seasons, meaning "take the rough with the smooth."