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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Few Phrases to Try on the Grim Reaper

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Zamochit: to kill, in criminal slang.


All languages have a lot of slang and euphemisms for death, dying, and killing -- I suppose because we all try to soften the blow, as it were, when talking about someone's passing.

Russians have shown great creativity in describing death, dying, and means of doing away with someone. In Russian, the polite way to describe someone's death is to say yego ne stalo (he passed away, he is no more). More poetically you can say On usnul vechnym cnom or on usnul naveki (he has gone to his eternal rest).

In the countryside you might say pomeret as in Ya eshchyo vchera sidel s nim i vypival, a nautro uznal, chto on nochyu pomer (just yesterday I was sitting and drinking with him, and in the morning I heard that he dropped dead during the night).

Sdokhnut -- to breathe one's last -- is a good word that can be applied to anything from a person to a computer. Ya dolzhna byla zakonchit otchyot, a moi chyortov kompyuter sdokh! (I had to finish my report, but my damn computer gave its last gasp!) This is also used in one of my favorite Russian expressions, when one is guiltily enjoying someone's misfortune (zloradstvovat): U sosedei korova sdokhla. Pustyachok, a priyatno! (my neighbor's cow croaked. Who cares -- but all the same it's pleasant).

Someone who is gravely ill is kandidat na tot svet (has one foot in the grave). This also can be applied to inanimate objects: Pora kupit novuyu mashinu! Moya shestyorka -- kandidat na tot svet. (It's time to buy a new car. My Model 6 Zhiguli is a goner.) And when someone finally passes away, you can say, on sygral v yashchik (he went home in a box), dal duba (this also seems to be related to coffins, which were made out of oak -- dub), on otbrosil konki/lyzhi/kopyta (literally -- he tossed away his skates, his skis, his hooves). None of these expressions is polite, so use them with care.

When you decide to take matters into your own hands, Russian gives you a wealth of choices and styles. If you're in the military, you might use the term likvidirovat as in, My likvidirovali posledniye ochagi vosstaniya (we eliminated the last hotbeds of rebellion). If you're a teenager, you can say grokhnut or koknut. "Ya nenavizhu etogo tipa! Ya tochno yego grokhny!" (I can't stand that guy! I'll off him, for sure!) Ugrobit is another useful word, although it's usually used for something other than a person that kills you: U nego byl infarkt. Rabota yego ugrobila (he had a heart attack. His work finally did him in).

By the way, you can also "burn out" in Russian: Ya sgorel na rabote. Popal v bolnitsu s yazvoi (I burned out at work. I ended up in the hospital with an ulcer).

In the post-Soviet period, the criminal world has given contemporary Russian a plethora of new expressions for ways to get rid of one's rivalsKakiye konkurenty? My ikh davno ubrali (what competition? We took them out). Oni yego polozhili (they whacked him).

And then there's mochit/zamochit. You remember imperfective and perfective vowel forms? Well, in our gloomy contemporary language class, we see that mochit is the imperfective form meaning "hit hard" or "kill," and zamochit is the perfective, to finish the job, "to waste" someone. We all know this from President Vladimir Putin's language class, in which he promised a long, hard campaign: "budem mochit banditov v sortire." (We're going to waste the bandits even in the outhouse).

Which seems like a good reason to use the bushes.

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