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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Bunch of Different Ways to Have Fun

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Razvlechenie, zabava, vesyole, udovolstvie, shutkazh: fun.



One of the first words Russians pick up in America is "fun." After about the third day in New York or Peoria, a well-spoken Russian with two higher degrees in linguistics will cheerfully tell you My byli na vecherinke i bylo fan! (We were at a party, and it was fun!). I'm not sure why this is, since Russian has many perfectly good words to describe various kinds of fun. My theory is that, first, Russians pick it up because Americans use it constantly (for Americans everything is fun, from shopping to sex), and, second, because it puts in one simple, easily pronounced word a number of concepts that are expressed by different words and expressions in Russian.

For example: Let's do this just for fun! (Davaite sdelayem eto prosto radi udovolstviya!) ; or, I said that in fun (Ya eto skazala v shutku) ; or, He's fun to be with ( S nim vecelo, s nim ne soskuchishsya -- literally, with him you never get bored). Zabavno means fun in the sense of funny, entertaining, amusing. Ya videl ochen zabavny film. . (I saw a very funny film.)

The most common verb you use for having fun in Russian is razvlekatsya , which can be translated as "to be amused, to have a good time, to entertain oneself." To my ear it's this last whisper of connotation that differentiates razvlekatsya from "to have fun." In English, having fun can be a passive activity: You sit on your couch and have fun watching TV. In Russian you'd be more likely to describe that pleasure as mne bylo veselo. . Razvlekatsya implies that you are entertaining yourself -- it's a more creative process. On takoi chudak! Sam stroit sebe samolyot. Tak on razvlekayetsya. (He's such an oddball! He's building himself an airplane. That's how he has a good time.)

Another way to have fun is veselitsya . My tak veselilis, chto razbudili sosedei! (We had such a good time that we woke up the neighbors!) Rasslabitsya can mean to relax tense muscles, but it can also mean "to relax and have a good time," usually with the help of something alcoholic. Vchera vecherom moi muzh passlablyalsya s druzyami. Ya ne mogu ego uprekat – on mnogo i napryazheno rabotayet -- no segodnya on stradayet s pokhmelya. (Last night my husband kicked back with his friends. I can't give him a hard time -- he's been working a lot, and there's pressure at the office -- but today he's got a hangover.) If we increase the wattage from kick back to let it rip, you can use the word gulyat , which is having fun with lots of alcohol: Posle podpisaniya kontrakta oni gulyali po-chyornomu tri dnya. (After signing the contract, they went on a real binge for three days.)

Other slang expressions for having a rip-roaring good time are otvyazyvatsya, otryvatsya, ottopyritsya, and ottyagivatsya. All are cheerfully nonstandard, mostly youth slang, and totally inappropriate for what are called in Russian svetskie razgovory -- civilized conversation. Mne tak nuzhno bylo otdokhnut. Ya poyekhal v Antaliyu i ottyanulsya po polnoi programme. Potratil za odin vecher tysyachu baksov, ne znayu na chto, I prosnulsya v drogom gorode. Vo ottyag! (I really needed a break. So I went to Antalya and really cut loose. In one evening I spent a thousand bucks, don't know on what, and I woke up in another city. Was that a bender or what?)

This is okay for the dorm room, not okay for the board room -- that is, unless your business partners are childhood friends or prone to the same kind of wild partying. Or unless you think they took the thousand bucks.

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