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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On a Losing Streak

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?????? ??????: a streak of bad luck

You know what it's like: you oversleep, your car won't start, the 14 rubles in your wallet won't cover the taxi fare, your company is downsizing, starting with you, your significant other has found someone else, and just when you decide to drown your troubles in a six-pack and a night in front of the tube, the entire apartment block is plunged into darkness. This, ladies and gentlemen, is ?????? ?????? (a streak of bad luck/a losing streak, literally "a black stripe").

Russians say ????? ????????? -- ?? ?????? ??????, ?? ????? (life has its good times and bad, literally "life is striped, now black, now white." Good luck is ??????? (or the slangy ??????), bad luck ????????? (or the equally slangy ????????). A spell of good or bad luck is ?????? ???????/????????? (a lucky/unlucky streak). But sometimes it seems that a dark cloud has descended for good. ??? ?? ?????? (What kind of life is this?), you cry histrionically (here it's good to open your arms wide, as if beseeching a higher power). ??? ? ????????? ???? (What did I do to deserve this?) ??? ?? ??? ?? ???? ????????? (Why is this happening to me? literally "what is being done to me?") Or you can express dismay with some nice all-encompassing negatives: ??? ???? ?? ???. (Everything is going wrong.) ??? -- ?? ??. (Everything's wrong.)

??? ?? ????? is the way you describe being unlucky. If you want to strengthen this misfortune, you can say, ?? ???? ??? ?? ?????! (I have the worst luck!)

You can be unlucky in general: ??? ? ????? ?? ?????. (I have rotten luck, literally "in life.") Or you can be unlucky in just one area of your life: ??? ? ????? ?? ?????. (I'm unlucky in love.) Or you can be unlucky in a very specific way: ??? ?? ????? ?? ?????? ?????????. (I don't have any luck making easy money.)

It is almost impossible for English speakers to use this word, but a synonym for ??????? is ????. This is originally underworld slang that has made its way into colloquial Russian, particularly -- to the dismay of parents -- youth slang. You could say ??? ?????? (he's lucky), or exclaim happily, ?? ???? ? ??????????! (You had a nice piece of luck!)

Another nice word is ???????, which also means a bit of ill luck. It is slangier than ????????? and carries a whisper of folklore.

Someone can be ??????? (lucky) or ????????? (unlucky). In either case, this is a kind of cosmic blessing or curse that touches every area of life. ?? ???? ? ?????? ????. ?? ????? ?????????! (He fell and broke his leg. He has the worst luck.) ????????? means fortunate and successful, and is usually used in relation to a particular area. ?? ????????? ????????? means "in business he's charmed/gets all the breaks." ????????? is someone who doesn't get a single break, who fails despite his talent and effort. Russians regard a ????????? with sympathy and compassion. He's like the Yiddish schlemiel "who falls on his back and breaks his nose." ?? ??? ???????? ??????? ? ??????, ?? ?????????. ??????? ?? ??? ? ?? ??????. (Her husband is really nice and smart as a whip, but a hard-luck guy. His career never got off the ground.)

When things just aren't going your way, you can say, ??? ?????? ? ????????? ??????? ??????, ?????? ???????. ??? ?????, ??? ???????????! (Just as I was about to send the letter, my server went haywire. Just my luck! -- literally, "I'm as lucky as a drowning man.") Or you can also say ??????? ??? ????? ?? ???? ??????? (Everything is going wrong today! -- literally "today all the pine cones are falling on me.) Or cite the Russian version of Murphy's Law, ????? ??????????, as the bread always falls butter side down.

Ain't it the truth!

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