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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Booze Like a Muzhik

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???????? ?? ??????????? ????? (sl.): to drink so much that you squeal like a pig

'Tis the season to be jolly! In Russia, it is difficult to talk about the holiday season without talking about ??????? (gathering to drink alcohol) or its more acute version -- ?????? (drinking bout). But in Russia, drinking with your buddies or relatives is much more than a holiday thing; it is a national tradition and institution that has much deeper meaning than in other countries.

Russians have always treated the ??????? ?????? with humor, and it is the source of hundreds of jokes. Another way that drinking is popularized and ?????????????? (is cultivated) is through films -- remember, for example, the popular comedy ??????????? ???????????? ????? ("Peculiarities of the National Hunt") or the colorful ????? (binge-drinking) scene with General Radlov in Nikita Mikhalkov's "The Barber of Siberia."

Although it may be more legend than history, alcohol seemed to have played its own significant role in the formation of Russia's statehood. According to the Chronicles, one of the reasons that St. Vladimir, who baptized Kievan Rus in the late 980s, accepted Christianity was that it did not prohibit the use of alcohol -- in contrast to Islam, which was also being considered for the official state religion. The Chronicles quote Vladimir as having said, ??????? ?? ???? ???? ???? (Happiness in Rus means drinking), which remains as a popular saying to this day. (Even under the teetotal Putin, the link between national leaders and alcohol continues: The vodka loosely named after him, Putinka, has become the top-selling brand.)

More important, the large role that drinking plays in the Russian ???????? (perception, consciousness) is directly reflected in the language. There are more Russian slang expressions regarding ?????? than perhaps any other subject. Every Russian muzhik seems to have his own set of favorite expressions for drinking and, what's more, drinking slang in the regions is often different from that spoken in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

There are many imperfective slang verbs for drinking regularly: ?????? (to drink in large quantities); ??????? (to describe an experienced drinker, a real "pro"); and ?????? (to drink with your closest friends). There is also the popular ????????? (drink regularly to raise ones spirits but without getting overly drunk); from this word, the doggerel verse ???-?? ????? ???????? -- ?? ???? ?? ??? ??????? (It has gotten cold outside -- it is about time to have a few drinks) is derived. When it is minus 10 degrees Celsius, you can also say to your friends: ?? ???, ?????????? (Shall we get a little warm?), and everyone will understand that you don't mean turning up the thermostat, but rather opening up a bottle of vodka "??? ???????" (for a warmer-upper).

Among perfective slang verbs to reflect a one-off drinking action, ?????????? is to knock back a shot glass of vodka ?????? (in one swift, bottoms-up movement). In addition, ?????????? is to flinch or wince when you drink a shot of strong, burning vodka; based on this verb, a group of guys might say, ?? ???, ?????????, ???????! (So, what do you say, guys -- shall we "wince" one more time?!)

Other slangy perfective verbs to describe heavy drinking include: ?????????, ?????????, ?????????, ???????, ???????????, ????????????, ?????????? and ??????????, but three of the most colorful, in my opinion, are: ???????? ???????? (drinking to near-death); ???????? ????????? (from the outdated word ?????, which, according to the Dal dictionary, at one time meant the waste from beer distillation that desperate alcoholics drank); and ???????? ?? ??????????? ????? (to drink to the point where you squeal like a pig).

When Russians buy a new car or apartment, it is common to ???????? (literally, wash off) the new purchase with a few drinks. Or you can say to your friends, ? ????? ????? ???????? -- ??????? ??? ??????? (I just bought a new foreign car -- let's mark the occasion), and everyone will understand that this necessarily involves alcohol.

In addition, if you are having trouble understanding your company's complicated offshore ownership structure, you can say, ??? ???-????? ?? ??????????? (Without a half-liter [of vodka], you'll never make heads or tails of it.)

One way of saying someone is flat drunk is: ?? ???? ??? ???? or ?? ??????? ? ????. According to the Dal dictionary, the original meaning of ???? meant someone who was drenched in water. At some point, this word took the meaning of someone drenched (internally) in alcohol. When someone is ?????? ???? (completely smashed), you can say: ?? ???? ?? ????? (he is too drunk to make sense; literally, he can't even tie a thin strip of wicker); ?? ????? ????? (his eyes were flooded [with alcohol]); or ?? ??????? ??????? (he drank to the level of ????? ???????, or the shakes.).

When you have had way too much to drink, there is a special word to help ????????? (come to one's senses) the morning after -- ???????????? (to treat a hangover with more alcohol or by eating a lot of ???????? ???????, or sauerkraut, and by drinking ????????? ??????, the salty traditional concoction made from pickle brine that you see in glass jars stored in so many apartments and dachas).

There is another popular expression for drinking with your buddies: ??????? ????????? ?? ????? (Let's have a few drinks; literally, let us three guys figure out the problem), but the origins of this expression date back to the peculiarities of Soviet reality. If a Soviet muzhik wanted to drink some vodka to relax after a long day at work but didn't have enough money to buy a whole bottle (under communism, prices were very low, of course, but so were the salaries), he would stand by the entrance to a liquor shop and hold three fingers to his lapel as a sign that he wants to split the bottle three ways. Within minutes, a ?????? (threesome) was formed to ????????? (pitch in) to buy the vodka. They then went to the nearest ???? (common area between apartment buildings), sat on a ??????? (bench) and began to ????????? ??????? (share the vodka). This quickly led to a ???????? ?????? (warm-hearted chat), several toasts and to the traditional drinking question, ?? ???? ????????? (Do you respect me?) The only way to show "respect" in this setting, of course, is to dutifully drink another round. In no time at all, the newly acquainted drinking buddies experienced genuine ??????? ???????? (male bonding).

At some point in this process, an enterprising ?????? (granny) might approach the threesome to to offer them ??????? (something to nibble on while drinking) -- usually in the form of dark bread or, even better, spring onions (good for hiding vodka breath from the wife). She also offered the guys an empty glass (after all, it was not considered very ?????????, or civilized, to drink vodka right from the bottle!) As part of the deal, the babushka would get the empty vodka bottle, which she then brought to the nearest ????? ?????? ?????????? (recycling center) to receive her honestly earned 12 kopeks.

The large role that alcohol plays in the Russian ????????????? (world outlook, mindset) is also reflected in the dozens of sayings on the topic. One example: ??????? ???? ??????? ??? ????????, ? ???????? ?????, ????? ???? ????? (Red wine is good for your health, and good health is needed to drink vodka.) But my all-time favorite is the Soviet ???????? (couplet): ? ??????? ??????? ????, ?? ? ??????? -- ? ?????? (The Yankees dream of money, but Russians dream of a drinking bout.)

In the holiday spirit of New Year's, I hope that all of your dreams -- whatever they may be -- come true in 2008!

Michael Bohm is the opinion page editor of The Moscow Times.