July 01, 2003

Fishing with Dried Pasta

Fishing with Dried Pasta

There are thousands of Russian idioms, proverbs and aphorisms. Many are explained in language textbooks and dictionaries, yet most rarely find their way into everyday speech. Some are so archaic as to be meaningless, others so overused as to become boring. As old folkloric wisdom is discredited, language users fracture old idioms into new ones. These usually pop up in colloquial speech or on the Internet, yet they cannot be ignored, for they tell us a lot about the language and the creativity of those using it.

Russian provides endless opportunities for wordplay. Consider the following idiomatic centaurs: У вас ещё лапша на ушах не обсохла (The noodles on your ears are not dry yet). It is a hybrid of two idiomatic expressions: вешать лапшу на уши (“to hang noodles on someone’s ears,” meaning to dupe someone) and у тебя ещё молоко на губах не обсохло (“the mother’s milk has not dried on your lips,” meaning you are still green). Another pseudo-idiom reads: А вы и ухом не моргнули (you didn’t even bat an ear). This is a mix of и глазом не моргнул (didn’t bat an eyelid) and и ухом не повёл (“didn’t twitch an ear,” meaning paid no heed to).

Pseudo-proverbs are often made by slightly altering one word, as in the English witticism, “Chaste makes waste.” Что посмеешь, то и пожнёшь (You reap what you risk), reads the anti-proverb, contradicting the time-honored Что посеешь, то и пожнёшь (You reap what you sow).

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