4 Russian Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do

These aren’t your typical loan words. Here are a few words and phrases inspired by foreign languages (but with totally different meanings in Russian).
June 14, 2018
4 Russian Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do

It’s no secret that the world is very much in contact with itself. Political boundaries are not set in stone, and linguistic boundaries are even blurrier. As such, just about every language now has loan words, or words that it borrowed from other languages. For instance, many Russian words are not truly all that “Russian” at all.

Some of these loan words have very unexpected meanings, however. The phenomenon of an English-sounding word that means something else in another language, for example, is known as a pseudoanglicism.

Here are a few pseudo-cisms you’ll encounter among Russian words.

1. фейсконтроль (feyskontrol)

This is basically the words “face” and “control” smushed together. And it has nothing to do with keeping a poker face (though Russians are definitely not as smiley as Americans are). In Russia, and especially in Moscow, you’ll need to get past feyskontrol to get into a lot of bars and nightclubs, where they screen you based on your dress and physical appearance (kind of like a bouncer). Harsh.

2. шаромыжники (sharomizhniki)

When Napoleon’s defeated army was dying from hunger in the harsh Russian winter, they turned to the locals for help. Many French soldiers became beggars, panhandling on the streets and going from door to door, pleading for mercy. They would begin their appeals with cher ami (“dear friend” in French), and so the Russians came to know them simply as “sharomizhniki.” Today, a sharomizhnik can be pretty much anyone who solicits you for help or for a cause in public.

3. Бизнес ланч (biznes lanch)

That’s “business lunch” to you, but you don’t really have to be negotiating a trade deal over your pelmeni for it to count. You don’t even have to be wearing a suit. In Moscow, “business lunch” is basically the Russian version of a lunch special — something cheap and fast you can grab during weekday afternoons. It usually includes an appetizer and main course, and sometimes a drink too (but not usually an alcoholic one).

4. маршрут (marshrut)

This comes from the German Marschroute, which translates to “march route.” In German, this word had a much more literal meaning: a military route for marching, or perhaps a tactical approach. In Russian, this is more commonly used in the context of a path or itinerary (for instance, a line on the metro, or one’s plans for the day).

Ready to learn more Russian?
Take Your First Lesson
Author Headshot
Steph Koyfman
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.

Recommended Articles

True Or False: Can You Separate Fact From Fiction When It Comes To Russia?

True Or False: Can You Separate Fact From Fiction When It Comes To Russia?

Untrue stereotype, or little-known fact? See if you can guess correctly when it comes to these five little factoids about Russia.
16 Colorful Idioms That’ll Sell You On The Russian Language

16 Colorful Idioms That’ll Sell You On The Russian Language

In Mother Russia, wacky idiom eat you. Here are some funny Russian phrases for current and would-be language learners.
The Top 10 Reasons To Learn Russian

The Top 10 Reasons To Learn Russian

Russia is a top travel and sports destination, and Russian is the most spoken language in Europe — but that’s not all it has going for it.