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).

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).

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