Tutors are usually only supposed to use academic language, but I really love to use slang words and phrases. Without slang, the speech seems to be an excerpt from an encyclopedia. I even made a rubric on Instagram where I explain the most fun and popular slang words.
In this post, I decided to make a complete guide to modern slang phrases, with audio, and to explain how you can include them in your daily speech without seeming rude or impolite.
Further, in the post, you’ll learn why it is so important to put time into learning slang, as well as the basic rules to follow to not end up learning prison swearing by mistake. You’ll also learn how slang appears in Russian and where to look for an accurate meaning.
For your convenience, all the words are grouped into several categories:
- Small talk
- Emotions & Reactions
Three Practical Reasons to Learn Russian Slang
Some might argue that Russian slang may be omitted, that it’s not an obligatory part of the language and you can express any idea without any slang words. That may be true, but I think that any Russian learner needs to be familiar with this aspect of the language. Here are the three reasons why.
#1 You’ll Understand Locals Better
Native speakers use slang words very often and the amount of brand-new expressions is growing. The Russian you’ve learned in a classroom is your “survival” level. You’ll always be understood, but it doesn’t mean you’ll always understand what natives are talking about. So, to boost your comprehension of real-life speech, you need to know at least some common expressions.
#2 You’ll be Treated Better by Natives
It’s an illusion that people born and raised in one country speak one or several common languages; in fact, these common languages are sometimes very different. The speech of a Moscow white collar will not always be clear to a countryside track driver and vice versa. Whether we want to or not, we understand “who is who” by the way he or she is talking. So, if you use the “mini-language” of your circle, you cause this sub-conscious “He/she belongs” feeling.
#3 You’ll be Able to Understand a Greater Amount of Content
Usually, Russian learners use a narrow scope of materials: student books, vocabularies, talking to a tutor who uses academic language. But when you try to watch original YouTube videos or listen to podcasts that are not specially adapted, you feel that there’s a big plot of vocabulary beyond your understanding. That’s why getting to know common slang words will give you greater access to authentic learning materials.
Tips for Russian Slang Usage
Including slang in your daily speech will always be a controversial issue. On the one hand, we all want to make our speech brighter. On the other – it’s very easy to misuse a word or phrase or even to cross the line that separates non-obscene and obscene language. So, here is a couple of tips that you should keep in mind when you learn a new slang phrase.
#1 Learn New Words in Context
It would be great if we could just open up a dictionary, learn a couple of slang phrases and insert them here and there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way. The primary source of new slang words should be your real-life experience: talk to a native speaker, watch a movie, a podcast or a new show. Thus you’ll unmistakably understand the actual meaning of the slang expression.
#2 Make Sure that a Word is not Outdated
When you watch a movie or find a new word in literature, make sure that people actually use it before adding it to your daily vocabulary. The field of slang words is changing very fast! Some words exist in the language no longer than one year. So, don’t hesitate to ask your Russian-speaking friends or inquire on forums about the sayings you’d like to use.
#3 Make Sure that it’s Suitable for Your Circle
Let’s say you watch a new blockbuster and a criminal-hero says: “Zavali hlebalo!”. You look it up in the dictionary and see this means “shut up”. The next time you hang out with Russian speakers, you want to use this word in a fun and joking manner.
But it simply doesn’t work this way. This phrase is too rude and is usually said in an aggressive manner. This is definitely not a word that fits a circle of University buddies. Instead of making a funny joke, you achieve the opposite effect. So, while searching for new slang words, you need to pay attention to who says them and in what circumstances.
Russian Slang Dictionaries
Unfortunately, there are no professionally made online resources like the English UrbanDictionary that will combine the most recent slang phrases. I personally checked out the most popular slang sources and this is what I would recommend.
Vocabulary of Teenager’s Slang (in Russian)
This is a guide for Russian language tutors. The list of words begins on page 29. The work contains up-to-date expressions and is grounded in analysis of students’ daily speech. This is a good source to look at if you can’t understand the meaning of a word.
Glossary of Teenager’s Slang (in Russian)
When you see the white page with plain text in Russian, don’t hurry to leave it. In the middle, you’ll find a vocabulary of teenage slang. Despite the awful page setup, the words gathered there are very close to real-life speech and are provided with accurate explanations.
Slang Vocabulary for Every Day Communication
We found out that slang is different from sphere to sphere and from circle to circle; however, there are some universal words and expressions that are well known across the country and among different groups of people.
In this beginner’s slang vocabulary you’ll find the most popular and common slang phrases that will be understood by whomever you talk to. These words and expressions have strong roots in the language, so they are very unlikely to fall out of use in the near future.
- Hello, hi
- Здорово /Zda-ro-va/ – This word is a reduced form of casual “zdravstvuiti” (hello)
- Goodbye, bye
- Пакеда /Pa-ke-da/ – A modification of the usual “paka” (bye)
- Давай /Da-vaj/ – The first meaning of this word is “give”, but it’s also frequently used instead of “bye”.
- Споки /Spo-ki/ – This is a short form of “spokoinai nochi” (goodnight).
- Good, fine
- Ничё так /Ni-chje tak/ – This phrase reflects a neutral estimation of an object or an event. If you’re asked, “how’re you?” you can reply “Nichje tak”.
- Норм /Norm/ – This adjective comes from the word “normal” and also means something satisfactory: neither good nor bad.
- Зачёт /Za-chjet/ – This word comes from the students’ lexicon. In Russia, there are final exams that are assessed as “passed” or “not passed”. So, initially, “zachjet” means that you’ve passed the exam. In the modern lexicon, it’s used to show positivity about something.
- How’re you?
- Как оно? /Kak a-no?/ – This question is literally translated as “how is it?” and means “how’s it going?”
- Ок /ok/ – No comments 🙂
- Лады /la-di/ – Another form of agreement, when you accept an offer.
- Thank you, thanks
- Спасибки /Spa-sib-ki/ – A reduced form of the usual “spasibo” (thank you).
- Сига /Si-ga/ – A short form of “sigareta” (a cigarette)
- Сотка /Sot-ka/ – Comes from the word “sto” (one hundred)
- Пятихатка /Pi-ti-hat-ka/ – A modification of “pjat’sot” (five hundred)
- Штука /Shtu-ka/ – Initially means “a thing”, but when it comes to money, it’s also 1000.
- 1000 rubles
- Kосарь /ka-sar’/ – One of the older slang words which appeared in the XX century. Letters on old banknotes were written in slanted (in Russian: “kosije”) letters
- Кэс /kes/ – A short form of the previous word
- Бакс /baks/ – Comes from the English “buck”
- Зелёный /zje-lje-nij/ – Literally translated as “green” and means “grand”.
- Рубас /Ru-bas/ – A different version of “ruble”
- Кэш /Kesh/ – Transliteration of the English “cash”
- Налик /Na-lik/ – A short form of long Russian “na-lich-ni-je” (cash)
- Бабки /Bab-ki/ – A long time ago, the 2 ruble banknote depicted Katherine II, who was jokingly called “babka” (or grandma).
Emotions & Estimations
- Ништяк /Nish-tjak/ – This word comes from Russian prison language. It meant small pleasant things. These days it’s a highly positive estimation of something.
- Офигенно /O-fi-gje-na/ – Another word that you can use when you really like something.
- Жесть /Zhest’/ – Use this word when your friend tells you about some negative experience. For instance: Your friend: – I almost got hit by a car. You: – Zhest’!
- Отстой /Ats-toi/ – “Otstoi” is a very widely spread expression, used like the English “damn” or “it sucks”.
- Зашквар /Zash-kvar/ – This word means something unpopular, unfashionable, or stupid. A good example of “zashkvar” is wearing suit socks under flip-flops – it’s not trendy and not cool.
- Cool, great
- Круто /Kru-ta/ – It’s an extremely popular word, meaning “great”
- Клёво /Klje-va/ – Another synonym of “great”
- Стрёмный /Strem-ni/ – Not good in many ways: ugly, stupid, unpleasant and so on. This adjective can be applied to many different things: to a person, to a movie, to a new t-shirt etc.
- Awesome OR awful
- There is a couple of words in the Russian language that means either something really great or the opposite, depending on your intonation. You can use these to express joy or disappointment.
- Зашибись /Za-shi-bis’/
- Офигеть /A-fi-get’/
- Охренеть /A-hri-net’/
- Something funny
- Прикол /Pri-kol/ – This word means a joke or a prank.
- Something great
- Бомба /Bom-ba/ – This word is used to talk about something fantastic, and yes, it literally means “a bomb”. So, when you hear “Eto bomba!” (It’s a bomb) think twice before calling for deminers. Maybe, it’s just two girls discussing a new outfit.
- Бомбический /Bam-bi-chis-kij/ – The previous noun is not enough, so the language created an adjective with similar meaning.
- Улёт /U-ljet/ – “Uljet” also means something awesome. It comes from the word “letat’ ” (to fly).
- Кайф /Kajf/ – The word “kaif” is used to describe pleasure, such as a glass of cold water on a hot day, taking a sauna in cold winter, or stretching your legs on a soft sofa after a crazy day.
- Here are two office slang words to warn your buddies that an angry boss is approaching.
- Ахтунг /Ah-tung/
- Палево /Pa-li-va/
- I don’t care
- Мне пофиг /Mnje po-fig/ – This phrase is used to show indifference.
- Нифига себе! /Ni-fi-ga si-be/ – This is how the Russians express surprise. It’s like the English “No way!”
- The American
- Америкос /A-me-ri-kos/ – This slang word means someone from the US. But keep in mind that it doesn’t mean any offense; it’s just a short and more convenient word-form.
- Детка /Det-ka/ – This word also means child, but in adult relationships, it’s used to say “baby”
- Крошка /Krosh-ka/ – Nothing in common with bread crumbs, as you might think from the direct translation, just another way to call your babe
- Малыш /Ma-lish/ – Literally, this word means “a male baby”. In slang, it’s used to refer to your partner: both a male or a female.
- Young female
- Чика /Chi-ka/ – This is the word guys use to talk about cool and sexy girls who are not their significant other. It’s strange, but no one says “chika” about their own partners, even if they look like a model.
- Братан /Bra-tan/
- Чувак /Chu-vak/ – The best word for “dude”
- Кореш /Ko-resh/ – Friend
- Друган /Dru-gan/ – This is a modification of “drug” (friend)
- Гопник /Gop-nik/ – A representative of a special street subculture who likes to spend time drinking beer, eating sunflower seeds and wear black Adidas sportswear with classic shoes.
- Гик /Gik/ – Someone who’s crazy about a narrow topic, whether it’s gadgets, anime, or Star Trek.
- Нёрд /Njerd/ – Nerd is 100% English borrowing with the same meaning: a highly intellectual person with extremely low socialization skills.
- Ботан /Bo-tan/ – “Botan” is someone who puts a lot of effort into learning and, as a result, is good at school, Uni or college.
- Get off
- If you want to get rid of someone, these are three words to say to do that:
- Отвали /At-va-li/
- Отвянь /At-vjan’/
- Иди лесом /I-di lje-sam/
- Shut up
- Заткнись /Zatk-nis’/ – This is a casual way to say “shut up”
- Завали /Za-va-li/ – Zavali is a ruder form of “shut up”, so be careful
- Goof up
- Лажануться /La-zha-nu-tsa/ – This is a popular term for screw up, or to fail to complete a task
- Лохануться /La-ha-nu-tsa/ – It means to make a big mistake which causes problems
- Факап /Fak-ap/ – This noun is a transliteration of a well-known English phrase with the same meaning
- Эпик фэйл /Epik feil/ – Another twin-brother of an English term that means a colossal mistake
- Don’t be thick
- Не тупи /Ni tu-pi/ – When your friend is a bit slow, you can cheer him or her up with this phrase.
- Не тормози /Ni tar-ma-zi/ – Literally, “tormozit’ ” means to brake, or to slow down a car. The same word can be applied to the speed some people think with.
- To bail on…
- Забить на… – This word means to bail on a task or idea, but rarely on a person.
- Happy Birthday
- С днюхой /S dnju-hoj/ – A brief version of “S dnjem rozhdenia” (Happy Birthday)
- ДР /de re/ – A super-brief version of “Djen’ rozhdenia” (Birthday). You can’t congratulate someone with this phrase, but you can use it in conversations with other people. For instance: Have you bought a present for “ДР”?
- Мент /Mjent/ – This word reflects a negative attitude to policemen
- Мусор /Mu-sar/ – This word means “trash” as well, but if it’s applied to a person, then he or she is a police officer.
- Police station
- Ментовка /Min-tof-ka/ – The place where “menti” (policemen) work.
How does Russian Slang Work?
Modern Russian slang is like a huge ocean that gets water from multiple sources, both inside and outside the native language. These days many people are concerned about the huge amounts of English borrowings that are turning the Russian language into ‘Runglish’. However, this is evidence of the Russian language’s active development and enrichment.
Linguists say that a language is dying when foreign words and grammar substitute local ones. Russian works in the opposite way: it adopts foreign units for its own needs and applies its grammar to new lexical items. Here are some fun examples that illustrate what I mean.
Fun Examples of Foreign Words in Russian
- Брекзить /Brek-zit’/
- When all this situation with the British “Brexit” happened, the Russian language was enriched with the verb “brekzit’ ” which means to stickle with going away, to delay your leaving with no reason. For example, when someone already stands near doors to go out but continues a conversation instead of just saying “Bye”. I’m not sure if this word will continue to be popular, but it’s an awesome example of recent foreign word adoption.
- Хайпожор /Hai-pa-zhor/
- You probably recognize the English ancestor of this noun – “hype”. The second part comes from a rude Russian way to say”to eat”. So, what does it mean: “to eat hype”? This word means a social media person who gains popularity on trendy questions.
- Example: Let’s say you have a YouTube channel about baking cakes and suddenly make a video about recently released iPhone (just because everyone is talking about it).
- Шаромыжничать /Sha-ra-mizh-ni-chat’/
- My granny often used this word asking me to stop hanging around and get myself busy. The first part of this long weird word “sha-ra-mi” origins from the French “Chere amie” (dear friend). So, how did this french phrase enter the lexicon of Russian countrymen?
- This word appeared more than 200 years ago when at the end of the war with Napoleon in 1812, French soldiers got stuck in Russian lands with no provision. Very often, when they needed to ask for food or shelter, they addressed locals with the words “Chere amie”. Very quickly the Russian language picked up the phrase and melted it into a new verb with a new meaning.
Now you see how Russian slang works: it borrows foreign stems and tailors them to different needs. Not only does it give different meanings to words, but it also makes them look different by adding typical Russian suffixes, prefixes or making them a part of compound words.
Five Typical Moscow Slang Words
There is a common belief that there is a special slang that is used by Moscovites. It is true that Moscow, as a center of political and cultural life, is a forge of brand-new expressions. However, you don’t need to know any special Russian to be well-understood in the capital.
The basic difference of Moscow speech is its pronunciation. If you’re a language starter, you’ll see no difference; however, it’s well recognized by native speakers. Moscow city dwellers place a stronger emphasis on “o” and “a” and stretch words.
When it comes to words, there are some that are typically used in the capital, but the list is not large. Here are some examples.
- The famous street food in Moscow is called “shaurma“, while in the rest of the country it’s “shaverma”.
- An entrance of a multi-story apartment block is “pod’jezd” or shortly, “padik” when in St. Petersburg it’s commonly called “paradnaja” (though it’s very far from having anything common with “parade”)
- A common name for multi-story apartment blocks with one entrance is “bashnja” (“a tower”) when in other parts of Russia it’s usually called “svjechka” (a candle).
- A common slang expression for a bullpen in Russia is “obez’jannik” (a monkey cage), while in Moscow it’s surprisingly called “akvarium” – a fish tank.
- When Russians use the preposition “v/vo” to mark a place, for instance “vo dvore” (in the yard), “v rajone” (in the district), Moscowites usually say “na“, which seems like an abuse of all possible grammar Rules. Anyway, this is how the local language works: “na rajone” (in the district).
Should I use “Clockwork Orange” Slang?
“Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess is a great novel brimming with slang words and phrases, and could be a great source to enrich your vocabulary; on average, there are about 12 non-English words per page. But here’s the issue: the Slavic slang used in the novel is fictional and is not used anywhere.
Being a polyglot and highly interested in linguistics, Anthony Burgess made up a fictional language of teenagers—”Nadsat”—that was used by the antagonists of the novel. In this language, the author uses English syntax, but the words are based on the Russian language. There are 241 fictional phrases, 187 of which have Russian stems.
“Should I read the novel?” Definitely, yes. “Should I learn Clockwork Orange slang?” No, because, you won’t be able to use it in practice.
If you have any questions about Russian slang, I’d be very glad to give you the most accurate answers in the comments below.